The Four Tendencies - Summary and Application

Updated: Jan 21

Previously, we looked at the DISC personality framework, which tells us how to communicate with others and how people prefer to do work. This article will talk about another personality framework: The Four Tendencies. This framework was developed by Gretchen Rubin, an American writer who studies happiness. She wrote a whole book on it.

This personality tests is useful because it answers the question, “How do I get people—including myself—to do what I want them to do?

The Four Tendencies test is a narrow personality test that measures two things:

  1. How readily you meet inner expectations

  2. How readily you meet outer expectations

Inner expectations are things you expect of yourself. A common example is a New Year’s resolution. If you can easily meet goals that you set for yourself, then you readily meet inner expectations.

Outer expectations are things that other people expect from you. A common example is a friend asking you to go to the gym with him/her to exercise together. If you tend to do things because other people asked you to (especially when you don’t really want to), then you readily meet outer expectations.

There are four possible personality types in the Four Tendencies:

  1. Upholder: readily meets inner and outer expectations

  2. Questioner: readily meets inner expectations only

  3. Obliger: readily meets outer expectations only

  4. Rebel: resists both inner and outer expectations

You can take a formal quiz here:

Or you can pick a statement that matches you:

  1. Upholder: I love routines, and people think I’m extremely disciplined.

  2. Questioner: I love researching, and people sometimes say that I ask “Why?” too much.

  3. Obliger: I put others ahead of me, and I value harmony in relationships.

  4. Rebel: I value freedom and choice; I do what I want to do, when I want to do it.

Mottos for each Tendency

According to a representative sample, the distribution of the tendencies is 41% Obligers, 24% Questioners, 19% Upholders, and 17% Rebels.

This article will explain each tendency in detail, then look at examples of applying the Four Tendencies in real life, and then answer some FAQs.

If you are a Rebel or Obliger, I strongly encourage you to learn about your Tendency because traditional advice often does not work for these two Tendencies.

Here's a click-able table of contents to help you navigate the article:

1: Upholder

2: Questioner

3: Obliger

4: Rebel

5: How I've Applied the Four Tendencies in My Life

6: Frequently Asked Questions

1. Upholder

Upholders readily meet inner and outer expectations. They are highly disciplined and love schedules and routines.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Upholders

For strengths, Upholders are highly productive and can easily form habits. They rarely have trouble getting themselves to do things. For weaknesses, they might seem rigid and cold because they don't like changing plans, and they usually prioritize meeting their needs over other people's needs.

Working with Yourself as an Upholder

Upholders might find themselves with too much things to do, and feel like they're not getting the important things done. To overcome this problem, clearly articulate your priorities, and perhaps have different to-do lists rather than one big one.

Working with Upholders

When working with Upholders, it's important to give them prior notice. As long as they have enough time to help you, they usually will.

Upholder Summary

Here is an infographic to summarize Upholders:

2. Questioners

Questioners turn all outer expectations into inner expectations if they believe its reasonable and efficient. Thus, Questioners only meet inner expectations.

Some random characteristics of Questioners: They hate waiting in line, they love spreadsheets, and they love sharing articles.

“Questioners have the self-direction of Upholders, the reliability of Obligers, and the authenticity of Rebels.” — Gretchen Rubin

Strengths and Weaknesses of Questioners

Questioners excel at being logical and efficient in everything they do. But they can also be viewed as annoying for their constant questioning unless they are very socially adept when asking those questions. They also need to be wary of analysis-paralysis, which is when they spend too long researching that they take action too late.

Working with Yourself as a Questioner

Questioners are generally pretty happy with themselves, but they can get frustrated at others for doing things that seem illogical or inefficient. To overcome this frustration, just remind yourself that you are only 24% of the population.

If you need to do something that you think is illogical or inefficient, you can always tell yourself, "Maybe this task is illogical/inefficient, but it's important to someone I care about or respect. So I will do it for them."

If you find yourself getting into analysis-paralysis, simply give yourself a deadline.

Working with a Questioner

Questioners can add value to relationships and organizations by ensuring people don’t unthinkingly accept expectations that aren’t justified or efficient. They key with Questioners is justification. Once they accept an expectation, you can count on them to deliver (and maybe even improve upon a process for you.)

Ironically, many Questioners resist being questioned because they think, “If I made this decision, I obviously researched it thoroughly. It’s not my fault if you didn’t do your research on the topic.

Questioners also hate questions that are a waste of time. Their first thought is always, “Why should I bother answering this question?” If, upon reflection, you realize your question doesn’t really need to be answered, then let it go. If the question is important, then ask the Questioner to share their thought process and logic. They enjoy that.

Questioner Summary

Here is an infographic to summarize Questioners:

3. Obligers

Obligers NEED outer accountability to meet any inner expectation. For this reason, they gain the most from learning about their tendency.

When what others expect from Obligers is what they expect from themselves, they have the life they want.” – Gretchen Rubin