Transcript of The Hidden Personality Types That Drive Everything We Do

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John Jantsch: Let me ask you something. How do you handle expectations? What’s your tendency when expectations arise, when you set goals, when you have objectives, when people ask you to do things? For this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast I speak with Gretchen Rubin, author of the Four Tendencies, Surprising Truth About the Hidden Personality Types That Drive Everything We Do.

Very fascinating quiz that you can take to understand your tendency. Again, not a whole personality test, but your tendency when it comes to expectations. Check it out, take the quiz, and learn something about yourself.

[music 00:00:56]

Advertisement: This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by, reputation management is not something you want to mess around with. is the tool we use with all of our clients.

John Jantsch: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch and my guest today is Gretchen Rubin. She writes on habits and happiness. She is the author of a number of New York Times Bestselling books including the Happiness Project and a new book we’re going to talk about today called The Four Tendencies, Surprising Truth About the Hidden Personality Types That Drive Everything We Do.

Gretchen, thanks for joining me.

Gretchen Rubin: I’m so happy to be talking to you.

John Jantsch: There have been a lot of books on personality types and trying to understand who we are and how we interact. What do you hope the Four Tendencies is going to add to that body of work?

Gretchen Rubin: Well, I love personality frameworks. I think they all, kind of, have their own special vocabulary and the way that they shine a spotlight that’s helpful on human nature. The thing that I like about the four tendencies, my own framework, is it has to do with a very narrow aspect of your personality, but something that’s very, very important and significant, which is how you respond to expectations. But it doesn’t try to explain anything else about you, so you could have a lot of … Depending on how intellectual you were or ambitious you were or considerate of other people or extroverted or introverted or adventurous or analytical, all these things could be different, but as to one thing, how you respond to inner and outer expectations people fall into these big four categories and that ends up making a very big difference in how we can help ourselves change and help other people to change.

John Jantsch: That’s interesting. I have for years talked about most of success or failure in life is about meeting or exceeding expectations. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to lower people’s expectations.

Gretchen Rubin: Interesting.

John Jantsch: That’s the first clue because I am going to ask you which personality type I am.

Gretchen Rubin: Oh, yeah. Okay.

John Jantsch: Did you just sit on a bench in Bryant Park and observe people to come up with your conclusions? Or what was your methodology?

Gretchen Rubin: I mean, it was basically, it was not far away from that. I really just studied what the people around me were doing and saying and what their frustrations were and there were certain comments that people would make over and over again, almost eerily, like they were reading from the same script. And was like, “What is up with all these people who say verbatim, ‘Oh, I would keep a resolution if it was important, but I would never do a New Year’s resolution because January 1st is an arbitrary date.'”

Person after person said that exact thing to me and I’m like, “I don’t know. The arbitrariness never really bothered me. What’s going on with these people?”

And so on and I would see these patterns and so I was trying to make sense of things that I kept seeing in the way people behaved and the way that people talked, just as you said, just around me. I wasn’t looking up … It wasn’t undergraduates eating marshmallows in a laboratory. This was like, “How do I make sense of what I see everyday all around me?”

John Jantsch: Like all good frameworks, you have a quiz-

Gretchen Rubin: Yeah.

John Jantsch: -so people can test themselves. Again, there are other … You’ve, kind of, already hinted at this, but how is this quiz different, say than some of the more traditional like Myers Briggs, or something like that?

Gretchen Rubin: Well, this really looks at how you respond to outer and inner expectations. So, outer expectations like a work deadline or a request from a friend or inner expectations like the desire to keep a New Year’s resolution or to get back into meditation. That turns out to be a really important thing and other frameworks don’t really hone in on this as a crucial thing. They have their own thing that they’re looking at and they’re trying to pick out and identify, but this is something that’s very useful to see how people are different from each other.

John Jantsch: All right. So, let’s end the suspense. What are the four tendencies?

Gretchen Rubin: There are upholders, questioners, obligers, and rebels. And so, as I said, this has to do with outer and inner expectations.

Upholders readily meet outer and inner expectations. They meet the work deadline. They keep the New Year’s resolution without much fuss. They want to know what’s expected of them, but their expectations for themselves are just as important.

Questioners question all expectations. They make everything an inner expectation because if it meets their standard, if they think that it makes sense, they will meet an expectation and if they don’t think it makes their expectation, they will reject it. They don’t like anything arbitrary or unjustified or irrational or inefficient. Their question always is, “Why should I? Why should I do it? If I think it makes sense, I’ll do it. If not, I won’t.”

Next you have obligers. Obligers readily meet outer expectations, but they struggle to meet inner expectations. And I had this insight when a friend of mine said to me, “When I was at high school I was on the track team and I never missed track practice, so why I can’t go running now?”

Well, when she had a team and a coach waiting for her she had no trouble showing up, but when she was just trying to go running on her own it was a struggle.

And then finally, rebels. Rebels resist all expectations. Outer and inner alike. They want to do what they want to do in their own way, in their own time. If you ask or tell them to do something, they’re very likely to resist and typically they don’t even like to tell themselves what to do.

Those are the four tendencies and once you know your tendency and the tendency of the people around you, you have a much better sense of why they do or don’t do something.

John Jantsch: How, in your view, do we develop these tendencies? Is this like a nature, nurture thing or are we just born with these?

Gretchen Rubin: I think we are just born with these.

John Jantsch: Wow.

Gretchen Rubin: I do.

John Jantsch: Tell me this. Do you think people adopt or act out a different tendency in different environments?

Gretchen Rubin: No. I don’t. I think that it’s very consistent. Now, it’s true that with time and experience people learn how to harness the strengths of their tendencies and how to counterbalance the weaknesses and limitations of their tendencies and so you might … Obligers need outer accountability even to meet inner expectations and some obligers figured this out even instinctively and they know, “I need deadlines. I need to be accountable, so if I’m going to work out, I’m going to work out with a friend and if I’m at work I’m going to make sure that I have a lot of accountability for my boss and my coworkers. And I want to read, I’m going to be in a book group. If I want to go and have regular exercise, I’m going to have a dog that I feel like I have to take my dog out because she loves being outside so much.”

They can build it in. It’s definitely true that you can work with your tendency and get a better result from your tendency, but I do think that whether you’re at work or at home, whether you’re 20 years old or 40 years old, your tendency is something that is just part of you.

John Jantsch: Let’s say that we take the test and we learn what our tendency is. What can we do with that in the workplace or as we go through the day?

Gretchen Rubin: Well, it depends on your tendency and if it’s causing you problems or not. One thing that questioners often find … And if you work with a questioner, you may have experienced this or if you have one in your life. Questioners, sometimes, but not always, fall into analysis paralysis where they want more and more and more information, they want perfect information before they make a decision or before they act. And this can cause them to seem obstructionist or like they’re causing a log jam because they’re not moving forward and so you want to be aware of this as a questioner if this is something that can happen. If you’re aware of this pattern, then you can say, “Well, I need to give myself a deadline or I’m going to limit how much research I’m going to do or I’m going to remind myself that it’s inefficient to keep researching.”

Questioners often drain and overwhelm others with all their questions. And this is something like, if somebody’s driving you crazy like, “Oh my gosh. You ask too many questions.”

It’s helpful to be like, “Oh, this is a questioner. It’s not aimed at me. They don’t mean to undermine my authority. They’re not rejecting my judgment. They just want to have their questions answered.”

With obligers, it’s like they need that outer accountability and so if they ask for it, you want to help them get it. For instance, one thing that I see a lot in writers because I’m a writer and I know a lot of writers is there’ll be a writer who is very, very productive when they’re working on a newspaper where they have an editor and deadlines and all these colleagues and all this pressure of getting out the newspaper. But then they go on book leave and they’re supposed to write a book and they have all this time to write a book and they’re like, “Oh. I have writer’s block.”

And I’m like, “I don’t think you have writer’s block. I think you need accountability, so you need your agent or your editor to be like, I want to see a chapter once a month and I’m going to be looking for it. And if you’re not writing it I want you to explain to me why. And we need to keep this moving forward. And I’m checking on you.”

Or they join a writer’s group where everybody keeps each other going or they hire a coach or whatever or take a class where you have to turn in material. Whatever it might be.

John Jantsch: That’s like when people sign up for a 10K, that’s the thing that’s going to make them start running or something.

Gretchen Rubin: That’s something important to know about yourself. That isn’t true for everybody.

John Jantsch: Right. Right.

Gretchen Rubin: Some people don’t need to sign up for a 10K, but if you need to sign up for a 10K, just say to yourself, “Well, I’m the kind of person that needs to sign up for a 10K and I’m going to.”

Instead of being like, “I shouldn’t have to sign up for a 10K. Why don’t I have any inner motivation? I need to have more willpower.”

It’s like, “No. If you need to sign up for a 10K, sign up for a 10K.”

John Jantsch: That-

Gretchen Rubin: That’s fine.

John Jantsch: I was going to say, that’s really a part of what you’re saying, the value of understanding is to, sort of, hack these things a little bit. Right?

Gretchen Rubin: Yes.

John Jantsch: Yeah.

Gretchen Rubin: Absolutely. Absolutely. And once you know what the problem is you can fix it.

John Jantsch: A lot of times teams, within organizations, benefit from having diversity.

Gretchen Rubin: Yeah.

John Jantsch: Would you say that that’s true of these tendencies, that a good team is going to have these diverse tendencies?

Gretchen Rubin:  Yes, because they each have different strengths and weaknesses. Yes.

John Jantsch: As the leader of that team, how am I going to deal with that?

Gretchen Rubin: Let’s say that you are going to introduce a new kind of software and you wanted everybody to get on board and implement this. You might say, give a little presentation and explain why and then you could say to your team, “If you feel like you’ve heard enough about why we’re implementing this new software feel free to go back to your desk. If you would like to ask me further questions about why we felt like this was the right thing for us to do and why we’re implementing this change I am here to answer your questions.”

Then the people who don’t need any more questions answered can go and so they’re not drained and overwhelmed by all the questioner questions and yet the questioners are having the opportunity to have their questions answered, which is what they need to get on board. They need to have robust explanations.

Now, let’s say you have an obliger. Well, if you have an upholder boss, an upholder boss might say, “Hey John, when you have a little bit of time, would you mind running those numbers for me? I mean, no rush. Just whenever you can get to it.”

And I as the upholder would feel like, “Okay. This is an assignment that you’re going to feel responsible for getting to me in your own time.”

As an obliger, an obliger might feel like, “What? Is that even a real thing that I’m expected to do? I don’t even accountability to that. I don’t even feel like that really happened.”

It’s like, if I’m talking to an obliger, I’m going to be like, “I really would like to have it by Friday because I want to read it over the weekend, so please try to get it to me by Friday.”

That’s going to help an obliger, whereas an upholder maybe would prefer to have something more open-ended. With a questioner if you want them to do something, you could say to the questioner, “Oh, I’d really like to get that information by Friday” and the questioner could be thinking to themselves, “Yeah, but I know he’s not going to read it till Wednesday, so I’ll get it to him by Wednesday, but I’m not going to bust myself trying to get this done because he’s not going to read it.”

What I would say to a questioner is, “Could you please get it to me by Friday because I’ve got a long flight on Saturday and I know that that’s going to be a good opportunity for me to read the report.”

Then it’s so the questioner thinks, “That makes sense. I see the efficiency of me getting you the report on Friday because there’s going to be this great opportunity for this work to be done, so fine I will do it.”

I’ve given the reason for what … It’s not an arbitrary deadline.

John Jantsch: Right.

Gretchen Rubin: It’s a meaningful deadline and with a rebel, the obligers need the accountability, but rebels don’t do well with accountability, so with a rebel you want to be more like, “This is an assignment. This is something that you can choose to do. This is a challenge. This is the kind of thing you enjoy and you’re good at. This is what happens if you do it or don’t do it. It’s up to you.”

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All right. So, I took the quiz.

Gretchen Rubin: Oh, interesting!

John Jantsch: And I don’t think that I’ve given myself away yet.

Gretchen Rubin:  No, I don’t think you have.

John Jantsch: I’ll give you a hint.

Gretchen Rubin: Okay.

John Jantsch: When I go someplace and I want to do something and then somebody tells me, “Oh. Well we have a policy against that and it makes absolutely no sense, I am generally a very peaceful person, but I want to strangle that person. And I actually want to ask them how they live with themselves. Working in this organization that is having them enforce policies that make absolutely no sense.

Gretchen Rubin: Oh, well I know what you are right away. You’re a questioner.

John Jantsch: I am a questioner.

Gretchen Rubin: Yeah.

John Jantsch: However-

Gretchen Rubin:  Yeah.

John Jantsch:  Go ahead. Go ahead.

Gretchen Rubin: Because it’s like, “This makes no sense.”

That’s the questioner thing. Why are people such lemmings? Why do they do all this stuff that makes no sense? It makes them crazy about other people.

John Jantsch: And my wife wants to kill me, but I have once or twice said to people something like, “Can you live with yourself enforcing that policy?”

Gretchen Rubin: Right. Right.

John Jantsch: “That makes no sense like you can’t even explain it to me.”

Gretchen Rubin: But here’s a good example, talking about the workplace. Some workplaces would really value that and they’d be like, “This is a really valuable employee because he’s saving us all this time. He’s making us forced on why are we doing what we’re doing? He’s keeping us efficient. He’s keeping us lean. He’s keeping us focused and getting our time and our energies focused on something that’s going to get results. This is a really valuable employee.”

Another organization could be like, “This guy’s not a team player. This guy doesn’t trust authority. This guy’s always up in grill. He’s not helpful. I don’t like this. He is not a good team member.”

Same guy, same behavior, different organizations value it, other organizations might not. So, if you’re a questioner you might be thinking, “Well, how is this organization my questing and my drive for efficiency and justification because some place it could get me a bonus, some places it could get me fired.”

John Jantsch: That leads to … That’s why I’ve owned my own business, probably, all but five years of my life.

Gretchen Rubin: A lot of questioners say that. They’re like, “I don’t trust other people’s decisions. They don’t do their research. They make these stupid …”

They’re like, “I got to do it for myself because then I know everything’s going to make sense.”

John Jantsch: That begs a question of is a tendency better suited for something? I mean, because you say, “Oh a lot of …”

Just as you said, questioners start their own business. Do obligers end up in certain roles?

Gretchen Rubin: I think for just about everything, any tendency could do it in their own way. They could bring their own spirit to it, so certainly an upholder could start their own business. A questioner could start their own business. An obliger could start their own business. A rebel could start their own business. And they would bring their own spirit to it and they would have their own challenges and strengths within that.

There are certain patterns though. Rebels often gravitate to things where maybe every day is different. I’m going to visit a different field office every day or I’m going to be founding something where every day is a new adventure or maybe I’m in sales where I’m like, “Hey man. You can do everything you want as long as you make that sale.”

Because that appeals to the rebel tendency. Not that others couldn’t do it, but that there might be special value. For questioners, they don’t want to do something that doesn’t make sense and I remember I got an email from somebody who said, “Now I understand why I hate my job so much. I’m a tax accountant and I’m a questioner and I spend all day enforcing rules that are totally arbitrary and make no sense and it makes me nuts.”

It’s like, yeah, that’s not a good fit just for your nature. I don’t think that it’s as simple as, “Oh, you’re and upholder, so you should be an air traffic controller, but it’s helpful to think about why certain environments might feel more comfortable to you or you might be better suited to them.”

If you want to hire a lawyer who’s going to really push the limits of the law for you, I wouldn’t hire an upholder for that.

John Jantsch: Yeah.

Gretchen Rubin: If you want to hire somebody who’s going to be the super straight arrow who’s going to make sure that every i is dotted and every t is crossed, then you’re probably going to be well off with an upholder whose going to be really, really motivated to meet all those expectations. It’s just going to come more naturally.

John Jantsch: And in some cases it may be the culture of an organization may dictate your fit-

Gretchen Rubin: Yes.

John Jantsch:  -as much as anything.

Gretchen Rubin: Absolutely.

John Jantsch: One of the things when I read these things and it’s like, “Okay. You are this.”

Is anybody purely that or is there crossover or bleed over? When I read the analysis, nobody has ever accused me of that part of the questioner because I make decisions very quickly and I don’t use a lot of data. Is there a mixture?

Gretchen Rubin: Do people complain that you ask too many questions?

John Jantsch: No.

Gretchen Rubin: They don’t?

John Jantsch: No.

Gretchen Rubin: No one’s ever said that you drain and overwhelm them with too many questions?

John Jantsch: No, in fact-

Gretchen Rubin: Even in childhood when you were in school did they say?

John Jantsch: Oh yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Well, yes.

Gretchen Rubin: Right.

John Jantsch: Yes. I wanted to know how everything worked.

Gretchen Rubin: Yeah. No, I mean, that’s very typical and that’s a problem that questioner children have because they’re like, “Why should I? Why should I memorize the multiplication table?”

John Jantsch: Exactly.

Gretchen Rubin: They really are waiting for an answer to that.

John Jantsch: Yes.

Gretchen Rubin: Well, the way I think that the mixtures works is I don’t think people are really mixtures, but the way that this comes up is if you think about it, every question, every tendency overlaps with two tendencies. So, you’re a questioner, in a way, and I am an upholder. In a way you and I share something in that we both readily meet inner expectations. In that way we’re alike, but in a way you’re like a rebel because rebels and questioners both resist outer expectations. And so, some rebels are more leaning towards upholder … I mean some questioners are more leaning towards upholder, which is like my husband and some questioners are more leaning towards rebel and so their tendency takes on a flavor. It’s more rebel like.

John Jantsch: Yeah.

Gretchen Rubin: And so there is a variation within the tendency. I would say, these people are still well within their core tendency of questioner, but for instance, some questioners really have trouble with speed limits and other traffic regulations, which to them seem arbitrary and totally unjustified. And so they’re like, “Well, why am I going to observe the speed limit because it makes no sense that everybody’s supposed to … I’m a great driver. Other people are terrible drivers. Why do we all drive 65 miles per hour?”

My husband is a questioner who leans towards upholder, so he doesn’t have problems with rules like that. Questioners who lean towards rebels, like really, really, really need a good justification for something or the really have trouble meeting an expectation. They almost look like rebels, but they’re still coming from this core place of, “Why should I?”

Where the rebels coming from the core place of, “You can’t make me.”

John Jantsch: Do you think that it’s pretty well documented, that any kind of these quizzes end up having, sort of, a bias. You’ve probably had thousands of discussions now with people that have taken this quiz. Do you feel that people readily say, “Yeah. That nailed me.”

Or what’s been the feeling as people have reported to you their results?

Gretchen Rubin: You mean how readily they recognize themselves within the tendencies?

John Jantsch: Yeah. Yeah. And noting that, at least everything I’ve read about surveys is that this kind of personality survey is that most people agree with them. In fact, I read one study where they had all these people take these surveys and then they just randomly gave them-

Gretchen Rubin: Oh, interesting.

John Jantsch:  -and 90% of them said, “Boy, you nailed me.”

Even though it had nothing to do with what you answered.

Gretchen Rubin: Well, that’s interesting I don’t know. I would love to do that and see what happened. I have to say even putting aside the actual quiz. I feel like these are totally obvious in the world and they aren’t easily confused. You do not sound to me like a rebel. You do not sound to me like an obliger. You do not sound to me like an upholder. You sound like to me, you sound like a questioner.

John Jantsch: Yeah.

Gretchen Rubin: It seems pretty obvious and I feel like as an upholder most people aren’t like me. I readily recognize that. I’m constantly astonished, now I’m not because I understand the tendencies, but it used to be like, “I don’t understand other people’s deal.”

They seemed really different from me and I really felt like the kind of person that I am and when I would talk to someone that I now know was another upholder we would completely agree. I feel like, maybe because this is so narrow, it’s just trying to explain one very narrow aspect, it does seem to me to be pretty clear what people are, but I would love to do something like that to test it or maybe to see if maybe there were a group of people where they all knew each other, have everybody identify what they think everybody else’s tendency is and then see how correlated they were.

One thing I’ve noticed is that if I’m speaking, if I’m speaking to a group, typically it’s a work group where people know each other. As I’m describing a tendency everyone will start to laugh and point to different people.

John Jantsch: Yeah.

Gretchen Rubin: Meaning they are saying, as I’m describing it, “Here’s the person. You’re describing somebody we know.”

And they think it’s hilarious. Some people are more extreme or more defined than others, but I do feel like people do … It’s not like astrology where, “Oh yeah, I’m totally that.”

It’s like, “I’m this and I’m nothing else.”

John Jantsch: And I do like, as you said, the very narrow focus on expectations because I think it does allow people to create situations in their mind of, “Oh yeah, I was doing that in that situation.”

So, Gretchen where can people find out more about the Four Tendencies and about your work?

Gretchen Rubin: At There’s a ton of information there about the four tendencies, a lot of resources, the quiz if you want to take the quiz, which is also at if you want to take the quiz. And I also have a podcast. Happier with Gretchen Rubin where I often talk about the tendencies of my sister who is an obliger and then I’m on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, everywhere else as Gretchen Rubin and I love to engage with listeners and readers, so I encourage people to get in touch if they have questions or insights.

John Jantsch: Yeah, that’s interesting. I think we didn’t touch on this, but you do talk about children and tendencies and I wonder how tendencies vary inside of family units. I think my … I have four girls and I think they are all very different. I hadn’t really considered the tendency part, but I bet you there’s a lot of variance within family groups.

Gretchen Rubin: There is.

John Jantsch: Yeah.

Gretchen Rubin: Yeah, typically.

John Jantsch: Well, Gretchen, hopefully we’ll catch up with you the next time you’re in Kansas City. I sure appreciate you dropping by.

Gretchen Rubin: Excellent! So fun to talk to you! Thanks!

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