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Book Review: The Four Tendencies

One morning recently I was talking to a friend, and he was telling me about this book he was reading. The book discusses how people deal with expectations differently. He went on to tell me about one type of person that the book titled "rebels" and how they deal with expectations in life. These "rebels" tend to not meet expectations that they have set for themselves, nor do they meet expectations that others set for them. I immediately told him that that sounded just like one of my sons. This son has a hard time listening to anybody, including himself!

That was enough to seriously pique my interest, and I rarely read books that others suggest, but this sounded very helpful and I wanted to see if there was anything to it. So, I got the book. It’s called The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin. The book describes the four tendencies present among all people. Each person has a primary tendency, as well as a secondary tendency. These tendencies are ways in which each person deals with inner expectations (that is, expectations that you put on yourself) and outer expectations (that is, expectations put on you by somebody else).

For instance, an Upholder typically does pretty well at keeping inner expectations that they have set for themselves and outer expectations that others set for them. These people are self starters, eager to understand and meet others expectations, and like to stick to a schedule. Generally, they can set a New Year's resolution and keep it. They can also easily meet expectations that others put on them, like a work deadline.

Questioners, on the other hand, resist outer expectations but meet inner expectations. They’re data driven, unwilling to accept authority without justification, and interested in creating systems that are efficient and effective. They won't do what someone else wants them to unless it makes sense to them. But if it does make sense to them, they will follow through faithfully.

Then there are Obligers. Obligers meet outer expectations but resist inner expectations. Obligers make good bosses, are willing to go the extra mile, and are responsible. Obligers will bend over backwards for others, but they often struggle to do good for themselves.

And then, there’s the Rebel. Rebels resist outer expectations and inner expectations. Rebels are independently minded, think outside the box, and are willing to go his or her own way to buck social conventions. Rebels won't do what anyone wants including themselves unless they genuinely want to do it.

In reading The Four Tendencies, I was excited to find out what tendency I was and what tendencies those close to me were – co-workers, wife, kids, etc. I knew if I could understand how the people around me dealt with expectations, I could communicate with them more effectively by tailoring my communication to their tendency. I've always wondered why my wife struggles to follow through with things that she really wants to do for herself. I now understand that as an Obliger she needs outside accountability to improve her chances of success. As a Questioner, if something makes sense to me, I will just do it, but because she looks at things differently, through the eyes of and Obliger, she needs a different type of motivation to accomplish her goals. Outside accountability works best for her. That is why she has always succeeded in keeping in shape when she was part of a workout program that kept her accountable. It all makes sense now.

Understanding the different ways that people deal with expectations can be extremely helpful for communicating with people and motivating them to accomplish good goals. Although the author doesn’t talk much about how The Four Tendencies relates to God and the Church, I have found many applications for this book in my life. People have a lot of similarities, but they also have a lot of differences. We do not all think the same way, nor are we motivated the same way. God created each of us with unique qualities. These unique qualities display God's multi-faceted creativity, but they also serve a very practical and important purpose: we need each other and our God-given differences to help bring checks and balances into our day to day lives. No man or woman is on an island by themself. We were created to live in relationship with God and with others. None of us is perfect – in fact just the opposite, we all have sin. God uses the people around us, who act and think differently, to help us see the fuller context of life if we are willing to see it.

As a Questioner, one of the most difficult things I've had to learn in life is that not everyone is the same as me. People see things differently. This doesn't mean that everyone lives by their own truth. There is such a thing as truth. God is Truth and He defines truth, but people can't see truth fully because sin clouds our sight. Our perspectives, more often than not, are built on selfishness because of the sin in our lives. This makes it impossible for us to see things truly from another person's perspective. The only answer to this problem is faith in Christ, who makes us new from the inside out and removes the old sinful ways of thinking and acting. In this new light we can see more clearly and work to see others more clearly and with their best interests in mind.

The Four Tendencies is a helpful book that can help you discover how God has motivated people in different ways. This book gives us a pathway to understanding why people, who are not like us, do what they do. And it can lead you to communicate with loved ones more effectively, to motivate co-workers and be a more effective boss, and to understand others better. This book will also help you understand how expectations motivate or don't motivate you. This was a great book and I highly recommend it.


Ty Schmitt is a former alcoholic and substance abuser who, through the power of Christ has experienced God's freedom in his life and relationships. He now leads a small group at his church, as well as Forgiven and Free, a ministry of High Point Church focused on sexual purity. He resides in Madison, WI with his wife of 25 years, Kerry.

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