Take a Look at These Signs. Can You Guess Which Tendency Is Targeted?

I continue to be obsessed with my Four Tendencies framework — lucky for me, given that I’m writing a book on the subject! (To hear when that book goes on sale, sign up here.)

One fun thing I’ve been doing? Searching for signs that are aimed at a particular Tendency, or that do a good job of appealing to all Four Tendencies.

Before I get to the signs, if you need a quick overview of the Four Tendencies:

In a nutshell, it distinguishes how people tend to respond to expectations: outer expectations (a deadline, a “request” from a sweetheart) and inner expectations (write a novel in your free time, keep a New Year’s resolution).

  • Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations (I’m an Upholder, 100%)
  • Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense–essentially, they make all expectations into inner expectations
  • Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves
  • Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike


To take the online Quiz to determine your Tendency, go here.

Here are some signs that have definite special appeal to one particular Tendency. See if you can guess which Tendency — answers at the bottom.

1. Bathroom Etiquette sign

What do you think? Does this appeal most to Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel?


2. Anti-smoking campaign video

How about this video of one of the Food and Drug Administration anti-smoking campaigns? Watch the video here.


3. Wet boots sign

This sign about wet boots would likely appeal to several Tendencies but to me, it seems mostly aimed at one. Which one?



“Bathroom Etiquette” is for Obligers, by Obligers! That line, “Keep the place nice for others, if not for yourself” — that’s Obliger.

The anti-smoking ad campaign is aimed squarely at Rebels. If you smoke, you’re controlled, you’re trapped, you’re someone else’s puppet, you’re pouring your money into someone else’s pocket. Terrific!

“Wet boots” seems aimed at Questioners. I suspect that the locker-room attendant had spent many a weary minute explaining to Questioner gym-goers why the boots should indeed stay on the floor.

I was inspired to look for these signs by a brilliant series that Dan Pink did on his blog, called Emotionally Intelligent Signage. He posts photos of…you guessed it, emotionally intelligent signs. It’s so much fun to look at these clever signs. He’s got a bunch listed here.

A few readers have sent me good examples of Tendency-focused signs, and I’d love more! Send them my way. I get the biggest kick out of them.

Stay tuned for a post of my favorite signs that target all the Tendencies in one message.

Have you seen signs that seem effectively designed to push the buttons of one Tendency?

  • Marie-Claire

    My husband had a furniture making workshop/studio during the crafts revival in the 70s, and many admirers would feel free to come and ask him all sorts of questions, taking up hours of his time. He designed the following sign for his door: “Weekends, visitors will be seen. Weekdays, visitors will be sawn”!

    • gretchenrubin


  • Mimi Gregor

    As a Questioner AND a cook, any time I followed a recipe, I would question things about it: WHY should I add half the garlic NOW and half later? It’s easier to add it all now, so I will. And I was a good cook. But not a great cook. Then I got BOXES of the magazine, Cooks Illustrated, at a yard sale. This magazine not only gives recipes, but has an article about how the cook came up with the best way to do it and the best ingredients to use. It’s just so much “inside baseball” if you’re not really into cooking. But to me, as a Questioner, it was an “aha” moment. It told me WHY i add some of the garlic now and some later, and yes, it DID make a difference. These magazines took me from being a good cook to an exceptional one, because they answered the ‘why” for me.

    • gretchenrubin

      What a terrific example of the value of answering Questioner questions. And even though I don’t cook, I LOVE Cooks Illustrated! So beautiful.

  • Laurie Despres

    Last year my place of work was hit hard by the FLU. This year we made a really big effort to have everyone who could get a FLU shot – get a FLU shot. Most did but these ads got me thinking about the holdouts The REBELS Next year we got to do a special hook for them. Up-holders -you just need a sign – Flu shots with place, time and date. Obliger- just tell them their FLU shots may save someone else’s life. Questioners- just give them the stats+facts. But Rebels ?

    • gretchenrubin

      For Rebels, it’s about what they WANT, and feeling free.

      “Want to spend three days stuck in bed, miserable? Or risk missing your long-planned vacation? Stop by for a flu shot whenever it’s convenient from DATE-DATE, and keep yourself feeling great.”

      • RethinkHappy

        This is a very interesting philosophy. I think it’s great, and could be very helpful in campaigning with current and potential clients.

      • kicking_k

        I think this is very interesting, because I’m a rebel, but I do manage to do things like get a flu shot as soon as the signs go up. I also go to the dentist like clockwork (making the appointment at the previous one, yes) because the consequences are worse than the bummer of having to do it. Does it make a difference that I’m scared to go to the dentist and scared of having shots? Am I rebelling against my own fear? (I don’t manage to do that with non-health things.)

  • I live in Singapore where there is plenty of signage asking you to pick up after your dog, use the hand dryer in the restroom instead of flicking water onto the floor, and behave courteously on the metro. All these seem to apply to the same type, Obligers.

  • Jones Dental

    I’ve been to restaurants where they encourage you bus your own table. Typically, there’s just an area where you empty your garbage and recycling and empty your tray, but a couple of places I’ve been to give more detailed (and often cute and humorous) instructions, with arrows showing where cutlery, glasses, dishes, and trays should be placed, and explaining the whys of self-bussing. I’d say aimed at Questioners.