The Four Tendencies and Coaching

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If you’ve never heard of The Four Tendencies before, it’s a personality framework devised by the author Gretchen Rubin, and I recommend that you immediately head over here to do her quiz before coming back to read more. Trust me, it’ll all make far more sense to you.

Quickly though for anyone who isn’t going to do that (and I’ll guess that you'd fall into the Rebel category if you didn’t head over to have a read!), it’s all about how we fulfil inner and outer expectations. So, an example of an inner expectation is a New Year’s resolution or personal goal, and an outer expectation could be your boss asking you to do a certain task by 5pm tomorrow.

The Four Tendencies are Rebel (resists both inner and outer expectations), Questioner (can meet inner expectations but will only take them seriously when they understand exactly why they need to do something and why it’s important), Obligers (who find it much easier to meet outer expectations and do what other people ask of them than to prioritise their own goals) and Upholders (will generally meet both inner and outer expectations.)

After discovering the Four Tendencies on Gretchen’s Happier podcast with her sister Liz I loved the idea. The quiz helped me understand that as a Rebel, I’m easily able to do what I want to do, but if it’s something I don’t want to do? Well, that’s going to be far tougher. I had never understood why it was super easy for me to form some habits but impossible for me to form others. Surely, if I just tried a bit harder, I‘d be able to do it?

The more I read and heard on the topic, the more it made sense to me. Only when I really cared about what I was being asked to do, could I dig in and make it happen. Drinking 8 glasses of water a day? Meh. Whatever. Running? Not for me. But when I get an idea in my head of something I REALLY want to do, then I’m unstoppable. It was a real light bulb moment and has helped me decide on what’s truly important to me. It also explains why I’m not keen on New Year’s Resolutions.

Of course it’s not always easy to tell which tendency a person has, because we’re talking about inner expectations here, and most people aren’t going to freely talk to you about how easy they find it to set and keep goals. Apart from Obligers, who often seem to talk about how easy they find it to do things for other people and how hard they find prioritising themselves. This is why the quiz is so useful, and why I asked you to start there.

When it comes to coaching clients, this is brilliant information for me to have. In order for me to support clients to reach their goals, it’s enormously helpful to know which camp they fall into. Push a Rebel too hard and they’ll be off like a shot. Don’t hold an Obliger accountable and their results will be slow at best.

So how do I use The Four Tendencies?

The quiz

I often start the coaching process with this quiz as part of my introduction process. It means that I can tailor things to the client from the earliest possible point. Sure, I might have a good idea about a person from our initial chats, but coaching reveals a lot of far deeper things, and quickly, so getting this information before we’ve even had session one.

How can you use it to your advantage?

You can take the quiz, possibly read the books Better Than Before and The Four Tendencies to learn more about it, or simply get on Google. There’s lots of useful articles out there to learn more about the idea.

My language

Once I know a person’s tendency, it’s only one part of them and I don’t get carried away with it, but it helps me adapt my language both in emails and in our sessions. “Accountability” is a dirty word to Rebels and Upholders won’t need it. However, the Obligers who I’ve worked me want this and need it too. I’ll never end a session without being clear on what I’m holding them accountable for that week or fortnight.

How can you use it to your advantage?

Watch your self talk. If you’re a Rebel or a Questioner and you find yourself saying “I’ve got to get that done,” ask yourself, “do I really mean that?” Because if you don’t care about it or see the importance, you’re wasting your breath and quite possibly pushing yourself in the opposite direction.

For Obligers, consider how you speak to yourself about your own goals. If you notice that you’re down on your abilities before you get started, think about how you can rephrase what you say. Turning “I never see anything through” into “I haven’t managed to do this yet, but this time I’m going to try a different approach” is a far more empowering place to start.

My support

This is the biggie and totally linked to how I speak to my clients, but hear me out. In coaching, I get to know people really well. Spending weeks discussing hopes, dreams, fears, worries, insecurities and aspirations will do that. I want every client to finish their work with me feeling as though they’ve been in a safe space to discuss all of these things, and now have a clear plan of what’s in front of them. For some, that process will have involved a lot of messaging in between sessions where we chat about strategies to overcome difficult moments and celebrate wins. For others, it only involves in the session time because they don’t feel the need for in between support.

When I know a person’s tendency from the beginning, it helps me establish that right away. When to check in? How to check in? How matey to be or how professional? Does this client want suggestions for extra reading and listening, or are they happier working on one thing at a time? It’s just one part of the delightful puzzle that is YOU but knowing how to start is a major step in the right direction for our relationship as we work together.

How can you use it to your advantage?

Like anything, you’ve got to take your result from the quiz and put it into action.

Obligers- join groups, ask a friend to check in on you, get a coach, start a blog, make a bet with someone, give yourself rewards for progress. Feel accountable in some way and then take the action you want to take. Do more for yourself and know that you deserve it.

Questioners- Learn all you can about that thing you want to achieve, be really clear on why it’s a good idea and then get started. Remind yourself of all of those reasons when the going gets tough, and knuckle back down. Repeat this process when you feel yourself flagging, and have your reasons somewhere you will see every day.

Rebels- Take time to work out what feels right to you, both in the goals you set and the way you go about working on them. Throw out what doesn’t serve you and set up new routines and ways of working that give you the space and freedom you crave, but also propel you towards the success you want. You’re not lazy, trust me, you just need to do it your way. Consider giving yourself options rather than hard or fast rules. Lists to choose from, plans you can adapt and times that suit your natural rhythms will be more effective than anyone telling you that you “must” do something.

Obligers- Get to know your comfort levels and when you need to take a break. You might be able to do all of the things for all of the people (including yourself) but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy in the long run. Identify when you feel stressed and practice taking a step back from your commitments. For biggest challend may be doing less!

Like any personality framework, The Four Tendencies is only helpful in some ways. It can’t do the work of forming new habits for you, and it doesn’t tell the full story about ho you are as a person. I just know it’s been helpful to me personally and in working with others too, so give it a go!

If you’re interested in working with me (maybe you’re an Obliger) then head to my homepage, and get on my mailing list where you’ll be the first to hear when coaching spots are opening up.

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