Podcast 36: Do You Always Ask “Why?” Maybe You’re a Questioner.

It’s time for the next installment of  “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.” (Remember, if you’d like to get an email alert every time we release a new episode, you can sign up here.)

Update:  Elizabeth, such a good sister, gives a plug for my book, Better Than Before — soon to be out in paperback. We also talk about Christmas Boot Camp, Dog-Car-Riding Boot Camp, and a great unpacking tip. Also, eggs. We’ve heard from so many people about eggs! My daughters and I are now eating lots of hard-boiled eggs.

Today is the second in the series of four episodes that we’re devoting to the Four Tendencies.  In last week’s episode, we talked about the Upholder Tendency; this week, it’s Questioner. To help shed light on the Questioner Tendency, we talk to brilliant agent Christy Fletcher.

To take the Four Tendencies quiz, go here. Find out if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel.

Try This at Home: Think about a few people in your life, identify their Tendencies, and try to put that knowledge to use. Understanding a Tendency can make it easier to manage conflict, come to agreement, and convince others of your point of view.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Questioners:  As Christy points out, as with all the Tendencies, the strengths and the weaknesses of the Questioners are the flip sides of each other.

Striking Pattern of Questioners: Questioners can get overwhelmed or paralyzed by their desire to get their questions answered — or they can overwhelm or annoy others with their desire for more information. We discuss how Questioners can get the benefits of their Tendency, and deal constructively with the downsides. Christy has some specific suggestions that work for her.

Christy’s Try This at Home: Say “yes” to something that makes you uncomfortable.

Listener Question: “As a Questioner, I love to research and will spend a lot of time questioning my own decisions. One of my biggest challenges is ‘decision paralysis.’ How do Questioners overcome decision paralysis?” To read more about the maximizer vs. satisficer distinction, which we briefly discuss, read here, or in Better Than Before, in the chapter on the Strategy of Distinctions.

Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth hasn’t been exercising as much as she wants to do.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: Jamie told our friend, “We’ve all done it.” Exactly the right thing to say.

Call for comments, questions, observations!

We’re spending four weeks talking about my Four Tendencies framework for human nature. We’ve already had many thought-provoking responses, but we want more.


Please, send in your questions and comments by voicemail, email, etc.

Happier with Gretchen Rubin, Episode #36

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  • Kelly

    I’m a Questioner and have often struggled with both analysis paralysis and trying to rethink decisions that I already made and often can’t reverse. But I read an article in the Harvard Business Review that changed my paradigm: there are two kinds of decisions. Sometimes, there is a right and wrong decision. For those, I can apply prioritization based on what is most important and urgent and spend my research time accordingly. Do the pros and cons list and make the decision. But the ones that I typically have the most “analysis paralysis” and post-decision agonizing about are the other kind, which are trade-off decisions. Trade-offs often do not have a clear right or wrong answer, and a lot of really big decisions are trade-offs. So when I recognize a trade-off, I do what the CEO in the article recommends: I pick the one that feels the most right to me and then fully commit to making it work. From then on, I focus on the benefits of my choice and just make the best out of the situation. This approach has saved me a lot of grief and surprisingly allowed me to let go of a lot of decisions that I would have agonized over before (pre and post-decision making).

    This is probably what a lot of people do anyway, but I had to have the types of decisions defined and explained by HBR, of course.

    • OceanPark2

      This is a super-helpful distinction, thanks Kelly! I’m going to go find that HBR article.

    • Christy

      Kelly, I would love to read the HBR article you referenced. Can you post a link?

  • DrPeppie

    Another juicy episode—thanks! The Four Tendencies framework has been kind of a revelation in my life, and I’m loving these deep dives. The conversation today actually left me feeling further away from the framework, and so I’m puzzling through that at the moment. (I hope and expect to end up further enlightened.)

    I think my boyfriend (of six years) and I are pretty solid in our tendencies: I’m an Obliger, and he’s a Questioner. And yet it’s ME who over-researches and has, I would humbly say, high standards. I’m also in the publishing world, and so I really resonate with much of what Christy said. As a developmental editor, I’m constantly asking whether a certain line of thinking is necessary, etc. So that’s where I kind of frustrate the Obliger paradigm. My boyfriend, the Questioner, does not go down those rabbit holes.

    What I think I’m realizing is that my boyfriend and I sit almost resistantly within our tendencies. I’m a very critical, discerning Obliger, and he’s an extroverted Questioner who indeed seeks out social/external commitments to punctuate and structure each day.

    At first, actually, I was surprised to be an Obliger because I am self-employed and like to be: having my clients at something of a distance feels freeing. Then, of course, I realized that this is probably because I feel an outsize sense of obligation to other people, so I enjoy working alone as a way of giving myself even a chance of not spending every waking moment at the beck and call of others. (And I do sometimes struggle with staying on task as a result of being removed from the other people to whom I’m answerable. I am not an Upholder.)

    In much the same way, my boyfriend, the satisficing (hardly ever maximizing) Questioner, uses questioning as a gatekeeping method. He does not let other people’s expectations penetrate his list of priorities. And maybe this is why he CAN be so social and still function (I maybe wouldn’t fare as well).

    So I find this an interesting twist for those of us who may experience tension within our own tendencies: they become filtering systems. An Obliger, I resist social commitments and like to work for myself so that I can make progress on the internal expectations I do also harbor! A Questioner, my boyfriend doesn’t over-analyze: he guards his own priorities well by questioning/rejecting and can therefore be very outward-facing without losing his mooring.

    Thanks for another thought-provoking installment of Happier!

  • Rebecca Lynn

    Do you think the Four Tendencies can be applied to children/teens as well? Or are their brains not fully developed? I am an administrator in a middle school and I was thinking about how to apply the tendencies when working with students.

  • Mimi Gregor

    I am a Questioner, married to an Upholder. Whenever I ask my husband to do something, he puts it on the chore board and does it without a fuss. But when he asks me to do something, I ask all sorts of questions and give him the third degree about it, until I can see him losing patience with me. But my reason for this is: if I know why he wants something done, I can sometimes come up with a more efficient way of doing it, or even show him data on why it doesn’t need to be done in the first place. I pride myself on being organized, and if you just automatically do everything everyone requests of you, you will soon end up in over your head. By asking questions, you can better prioritize what you have to do — or even find that you don’t have to do it at all, which is, of course, the height of efficiency.

    • OceanPark2

      HI Mimi, I’m interested in your “chore board”. My husband and I share tasks via an online to-do manager app, which works fairly well but can really frustrate me – I’m a Rebel so you can imagine how I react when my phone pipes up with an alert telling me to complete a task! So I’d love to hear more about the method you use to track and assign projects between the two of you. Thanks!

      • Mimi Gregor

        Our “chore board” is pretty low-tech. It’s a dry erase board in the kitchen. His chores are written in red marker, mine in blue. Only things that need to be done in the next couple days are put on the board. And you know what? Things always get done, and I think it’s because we really like erasing the stuff once we’re done the chore. The expanse of white board tells me “Yes! You’re caught up! You can do whatever you want now!”

  • Danielle

    I, like Christy, am a questioner married to another questioner. I had to laugh at her story about living without a dishwasher for months, because we have lived without a furnace for one month now. As it begins to get colder, we discuss the pros and cons of what to do next. Maybe we want to install radiant heat floors instead or in addition to a new furnace, maybe we should move the furnace to another part of the house so that we can open up the current space and make a closet, maybe there is a greener option to the furnace we have—hey, I wonder if our gas company has some kind of rebate. And what about our plan to install solar panels at some point–should this have anything to do with the heater we choose? In the meantime, we have multiple companies providing estimates for new heaters and we are gathering stacks of information. Luckily for us, the coming winter will provide us with a clear, hard deadline.

  • anne friedman

    I want to suggest to elizabeth that she get a white noise machine for her son’s room. I have a light sleeping son and we used to live in a small house so it was a great solution. We got one with a choice of sounds (he picked the tropical rainforest sounds which I could never sleep to!) And it relieves my anxiety about disturbing him at night! Good luck.

  • Jamie

    Thank you so much for using the phrase “Questioners – amundo” That just gave me such a great little giggle. I love messing around with words like that. It’s like the verbal equivalent of jumping. A little silly and gives your mood a little lift.

  • Jackie

    Questioner here married to up holder 29+ years. I have to read to him. I have to appeal to what is “right” to get him to buy into what makes sense to me. Got my MSN at 48. Always learning. He is tightening ad he gets older!
    Four grown children. Helps to know my 20 yr old obliger son still living at home requires me to invite people he cares about over to get him to clean. Grateful his older sibs fill that.
    Wonder who listens to you most?
    Who do rebels listen to?
    So interesting to think about and realize.

  • Jeanne

    Funny, I’m a Questioner (married to an Obliger, which works out well) and I really don’t like to do things that don’t make sense or seem stupid or arbitrary to me, but am totally clear that often this is necessary, especially at work, but with family too. So if the payoff is keeping my job or acting with kindness toward others, I will do just about anything, even if it’s not my way. But I do not like exhaustive research either, and often like to go with my intuition about what to do or buy. So I seem to be a Questioner who is also a Satisficer. Is there such a thing? Once it’s good enough, I go for it, and don’t second guess myself. I always knew I hated wasting time, but one day I realized that I wasn’t clear what my definition of wasting time was. So I took the time to define it for me. Doing nothing is not wasting time if that’s what I want to do. To me, wasting time is doing things the hard way, or doing things (especially unpleasant things) that don’t need to be done at all. Surprising to me how many people do things the hard way without even trying to find a better way. I find the lack of creativity astounding. But nobody finds a better way without questioning the current way. That’s where my questioning comes in. I question things so as not to waste my precious human life on doing unnecessary odious tasks or reinventing the wheel all the time.

  • Kristen

    I am a questioner and I have forever questioned why I need to make my bed everyday until you talked about the benefits on an earlier podcast. That was my lightening bolt – my new habit of making my bed each day is now effortless! Thanks!

  • Jennifer Feuchter

    I suggest Elizabeth try out a product called Run Phones for her workouts. They have wired and bluetooth headphones that you wear as a headband. I’ve used their sleep phones and can attest that they are very comfortable to wear, and reasonably easy to clean.

  • Diana L.

    I second the recommendation for Elizabeth to look into getting wireless headphones. I also find that I am more likely to exercise if I have a really good TV show I am really into that I allow myself to watch only when I work out.

  • Upsilon

    According to the quiz, I’m a Questioner. However, I also place high priority in fulfilling my responsibilities to others. If I say I’ll be at your party with a dip, that’s what happens. I pride myself on not flaking out and it really bothers me if someone feels like I dropped the ball. So isn’t that very Obliger behavior?

    • gretchenrubin

      Not necessarily. Meeting commitments to others is something that people of all Tendencies can do.

  • Sandra D

    So…I’ve taken the quiz 3 times…because apparently I’m a questioner, which I didn’t really believe at first, but after taking the quiz twice, listening to the podcast twice and reading the book and thinking about it, yup, it makes sense. The 3rd time I took the quiz was just for confirmation.
    I know, I know, it’s really quite funny in hindsight, but really it wasn’t what I was expecting to get as a result. I actually don’t ask a lot of questions, never have, even as a kid, and I avoid confrontations, so I didn’t think it fit at first, but yeah, in my own quiet way, I won’t do something that I don’t think make sense.
    Analysis paralysis – oh, yes, definitely, but usually about inconsequential things like what I’m going to wear that day. I used to drive myself crazy with that one in the morning (Owl here, not a Lark), starting into my closet half-awake for way too long, but my habit that really helps that is deciding what to wear the night before. Then, decision is made, I just go ahead and put on what I already decided to the night before – no more wasting time in the morning when I’m barely functional. Sure, on rare occasions the weather forecast radically changes and I’m too cold or too hot, but 99% of the time it really doesn’t.

    Anyway, thanks – really helpful to learn something new about myself!

  • Lindy

    I’m definitely a questioner and get caught by analysis paralysis. But the advice to create a deadline is something I question itself! I only respond to deadlines that make sense. Arbitrary ones don’t work.

  • Emma Choua

    Less than two months after our wedding, my husband and I were honeymoon-img overseas. Part way through our trip my husband lost his wedding band. For 24 horrible hours we were searching for it, retracing our steps and trying to contact hotels, train companies and restaurants in 3 different towns. All in another language!

    I was so upset and told my sister about it. I didn’t want to dump on my husband because he was just as upset and I kept trying to reassure him it was ok.

    I was telling my sister because a problem shared is a problem halved. I didn’t expect her to be able to comfort me with words because I didn’t think it was possible. But then, within seconds of me telling her what happened (and without any time to think about it really) my sister said the PERFECT thing. “Well, at least you didn’t lose him with the ring”.

    Talk about perfect.

    And happy ending – after 24 hours of searching we found it!

  • Kiona McDaniel

    Ha! I’m a questioner for sure! I was listening to this podcast and you were talking about sending data to someone for changing their diet. I thought “What a good idea! I’ll send an article to Liz. She wants to get healthy.” Two seconds later your co-host said that questioners love to send articles. Doh!

    My fiance is a rebel and it is a challenge. As a matter of fact, I sent him the rebel podcast. Probably a big oops. But I doubt he’ll listen to it because I suggested it. Home decoration is a nightmare. He expressed that he wanted to add more of his flavor to our home so I put up my things and left the rest blank so he could do his thing. It’s been 2 months and the spaces are still blank.

    I would say my motto is “Track everything, even if you don’t need to.” I have many lists and fitness/diet apps. And you better believe that my finances are in an Excel spreadsheet. I love them all. I love to review all of the numbers to compare them to what I see in my reality. Fun!


  • Mary Ellen Mahoney

    I have been noticing things that I do and appreciate that are definitely things of a Questioner. One is being so drawn to this cook book I found called The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. She not only has fabulous recipes, but her recipes have an explanation about why the instructions are the way they are. She calls this part of the recipe directions “Understanding”. I am eager to check out her other books as well!

  • Corrie Howard

    My boss pulled me into her office a few months ago to ask me why I questioned everything. It now makes sense! I’m a questioner. I question everything internally and externally, especially why people do the things they do. I spend hours researching mundane topics because I have this horrible need to know. One of my biggest faults is that I question how I handle everything– before, during, and after the interaction. I wish I could let things go because it eats at me.

    • gretchenrubin

      In my book that comes out in September, THE FOUR TENDENCIES, I talk about how Questioners can contain “analysis paralysis” – you’re describing a very common problem among Questioners. I hope that’s reassuring to hear! Sometimes it’s nice to know “it’s not just me who does this.”

      • Corrie Howard

        I can’t wait to pick up a copy. Thank you for doing all that you do!

  • Rui Alves

    The quiz gives me rebel but I´m a questioner, maybe because I question any rules, even they are made by high authority or not, they have to be just for all.