How To Influence People Like A Jedi With This Personality Profiler – Interview with Gretchen Rubin




Gretchen Rubin is a New York Times bestselling author with a track record in teaching us behaviour “hacks”. While researching her last book, ‘Better Than Before’, she uncovered a new personality framework. It’s called the Four Tendencies. And you can use it to revolutionize how you approach your personal and professional life. In this interview she shows you exactly how – even including how to create an effective promotional campaign.

Why did you create a new personality type framework – The “Four Tendencies” framework?
GR: I was researching my booking about changing habits Better Than Before. And I was trying to make sense of patterns that I saw in people’s behavior. Why do so many people say, “I can never take time for myself”? Why do people resist New Years resolutions as just an arbitrary date? Or say “The minute someone tells me to do something, I don’t want to do it”? I could sense these perspectives were somehow linked.

It took a giant intellectual effort, but at last I figured it out the pattern. The pattern is to do with how we respond to expectations. As dull as that sounds, it’s crucial to understand.

In a nutshell, the Four Tendencies distinguishes how people tend to respond to expectations.

That includes:

  • Outer expectations (e.g. a work deadline, a request from your partner)
  • Inner expectations (write a novel in your free time, keep a New Year’s resolution)Your response to expectations turns out to be very important.

People fall into one of four categories:

  • Upholders: respond readily to outer and inner expectations
  • Questioners: question all expectations. They’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense. So essentially, they make all expectations into inner expectations
  • Obligers: meet outer expectations. But they struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves. (Key point: when Obligers want to meet inner expectations, they should create an outer accountability around it)
  • Rebels: resist all expectations, outer and inner alike

My research shows that most people are either Questioners or Obligers. Of all the Four Tendencies Obliger is the largest Tendency of all. And Rebel is the smallest category. Few people are either Rebels or Upholders. I also have an online quiz, where people can figure out their Tendencies.

What are the applications for knowing your/others’ tendencies at work?
GR: Understanding the Four Tendencies helps pinpoint situations that cause us to succeed or fail.
For instance, a literary agent told me, “I represent a journalist who did great work at a newspaper. No trouble with deadlines, great work ethic. But now he’s on leave from the paper to write a book, and he says he can’t get anything done. He’s got writer’s block.

I said he was probably an Obliger. He had no trouble working when he had to meet daily newspaper deadlines and had an editor checking on him. But with a distant deadline and little supervision, he can’t work. I suggested the book editor start checking in with him every week and ask for proof of progress. Or agree to submit a certain number of pages every month. Create some system of external accountability.

But if you ask or tell Rebels to do something, you ignite their spirit of resistance. You’re better off not imposing a lot of deadlines, supervision, or oversight. Rebels do their best work when left to do it in their own way, in their own time.
Questioners can sometimes drain and frustrate others at work with all their questions. Others may see them as obstructionist, stubborn, insubordinate, or not being a team player. But Questioners are just trying to get their questions answered.

Understanding these different needs can result in a lot less conflict.

And what about using the Four Tendencies In Your Personal Life?

GR: A reader wrote on my blog, “I’ve lived with a Rebel for the past seven years. It’s oddly comforting to know that his way of being is as natural for him as being an Obliger is for me. And I’ve learned that the less I ask for, the more I get.”
Taking the Tendencies into account can increase your chance of success in situations with friends and family too.
Let’s say you’re struggling with a child who won’t do his homework. What’s the best way to help?
Or you’re trying to get your spouse to do something important. What’s the most persuasive thing to say to get a good result?
What if you can’t get your elderly mother to take her medicine? Or you can’t understand why your boyfriend is refusing to look for a job? Or your boss keeps loading you with tasks, until you’re ready to quit?

The Four Tendencies will guide you.

How can business owners integrate The Four Tendencies with how they do business?

GR: One way is to make messages resonate with more people. By remembering the questions that are important to each Tendency.
Let’s say you’re trying to encourage people to bring their cars in for a yearly evaluation:

  • Upholders ask: “Should I do this?” Make it clear what steps a person would take, and why this should be part of every driver’s schedule.
  • Questioners ask: “Does this make sense?” Emphasize why doing this is most efficient in the long run. Why every year, why not every two years? Why does it save time and money in the long run? What data backs up this recommendation?
  • Obligers ask: “Does this matter to anyone else?” Send reminders, as personalized as possible, about coming in for the yearly evaluation. Also remind them they’ll let others down if they have car problems.
  •  Rebels: “Is this the person I want to be?” Appeal to a customer’s sense of being a responsible, sophisticated driver, who likes to keep a car at the highest working condition. As Rebels dislike being bound by a calendar offer the option to drive in and get an evaluation on the spot. No appointment needed.

Can you share a story about someone who used their knowledge of their own Tendency for dramatic change?

GR: The most dramatic stories tend to fall into two categories.  The first type of dramatic change comes from people who change their way of dealing with someone. For instance: I’m a teacher at our local county jail, mostly GED and high-school diploma courses. Recently I had a student who was getting in her own way—arguing with the guards and not completing assignments. I believed her when she said that she really wanted to get her GED—yet she wasn’t making progress.  It dawned on me that she is a Rebel. I shared your theory with her, and it really helped her see herself in a new, more positive way. I stopped asking her to do homework and let her decide each day how she wanted to study: computer software, group lesson, independently, or not at all. As I write this, she has passed 5 of the 5 tests, and thus completed her High School Equivalency.

The second type of dramatic change comes from people who realize they are Obligers. And the key to meeting an inner expectation is to create outer accountability. For instance: For years, I wanted to leave my 9-to-5 job and start my own business. I’d draw up plans, identify my goals, think about how motivated I was to do it—and year after year, I’d do nothing. But at work I was known as the go-to guy, because I had no trouble meeting deadlines and giving 110% at work. What was my problem? When I realized that as an Obliger, I needed accountability, I found the solution. I hired a coach, I volunteered to do some projects so I’d have “clients” expecting results, and since then, for the first time, I’ve made real progress.

Find out more about The Four Tendencies and listen to Gretchen’s podcast ‘Happier by Gretchen Rubin’ over at  In case there’s any Rebels reading this I’ll leave it open to you what you choose to do next. But if you’re Obliger, you’ll probably need to add Better Than Before to your book club reading list or you’ll never get around it to it!


This article was written by Paul Armstrong from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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Paul Armstrong

Paul is the runs HERE/FORTH, an emerging technology advisory helping business leaders decide how to best use rapidly changing and emerging technologies. Paul is also the Founder of @themediaisdying, currently writing 'Disruptive Technologies; Understand, Evaluate and Respond' out in 2016 (by Kogan Page).
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