Just this Tuesday, we were fortunate enough to be able to see Gretchen Rubin give a talk on her new book, The Four Tendencies. One of the great advantages of living near Los Angeles is that almost every awesome person or band who goes on tour will make a stop here. Indeed, we also saw Gretchen when she was here in 2015 promoting Better Than Before. It’s hard to say which is more exciting, hearing her speak live or anticipating the new book. This is the one we’ve all been waiting for, a handy-dandy manual on the Four Tendencies.
Aaaaahhhhhh! I love this book so much!!!
Sorry, I had to get that out of my system.
The premise, if you don’t know already, is that one way to sort people is by whether we meet or resist inner and outer expectations. Learning to place people by where they fit in this system can be incredibly useful. I taught my husband about it, and it’s added a new dimension to our marriage. He uses it with his colleagues. I use it with my family. We’ve even sorted our pets. It was helpful to realize that our Questioner parrot needs more variety in her routine, and she’s not super-big on rules.
The book is structured with a separate section for each tendency. Upholders come first, naturally, since the author is an Upholder and in fact invented the concept. Within sections, there is an explanation of the tendency, its strengths and weaknesses, and variations within the type. For instance, my husband is an UPHOLDER/Questioner like Gretchen and I am a QUESTIONER/Upholder like her husband Jamie.
One of the best features of the book is that each tendency has a chapter on how to deal with people of that type. Oh my gosh, I wish this had been available when I first met my husband! It’s like a “care and feeding of” manual. We went on a vacation trip once with his Upholder mom and Upholder daughter, the three of them lined up, dressed, and ready to go every morning at 6:30 AM, naturally expecting that everyone in the world knows the Upholder Vacation Standards and Practices Guide backwards and forwards. Gee, doesn’t everyone arrive half an hour early and wait in the parking lot for attractions to open? At least they had the good sense to leave the event planning to the curious and novelty-seeking Questioner.
Generally, I think Questioners like myself have the easiest life. It’s just unfortunate that we sometimes make things difficult for others around us! I agree that I can easily do anything if it makes sense and I’m sold on the reasons for it. I’ve learned to battle my own tendency toward analysis-paralysis by adapting the engineering standard known as “low-side compliance.” Does what I’m doing meet the stated criteria, on schedule, with minimal cost and effort? Is the task relevant to the project? I’ve set up a minimalist system for running the household, our finances, my client schedule, and my fitness level, so I can get the optimal results with the least time commitment. That means I have the maximum time possible to write, research obsessively, and mess around doing whatever I want. My Upholder husband, who taught me the concept of low-side compliance, usually cooperates without comment, even when I keep tweaking the system.
Incidentally, there was another Questioner in the audience at the live event on Tuesday. He asked what I considered to be an archetypical Questioner question. Essentially, he wanted to know where the data came from, and he finished, “I don’t see a PhD after your name...” I thought this was so impertinent, a harsh startup that came across very aggressively. (I mean, do you yourself have an advanced degree? No?) How often must I sound like that to people when I ask curious questions?? He happened to be sitting directly behind me, so I was able to turn around and chat with him after the show. By “chat,” I mean, engage in Questioner debate. I shared that the data came from the hundreds of thousands of people who had taken the Tendencies quiz on Gretchen’s website, and that she has a Juris Doctor, which is basically equivalent to a PhD. His rejoinder was that that’s law, not social sciences. We quibbled back and forth for about ten minutes, with the result that we were last in line to get our books signed. Neither of us changed our minds.
My husband and I had a bit of a joke, imagining the room sorted into four groups by tendency. He said the Upholders would all nod at one another and then stand there, waiting for further instructions. I said the Obligers would be trading contact information within five minutes, and they’d all wind up hugging before they left. He said most of the Rebels would probably leave. I said the Questioners would immediately start quarreling non-stop. Then he did wind up meeting another Upholder and they traded nods... and I did get into a quarrel with another Questioner!
In practice, exploring the Four Tendencies tends to make us more accepting of other people’s quirks and foibles. Better than that, it helps us to realize that they have strengths we may have been taking for granted. Recently I’ve realized that my Rebel dad has a native genius for negotiating. I’m trying to absorb more of the Obliger gift for friendship. My husband is using what he knows about the tendencies to help mentor younger engineers. This book is going to be an invaluable resource for those who care to explore it. There’s definitely room in the world for more of this material. If the great Gretchen Rubin were to write companion volumes for the workplace, marriage, or parenting, I would be delighted to read them.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.