Gretchen Rubin

A Four Tendencies Dilemma: What Would You Do with the Office Coffee Mug?

A Four Tendencies Dilemma: What Would You Do with the Office Coffee Mug?

Have  I mentioned that my book The Four Tendencies is coming out in September? Oh right, I think I have.

Well, I'm gearing up for my book tour, and thinking about my book talk.

I'm considering opening my talk by describing a familiar situation that illustrates how differently the Four Tendencies see the world. What do you think of that idea? Consider this scenario:

"What Would You Do with the Office Coffee Mug?"

Imagine that you've been hired to work in sales in a small-to-medium sized office.

There's an office kitchen with a sink, fridge, dishwasher, and a cabinet stocked with office mugs.

Although you haven't met the night cleaning staff, you know that a crew comes in every night to vacuum, dust, empty the trash cans, handle the recycling, clean the kitchen, and wash and put the office mugs back in the cupboard.

There's no sign in the office telling you what to do with your dirty mugs, and no one has mentioned the office etiquette to you.

The first time you used a mug and were deciding what to do with it, what idea most likely ran through your mind?

  1. My job is to do sales, and the cleaning staff's job is to clean.
  2. It's more efficient for the cleaning staff to spend the time cleaning, and for me to spend my time making sales.
  3. The cleaning staff shouldn't have to clean up after me.
  4. No one can tell me what to do with my mug.

To be sure, your Tendency is just one narrow aspect of your character; two people of the same Tendency might behave differently depending on how considerate they are, how ambitious they are, how busy, how extroverted, and a million other things.

And of course your life experience influences your behavior. You might automatically deal with your mug  the way you dealt with mugs at your last job.

Nevertheless, I think there are some very general patterns, if you identified with those reactions:

1-likely to be an Upholder

2-likely to be a Questioner

3-likely to be an Obliger

4-likely to be a Rebel

However, it's crucial to note that you can't judge people's Tendencies from their actions; you have to know what they're thinking.

And you often can't predict people's actions from knowing their Tendency, because so many factors come into play.

For instance, in contrast to the predictions listed above, a Rebel might choose to clean a mug, with the thought, "It's important to me to be a thoughtful member of this office." An Obliger might not clean a mug, with the thought, "This office is dangerously close to failure. I need to spend every minute I possibly can making sales, or everyone will lose their jobs." A Questioner might clean a mug, with the thought, "If clients come in and see a sink full of dirty dishes, they may assume we run a sloppy operation. The risk of losing sales is a very good reason for me to clean my dishes."

Given the many different perspectives that can arise, even within the same Tendency, it's easy how often people disagree. An Obliger might think, "I can't believe that other people show so little common courtesy for others."  A Questioner might think, "If you want to clean the mugs, fine, but don't expect me to help. I'm here to make sales!" An Upholder might think, "I wouldn't empty the trash cans, and I wouldn't vacuum, and I don't feel like I have to wash the dishes, those aren't my jobs." A Rebel thinks, "Why does everyone keep talking about the mugs? Sheesh, do whatever you want, that's what I do."

Studying the Four Tendencies has shown me that very often, there's no single correct way to view a situation.

Want to learn your Tendency? Take the quiz here. (Hundreds of thousands of people have taken it.)

Want to join a lively discussion about the Four Tendencies? Join the Better app to ask questions, offer strategies and insights, and join Accountability Groups.

Want to get free access to my five videos about how to apply the Four Tendencies? To get the pre-order bonus, you can find details here. You’ll get the overview video as well as subject videos on using the Four Tendencies at work, with spouses and sweethearts, with children and students, and in health-care settings.  Free now; note after the book comes out, there will be a (fairly hefty) charge for the video series.

icon emailNewsletterLight

One Last Thing

Interested in happiness, habits, and human nature?

Sign up to get my free monthly newsletter. I share ideas for being happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative.

Sign Up Now