Personality Tendencies

Sometimes, I learn concepts that alter how I see the world around me. For better or for worse I’ll come across something that gets the (sometimes-rusted) gears in my head turning and gives me a deeper insight & new perspective on my interactions with the world around me.

The concept of Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies is an example. Read along & it could get your gears turning too!

The Four Tendencies is a framework to understand how people respond to expectations and rules. The expectations and rules a person experiences are broken down into two categories: internal and external. An external rule is something that the world or another person wants from you. That might mean a deadline, a law, a scheduled social event, a “request” from your significant other, etc. An internal expectation is something you personally want or believe is needed: a New Year’s resolution, deciding to exercise, writing a book, etc.

The way you tend to respond to the two different types of rules determines your personality tendency, as defined by Rubin in this helpful graphic:



So when you take a look at that, where do you see yourself fall in the diagram? (If you follow the link in the caption, you’ll also see a quiz that Gretchen Rubin put together if you’re interested in seeing where that puts you!)

When I think about the Four Tendencies, it makes a lot of sense to me. People have different reactions to the forces of order & structure in their lives. Some people love it and some people find it constricting. The tendencies framework explores that a little deeper and says “What kind of structure do people like or resist? Who is imposing that structure? What will a certain person need to do before they’ll accept structure or rules for their life?”

As I thought about these Four Tendencies, I began visualizing how my family members fit into this structure. The below is what I came up with. To capture some of my family, I had to create kind of a new category. You’ll notice in Gretchen Rubin’s diagram, each category has some overlap with the one next to it. Well, I ended up creating a center category that overlaps the Questioner and Obliger tendencies! Here’s my diagram:


Going into all the reasons for each person’s placement would take forever, but here are a couple examples of my thoughts behind each one:

  • Dad is very structured and disciplined. He is also inquisitive and researches things thoroughly. When he helps someone out or takes on a project, it’s not just a sense of obligation: he has thought through why something is helpful or necessary. He will do what needs to be done in a timely and orderly fashion, and he will plan out his vacations in detail, with some wiggle room for adjustments as needed. I believe that puts him in a Upholder category with a strong dose of Questioner.
  • Mom is caring and helpful and will overexert herself to meet the needs of others. She is also critical and believes strongly in a moral code. She isn’t quite as prone to structure and discipline as Dad, but will still thrive in a disciplined setting if she feels that the task is moral and fair. This places her as a Questioner, but also an Obliger to help other people out.
  • Marcus thinks of every issue from a billion angles. He wants all the facts, and enjoys debating and discussing for hours. He will discuss or debate a viewpoint that is contrary to another person’s, not because he is defending his particular stance but to get someone to think deeply into their views. He’ll also play Devil’s Advocate to enjoy the contrarian nature of it all 😉
  • When placing Martha between Rebel & Questioner, I thought of a phrase that I remember her saying as a teen: “I’ll do it because I want to, NOT because you tell me too!” 🙂 :), as well as her inquisitive, data-gathering nature 

There are pro’s and con’s to each tendency. An obliger is helpful and dependable, but may burn out from their external focus or be a pushover in some scenarios. A questioner will think things through on a deep level, but may annoy you with how long it takes and all the questions! A rebel is creative, thinks outside the box, and lives in the moment, but has a propensity to defy authority & structure that may be frustrating. An upholder is disciplined but may be nitpicky or rigid:


I personally identified most with the idea of being an Obliger, with a dash of Rebel thrown in there. I love structure, if someone else is providing it to me. Tell me to do the homework & I’ll do it. If I’m on a sports team, I’ll be on time to each practice. But in terms of accomplishing my personal goals, of exercising more, drawing more, dancing more, etc? Ehhhh. Without external accountability, I’m unlikely to make it happen.

The rebel comes in when I realize that I love spontaneity & going against the grain. When I had long curly hair down to the middle of my back, people told me “don’t ever cut it! It’s so lovely!” to which I bristled & stubbornly said to myself “that makes me want to cut it even more.” Gretchen Rubin mentions in her writings about this that Rebels love the feeling of freedom and choice and spontaneity. I definitely do! Budgets be darned! Let’s go on a trip or to that concert!

One negative way that my Obliger tendency rears its head is in how I handle conflict and criticism. Or perhaps better stated, how I avoid conflict and how I don’t handle criticism well!! In my desire to please or help other people, I get very sensitive when I hear I’m doing something wrong. Also, disagreements or negativity affect me deeply. Jewel touches on issues with conflict / negativity in her post Speaking Clearly, which I love and have some similar sentiments.

I’ve wondered a lot about where that sensitivity and conflict avoidance came from in myself. I think part of it was my internal misapplication of my Christian & Mennonite upbringing. Here are some phrases that come to mind: “Blessed be the peacemakers” and “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Peacemakers are indeed blessed, but you have to MAKE peace, and that will often involve difficult discussions and constructive criticism. That doesn’t mean there should magically be peace all the time with no need for difficult discussions. And nice things are important to say, but sometimes a corrective or truthful criticism is needed! So I would amend that phrase to be “If you don’t have anything constructive to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Well, this has hit a thousand words, so I’ll cut myself off. What do you think, family & friends? Do you agree that the Four Tendencies is intriguing? What ways are you battling the cons of your Tendencies?





One thought on “Personality Tendencies

  1. I’m not familiar with the four tendencies but I LOVE the diagram of your family!!! Plus when you consider which types are married to which types…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s