I continue to study the “Four Tendencies”—my personality framework that divides people into Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. It’s endlessly fascinating.
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Understanding the Four Tendencies can be extremely valuable in the workplace, because using the framework can help deal with burn-out, procrastination, insubordination, rigidity, impulsivity, and so on. Often, conflicts arise because two people are of two different Tendencies, so they see things in different ways. Once you take the Tendencies into account, a solution becomes clear.
For this reason, I’m often asked: What’s the best Tendency to hire? And the answer: It depends.
It depends on what the job requires, and whether a particular Tendency is a good fit.
And it’s also true that within a Tendency, people differ enormously on other qualities which would make them more or less suited to a job. So many factors matter, in addition to the Four Tendencies. So I would never say “An Obliger could never do that job” or “Only an Obliger could do that job,” because so many elements come into play to make someone successful.
That said, it’s true that each Tendency generally shows a pattern of strengths and weaknesses:
- They’re self-directed, so they meet deadlines and run projects without much supervision
- They’re eager to meet expectations (rules, regulations, performance targets) and may become uneasy when it’s not clear what’s expected
- They embrace routine and may struggle to adjust to changes in scheduling or process
- They may have trouble delegating, because they suspect that others aren’t dependable
- They may be judgmental of others who won’t or don’t meet expectations easily, or who have a lot of questions
- They can seem uptight or rigid
Good fit: Clear expectations. Predictable work patterns. Rewards and recognition for excellence and productivity.
- They put a high value on reason, research, information, and efficiency, but they sometimes cling stubbornly to their own conclusions, even when others disagree.
- They follow an “authority” only if they trust his or her expertise.
- Because of their persistent questioning, others may view them as uncooperative, obstructionist, “not a team player”—or just exhausting.
- They often dislike being questioned themselves (ironic, but true).
- They resist anything arbitrary—like “The report can’t be longer than 20 pages,” or “This is due on Friday.”
- They can suffer “analysis-paralysis” when their desire for perfect information makes it hard for them to move forward.
- They require robust explanations if they’re to meet expectations—it’s not enough to say “Because I say so” or “This is how we’ve always done it” or “This is what Corporate wants.”
- They often like to customize.
Good fit: All changes and initiatives justified. Rewards and recognition for improved metrics and efficiency. If necessary, limits imposed on over-thinking or on “crackpot” convictions.
- They put a high value on meeting commitments to others and going the extra mile—“I’ll do anything for my client/patient/customer/team”
- They require deadlines, monitoring, deliverables, and other forms of accountability.
- They are the “Type O” of the Tendencies; Obliger tends to be the Tendency that the other three work well with.
- They may have trouble saying “no” or setting limits on others’ demands, so…
- They may be exploited by people who take advantage of them, so…
- They may feel resentful and fall into burn-out and Obliger-rebellion.
- Managers and co-workers should play fair and make sure that work is distributed fairly, that Obligers take time off, and that Obligers aren’t exploited by others.
Good fit: Fair distribution of work. A workplace fueled on accountability rather than self-motivation (freelance, gig, field office, etc.). Rewards and recognition for efforts that go “the extra mile.”
- They put a high value on freedom, choice, self-expression, and authenticity; they can do anything they want to do.
- If someone asks or tells them to do something, they’re likely to resist.
- They may choose to act out of a sense of mission or belief in a cause.
- They want to do their own work in their own way, in their own time, and don’t respond well to supervision, advice, reminders, or directions.
- They resist routines, schedules, and repetitive tasks.
- If they have a work or romantic partner, that partner is probably an Obliger.
- They may act as though ordinary rules don’t apply to them; this may be an advantage, for instance, in sales.
- They’re often restless and may find it difficult to settle down in a job or particular office.
- To inspire a Rebel to act, it’s most effective to appeal to their identity, or to use information-consequence-choice.
- Perhaps surprisingly, some Rebels are attracted to professions of high regulation such as police, the clergy, the military, and big companies with a lot of rules.
Good fit: Variety in environment and workflow. Lots of independence. Close connection between the Rebel’s identity and the values and purpose of the task. Rewards and recognition for thinking outside the box and flexibility.
So when you’re making a hire—or considering a job—it’s worth thinking about the fit. A position that would be a terrific place for an Obliger might not be a good fit for a Rebel. It’s not that it’s not a good job for someone, it’s just that it doesn’t draw on the strengths and preferences of that person’s Tendency.
In the same way, a workplace culture could be a good fit—or not. Whatever the task at hand, the culture might encourage or discourage questioning, oversight, executing on the founder’s vision, etc.
Take me, for instance. As an Upholder, it’s not a challenge for me to set and meet my own writing deadlines, keep to-do lists, respond in a timely way to colleagues, or execute on a big vision for myself. On the other hand, I’m not very flexible, get very defensive when I’m criticized, and am not very good at delegating. These strengths and weaknesses are a good fit for the “job” I have now.
Have you noticed that a particular Tendency does well in your line of work—or seems to attract a high concentration of a particular Tendency? Is it the nature of the work, or the workplace?
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