How You Respond to Expectations: The 4 Tendencies

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Are you a rebel, an upholder, a questioners, or an obliger? These are the Four Tendencies that Gretchen Rubin identified in her book: Better Than Before. Why are these tendencies important? Well, identifying your tendency is an essential step to understanding how easy or difficult it will be for you to create habits, respond to inner and outer expectations, capitalize on your strengths, and overcome your weaknesses.

Break It Down

What are outer and inner expectations anyways? Outer expectations are requests from others. For instance, outer expectations are deadlines from your boss, or a request to load the dishwasher from your partner. On the other hand, inner expectations are requests from yourself. Inner expectations are your New Year’s Resolutions or your plans to clean out your closet. Got it? Good, let’s keep moving!

Let’s start with a brief overview of each tendency, then dive into the characteristics of each one. An upholder responds readily to both outer and inner expectations. Questioners will question all expectations and only respond to expectations that make sense to them. An obliger will readily meet outer expectations but struggles with inner expectations. And lastly, a rebel resists all expectations—both inner and outer. Do one of these tendencies sound like you?

Upholders

Remember, an upholder responds readily to both outer and inner expectations. Responding to inner expectations really sets the upholder a part from the other tendencies. An upholder wakes up in the morning and thinks about what is on her schedule and to-do list, because she wants to avoid letting herself and others down. A noteworthy characteristic for upholders is their strong instinct for self-preservation. This means that upholders protect themselves from too many outer expectations by establishing plenty of time for themselves. I love that characteristic! Finally, habits are easy to cultivate for upholders, and they find gratification in achievement.

Even though that all sounds great, there are some downsides for the upholder. An upholder will struggle in situations where expectations aren’t clear, or there aren’t established rules. Sometimes, the gold-star seeking, hoop-jumping, and mindless rule following can be exhaustive for the upholder, and it will come back to bite them.

Questioners

No surprise here, a questioner will question all expectations and will only respond to expectations if she concludes that they make sense. Questioners are motivated by reason, logic, and fairness. Unlike the upholder, the questioner will look at her to-do list and think about why something needs to get done today since she resists doing anything that seems to lack sound purpose. Nonetheless, if a questioner concludes that an outer expectation makes sense, they will essentially turn it into an inner expectation. A questioner will stick to a habit if they believe it is worthwhile and useful.

If you aren’t a questioner, you probably know one. Questioners do exhaustive research before making any big decisions or purchases. When a new product comes out, a questioner will research it up, down, left, and right before making a decision. If you’re a hairdresser, you might have clients who are questioners. Somehow, the client knows more about balayage than you do. Are you with me on that? If you have a questioner on your team or in your chair, you have to explain the why behind your actions.

Questioners are very intellectually engaged, but they have their own struggles too. Questioners can often suffer from “analysis paralysis.” Because the questioner needs to make sure she is making the right decision, this can lead to endless amounts of research without taking any real action.

Obligers

The next tendency is the obliger. Obligers will meet outer expectations, but they struggle to meet inner expectations because they’re primarily motivated by external accountability. An obliger will look at her to-do list and ask: what must I do today. Obligers depend on external accountability with controls like deadlines, late fees, and the fear of letting other people down. Because of this, obligers are great friends, colleagues, and family members since they always make time for you and rarely let you down.

Because obligers resist letting other people down, they are susceptible to burnout. Keep that in mind if you have an obliger on your team; you should be careful about giving them too many assignments, even if they seem eager to help. Additionally, obligers can feel down when they think about how much time they spend on others compared to their own “me time.” Obligers will also find it difficult to create habits, since habits are usually for our own benefit versus being to the benefit of others.

Despite their weaknesses, obligers often find creative ways to create external accountability. For example, one obliger explained that if she wants to clean out her closet on the weekend, she will call a charity  to pick up her donations on Monday. With the external factor in play, she will avoid disappointing the charity and stick to her goal. This shows that no matter your tendency, you can find ways to accomplish your goals!

Rebels

Last, but not least: rebels - you know who they are! Rebels resist all expectations, inner and outer alike. Rebels have a sense of freedom, so they can’t be asked or told what to do. Rebels will work toward their own goals in their own ways. Therefore, rebels place a high value on authenticity, vigor, and self-determination.

Do you know someone who just can’t seem to follow the rules? These are rebels, and they often frustrate others. In fact, asking or telling a rebel to do something will often lead them to do the opposite. So, how do you handle rebels on your team? Allow rebels to make decisions without an audience. If they think no one is watching, they don’t have anything to rebel against.

Surprisingly, some rebels actually gravitate towards institutions with many rules. Because of that, there are more rebels in the military than you’d suspect. Allowing others to have control can bring rebels a sense of freedom. Lastly, rebels really resist habits unless they take it just one day at a time and end up with a “streak.”

Have you been able to identify your tendency and how to capitalize on your strengths and overcome your weaknesses? If you’re someone who likes to work on becoming a better person every day, check out Gretchen Rubin’s book because every topic will help you master your own life! Share your thoughts about Gretchen’s book and your own tendencies on our private Facebook group! We can’t wait to connect with you!

Emily Kelly