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Podcast Transcript

On The Nightstand 2

Marsha Clark  0:10  
Hello everyone, and welcome to our second "On the Nightstand" podcast. My name is Marsha Clark and I'll be sharing a summary of the book called "The Four Tendencies" by Gretchen Rubin. And this "On the Nightstand" podcast is to really share what I've been reading and where I continue to learn and enrich my own toolkit in support of my clients and program participants as well as you, our podcast listeners. So again, the book I want to review with you is entitled "The Four Tendencies" by Gretchen Rubin. And I want to thank Tania Petrina for the recommendation of this book. She had used it in her own work and professional life, and it came highly recommended by her. So thank you very much, Tanya.

So Gretchen Rubin, during her multi-book investigation into human nature, realized that by asking the suspiciously simple question, "How do I respond to expectations?" and through that, we gain explosive and insightful self knowledge. She discovered that people fit into four tendencies: 1) Upholders 2) Questioners 3) Obligers and 4) Rebels. And our tendency shapes every aspect of our behavior, so understanding this framework lets us make better decisions, meet deadlines, suffer less stress and burnout and engage more effectively. And almost a million people have taken her online quiz and use this framework to help them make lasting change.

And so what I'd like to do in this podcast is to give you a very high level overview of each of the four tendencies. And I also would encourage you to read the book if you want to learn more because it's there's so much more in the book than what I'm going to be able to share with you on our podcast tonight. I just, I admit it. I'm an assessment junkie. I always love to take the little quizzes and things and I always find some nugget in those and I hope that you'll find that as well. So if you're a note taker, I'm going to try to visually draw out for you the framework if you will.

So it's going to be four circles that all overlap. And in the top circle is the Upholder. And an upholder, the note that you can make under that is, meets outer as well as inner expectations. And the tagline for the upholder is, "Discipline is Freedom". In other words, an upholder will display the discipline to make sure she meets the expectations others have of her, you might, we might also call these external expectations. And she will make sure she also meets the expectations she places on herself. And we also call those internal expectations. So I give you that as a first example. Many of you who have listened to me or been in any of my programs know that I talk a lot about setting, communicating, aligning expectations. And what I, one of the connections that I made to that because it relates to building trust by setting and managing expectations is the first step in building a high performance team. And now here it is, again, in a way to think about how we can live as an upholder as it relates to expectations, and all of the tendencies do that. And also how we can manage others and how they think about and relate to expectation. So it's yet another facet through which to consider the expectations.

So in the left circle, so we've got the Upholder in the top circle, there's a left circle and it's the Questioner. And the questioner meets inner expectations or the ones that they place on themselves. And unlike the upholder, they tend to resist outer or external expectations. And those are the expectations that are placed on them by others. And the questioner of course has a tagline and it is "I'll comply if you tell me why". So I've got to have a reason. Alright?  

And then in the right circle is the Obliger. And the obliger is opposite of the questioner. The obliger meets outer expectations or the ones that others place on them, and they resist inner expectations or those expectations they may try to place on themselves. And I want to stop here and say the obliger is a giver, right, so meeting everyone else's expectations. She gives and gives and gives, and that's even as her health is failing, she's exhausted, she's sleep deprived, she feels overwhelmed. And I would just like to offer to our listeners that I have a related podcast where I talk about setting and maintaining boundaries. And you know, one of my favorite quotes around this topic of setting and maintaining boundaries, and dare I say, obliging, is "Givers need to set boundaries because takers rarely do." And I feel a strong connection to the obliger because I like to do things for other people as well. And, you know, it's represented in the tagline for the obliger, which is "You can count on me. And I'm counting on you to count on me." So it's a circular kind of thing there, if you will.  

And the fourth or bottom circle is the Rebel. And this tendency is the opposite of the upholder. So the Upholder on top, the Rebel on bottom, the Questioner on the left , the Obliger on the right. And this tendency, this rebel tendency, being the opposite, resists both the internal and the external expectation. And I particularly like the rebel's tagline which is, "You can't make me and neither can I."  So I think it's almost comical when you, it sounds so crazy when you think about it. And it sounds pretty dismal if you're trying to get a rebel to do something, and by the way, and so I'll talk a little bit more about each one of these as we move through this podcast.

And I also want to let you know, so are you an upholder, you know, an obliger, a questioner or a rebel? You can take the quiz to identify your tendency, and the place that you can get to that quiz is at So  And so as I said, I love assessments that provide a lens through which I can see myself more clearly. So, you know, of course, I took it. And just for the record, I'm a real mix of these four tendencies, which I guess is a part of what happens when we get older. On the 13 questions on the assessment in the book, I scored four as a questioner, three as a rebel, three as an upholder and three as an obliger. So I'm also thinking that, you know, and other assessments I've taken, I've been shown to be pretty versatile or adaptable to other styles. And so the fact that I'm spread across, you know, those pretty evenly is not really much of a surprise, but I loved kind of examining myself through the lens as I read through the book. And I also think that my scores reflect my strong belief, which many of you have heard as well, which is the answer to every leadership question is, "It depends", and that great leaders know what tool to use when. So thinking about when do I need to be a questioner or when do I need to be an obliger or when do I need to be a rebel and so on, and so we'll just leave that as a related comment as again, the way I think about what I read in the book.

So now let's dig a little deeper into each one of these tendencies. So the first one we're going to talk about is the Upholder. And upholders are those people who readily respond to the external and internal expectations alike. There is a rather small number of upholders and you know, they have many strengths. And I'm going to go through the strengths and the the areas for development or areas of potential weakness or challenge for each one of these. And so, upholders meet their work deadlines. They keep their New Year's resolutions, and they do so without much fuss. And they tend to love schedules and routines. And they like to know what is expected of them. And they don't like to make mistakes, and certainly not to let anybody down, including themselves.

And some additional information, upholders don't depend on supervision, oversight, reminders or penalties to stay on track. They are intrigued by rules and can't resist both reading and following them. And upholders don't mind wearing uniforms, following a precise recipe or obeying instructions. And as I said, with all these tendencies, there's strengths that can become a weakness when taken to an extreme or in certain scenarios. So the upholder can become the fearless campaigner for justice, which can be seen as a strength or on the flip side, the hanging judge who blindly enforces the law, or the tattletale school child who reports every minor infraction that's  been done by the other kids, or even the boss who rejects the report just because it's been submitted late. So as an upholder, you may feel compelled to observe the rules even when it's more sensible to ignore them.

Secondly, you may become impatient or even disdainful when people reject expectations or can't impose expectations on themselves, or question expectations. Upholders don't merely want others to meet expectations, but they want them to want to meet those expectations. And they can become disapproving and uneasy when others you know, misbehave or don't follow the rules even in minor ways. And they find it difficult to delegate because they doubt others abilities to follow through. And they'll also often resist holding others accountable even when people ask for accountability. They either don't see the need or they don't want to place the burden or inconvenience on others. And they feel uneasy about changes to routine habits or schedules. And to others the ways of the upholder can seem extreme and sometimes even cold and inflexible.

And so an upholder is well served to have a clear sense of what they expect from themselves. For an inner expectation to be met, it has to be clearly articulated. So even as they talk to themselves, they have to be really clear. And once you clearly hear the voice of your own inner expectations, doing the work isn't hard at all. So they can lose weight, keep the resolutions, you know, follow the rules, make sure they hit deadlines, and so on. And if you hear this description and think you might be an upholder, make sure you find and listen to that voice that articulates those inner expectations. And, you know, when I think about each one of these as I talk about them, you might even think about people that you're close to, and maybe you name five or six people and as I go through each of these, you might put which tendency you think they might be, that might best describe them as a way of kind of listening and seeing them and interpreting them in a perhaps more insightful way than before you had heard this particular podcast.

So now we're going to talk about the Questioner. And questioners meet only internal expectations. And by the way, that includes external expectations that they've turned into internal expectations because they show a deep commitment to information, logic and efficiency. They want to gather their own facts, decide for themselves and act with good reason. Questioners object to anything that they consider arbitrary, ill-reasoned, ill- informed or ineffective. And many, many people are questioners and only the obliger tendency has more members. So when we said that upholders has a small number, this has a large group in the normative database that Gretchen Rubin has, you know, built. And I want to go back to something I mentioned a moment ago about questioners turning external expectations into to internal expectations. So they meet an expectation only if they view or endorse it as efficient and reasonable. And because a questioner focuses on justification, they wake up each day and think what needs to get done today and why, and they decide for themselves whether or not a course of action is a good idea. And once questioners accept the reasons for an expectation, they are very self directed and don't need much supervision. And this process applies for questioners considering their inner expectations as well.

So let's review the strengths of the Questioner. The first one is, once they've made up their mind about the right course of action, they follow through without much difficulty at all. Number two, because questioners require solid justifications for what they do, they can add tremendous value to relationships and organizations by ensuring they themselves and all the people around them don't unthinkingly accept expectations that are not justified. So it's not blind followship, it's questioning and making sure that you understand and I understand why. The third strength is that questioners want to make well considered decisions and are often quite willing to be the person to do the exhaustive research to find that logic and reason. And because, what leads to another strength is, because of that enthusiastic research, they often become resources for other people as they also enjoy sharing their knowledge. So they're the go-to person if you will. And last, questioners tend to be very interested in improving processes. And they like to eliminate mistakes and make things run better, so the continuous improvement projects and things of that nature.

And as with all tendencies these strengths, when taken to an extreme or in certain circumstances, can become more of a weakness. So quite honestly, they're questioning and re-questioning and re-questioning everyone and everything can be a little exhausting, right? It gets a little tiresome. Others may find their constant questioning to be draining or obstructive. And a boss who doesn't understand a questioner's way may find the behaviors annoying, disrespectful and even insubordinate, so it can be easily misinterpreted. And then questioners sometimes suffer from analysis paralysis, wanting to continue to gather their research, weigh their options, and consider even more possibilities. And lastly, questioners are motivated by what they believe are sound reasons and may even ignore what subject matter experts might tell them to do, which is providing sound advice. And I'm thinking about even doctors or dentists or someone who, you know, has spent a lifetime studying something and advises you accordingly, and you're going to question it. So, as a result, this sounds a little harsh and yet this is what the the author describes it, these questioners can sometimes be seen as crackpots. It's like they defy, you know, even the most widely held conventional wisdom. Now, questioners who've learned to manage themselves in their tendencies, this is in kind of in summary, they either follow the rules, change the rules, or just move on.

Alright. And then the third one now is the Obliger. And remember that obligers meet the outer expectation and resist the inner expectation. They respond to external accountability, however struggle to follow through on that same accountability for themselves or their inner expectation. And that's what poses the challenge for them. And, you know, how does an obliger meet an internal expectation? So there is a way, sort of a workaround, if you will. It's by creating outer accountability. And as I mentioned earlier, obligers are the largest tendency group for both men and women. There's no differentiation here based on gender. And here are some of the strengths of the obligers. They are the most likely to be the one you can always count on to contribute most and to follow through on their commitments. Their sense of obligation to others make them great leaders, team members, friends and family members because they're so reliable and predictable and consistent. And obligers get along most easily with the other three tendencies, so more connectedness, if you will.

Now as we know, there's always a flipside to all of this. So the struggle for obligers is to self motivate. And this can be a serious problem if they aren't taking care of their health or, you know, even following their own dreams, right. They may have desires that they want from a career or bucket list or any of those kinds of things, but they just don't prioritize those and, even practicing some of the self care in order to meet the external expectations of so many. And because obligers depend on outer accountability to meet both their outer and inner expectations, if that accountability is missing, they really struggle. They don't know how to move ahead, they don't know how to advance their thinking or their work.  And at the same time, if the burden of outer expectations becomes too heavy, obligers may show what the author Rubin describes as "obliger rebellion". So think about this. They meet and meet and meet those expectations, then suddenly they snap and they refuse to meet the expectations any longer.

And acts of an obliger rebellion can be small and symbolic, or large and destructive. So be on the lookout for that, if you will. And if you're managing an obliger, you can help the obliger by establishing boundaries. And here's some tips for doing that. And by the way, obligers might even be doing some of these things for themselves if they're aware and are self managing well. So remind the obliger that saying "no" or setting a boundary allows him or her to say "yes" to work that's more important. Enforce limits to prevent burnout and obliger rebellion, so don't take advantage of them is the way that I interpret that. And then stop others from exploiting the obliger. So because when we know those people and they'll do our work for us, or they'll finish our stuff for us, or they'll do our research for us, we often will let them do that and we will take advantage of them. And then as a boss of an obliger, you might even think and consider taking work away from them if they had said yes and taken on too much. So thinking about you know, allocating work, you know, more evenly distributed. An obliger is one that that could likely be overwhelmed or overburdened in that regard.

And then our last tendency that we want to discuss is the Rebel. And the rebel resists both outer and inner expectations. And I just want to repeat their tagline, which is "You can't make me and neither can I". I'm just, I really do have to laugh every time I hear that. It makes me smile. And I'm guessing it can be a bit maddening. And I have to say I relate to this one a bit, maybe even more than some of the others. But it takes me, what I describe, to my five year old self which is 'You're not the boss of me!' When my big brothers would tell, be trying to tell me to do something or whatever I would puff up my chest and probably put my hands on my hips and say "You're not the boss of me." And so that's what this rebel tendency reminds me of. So bottom line, they resist both the inner and the outer expectations. And they, rebels want to do what they want to do in their own way and in their own time. And if someone asks or tells a rebel to do something, they're almost automatically going to resist. They don't even want to tell themselves what to do. Rebels want to act from a sense of choice, freedom and self expression. They resist control, even self control, and often enjoy flouting rules, expectations and conventions. And they're much more apt to respond to being told "this will be fun", or "this is what you want', versus even asking or telling them what you need. So for rebels, the ability to choose is so important that sometimes they make a choice even when it's against their own self interest or it's not what they prefer. And they do this just to reassure themselves that they can make that choice.

And so even as maddening as it might be, here are some of the strengths of the rebel. And I say maddening because I find myself, like I say, I can see myself in this one. Rebels tend to enjoy meeting challenges when they can meet those challenges in their own way. Rebels take great pleasure in defying people's expectations, you know, when they're doing what they want and they're driving hard, driving themselves hard. It's typically when there's some element of "I'll show you", you know, which is that what we just spoke about taking great pleasure in defying other people's expectations. So it's easy for rebels to defy customs and conventions, not going along just to get along. And at times, the rebel tendency is enormously valuable to society in this way, as a voice of dissent, this is not right, I'm going to challenge it and question it and rebel against it and stand up for it, or to support the principles and purposes that they believe. So this is standing up for vital issues. The rebel is likely one to be able to do that, and it's often in service to something larger than themselves.

And rebels place a high value on authenticity and self determination. And they want their lives to be a true expression of their values. And anybody again, you can see why I relate to this. Authenticity, you know, is in the title of my book, that I talk a lot about being an authentic leader, not some cookie cutter kind of leader. And I do a lot of work around values, clarity around values, living by our values, making decisions that support our values. So I think that's a part of what I see myself, as it relates to this rebel and, but like all of the tendencies, this one has some challenges as well. So rebels can often frustrate others, and by the way, themselves as well. If a rebel asks for time to do something, because we've said the rebel's very likely to resist, and the harder someone pushes them, the greater the rebel pushes back. And this can create problems, whether it be for spouses, parents, teachers, bosses, clients, and so on. So understanding that someone is a rebel and how to engage them is important, otherwise there's likely to be some pushback and the frustration that comes with that. And then rebels resist just about anything they perceive to be as an attempt at control. So this reaction happens even when they realize that their resistance is self destructive, counterproductive or contrary to their own desires.

And this part was fascinating for me. It says, and therein lies an important paradox. In their determination to be free to exercise freedom and choice, rebels may end up being controlled because if you think about they're being controlled by their own rebeldom, if you will. I'm going to do the opposite. Even if I wanted to do X, you want me to do X, okay, I'm going to do Y. So now, I don't want to be controlled by your X  but guess what, my rebeldom is controlling me by defying what you want. And so rebellion is the opposite of compliance. And this is an important statement, but rebellion is not freedom. So this, therein lies the paradox about that and so for you know, my fellow rebels out there, this would be a fascinating conversation for us to have about how this might show up for us. And rebels want to do tests on their own time, and if someone pushes them to hurry, they're likely to resist and take even a little bit longer. And rebels resist committing to a schedule, and when they do make plans they often cancel them at the last minute which quite honestly makes them unreliable, which you know, impacts our ability to trust their word, their consistency.

And rebels resist doing repetitive, boring tasks. And they often refuse to accept and be limited by a label, even when one's accurate, because rebels don't care a whole lot about reputation. And in fact, they may even revel in being considered difficult or different. That badge, that label they might like. And although they resist any expectations imposed on them, some rebels feel quite comfortable imposing their expectations on others. So it's not practicing the old "what's good for the goose is good for the gander". And so working in positions that have a lot of structure may actually suit some rebels who find that too much freedom causes them to flounder. And as one rebel put it, this was in the book and I thought this was interesting, "I war against the establishment, but I want it (the establishment) to be there so that I have something to war against". It's like I need that wall to push up against, to defy. And so the rebel tendency is one of power and paradox - the power of choice, the power of freedom, and yet the paradox of, um, I think I'm having freedom and choice when in fact I'm being controlled by my own rebeldom.

And so there's a couple of things I want to read as a closing directly from the book. This is in the very last chapter. "One afternoon I gave a talk about "The Four Tendencies" and a man asked me which tendency makes people the happiest. I was startled to realize that this very obvious question had never crossed my mind. Also, he continued with an equally obvious follow-up question, which tendency is the most successful? I realized that the answer is, as it is so often, "it depends". And you'll know why I like that because I say the answer to every leadership question is, it depends. So Rubin goes on to say, "It depends on how a particular person deals with the upside and the downside of the tendency. The happiest and most successful people are those who have figured out ways to exploit their tendency to their benefit and just as important, found ways to counterbalance its limitations. For all of us, it's possible to take the steps to create the life we want. But we must do that in a way that is right for us." So when you think about it, there is no right or wrong answer, there is no right or wrong tendency. We are the tendency we are and it doesn't mean we can't learn to manage it or we can't learn to manage others who have tendencies that are different from or even the same as ours. And when I think about a leaders responsibility to inspire others, to motivate others, to endear others to do better, do more, take on greater responsibility, create greater capacity in them, certainly the more knowledge we have about them and how to engage them in those ways the better off we are and the stronger our relationships.

So I hope you've enjoyed and found value in the summary of "The Four Tendencies" by Gretchen Rubin. And again, if you want to learn more, the book is a really good read. And you can learn more about yourself as well as how to build those more effective relationships with others really in both your personal and your professional lives. And so in closing, I would just say, I hope that we hear from you if you've got questions or thoughts. We always like to invite that and love to hear from you and what you might be thinking about what we've shared on our podcast. And in closing, as always, here's to women supporting women!

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