Book Review: The Four Tendencies

  |   Books Print Friendly and PDF

Dave, Debbie, and Di are siblings. They each have their own unique appearance, but when you see them standing near each other, you know, instantly, that they belong together. That’s how it is with Gretchen Rubin’s books. Each one is distinctive and has a unique message, but when you read more than one, you understand that they all go together. The latest book in that collection is The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (And Other People’s Lives Better, Too).

If you noted “personality types” in the title and figured this is yet another book about personality types that are based on Jungian psychology, you’re in luck. It’s not. In fact, I’m not sure that “personality types” is even the right description for what Gretchen Rubin calls “tendencies.” They don’t come from psychology at all. They grew out of an insightful answer to a puzzling question. Here’s how Rubin describes it in the book.

“And here was my crucial insight: Depending on a person’s response to outer and inner expectations, that person falls into one of four distinct types: Upholders respond readily to both outer expectations and inner expectations Questioners question all expectations; they meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified, so in effect they respond only to inner expectations Obligers respond readily to outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike.”

The first part of the book describes how that insight came about and offers an overview of what she calls the four tendencies. Then, the bulk of the book is devoted to the four sections, one for each of the four tendencies. Each section has a chapter on understanding the tendency and one on dealing with it. Here’s a list of the tendencies, with Rubin’s catch-phrase for each one.

  • Upholder: “Discipline is my freedom”
  • Questioner: “I’ll comply – if you convince me why”
  • Obliger: “You can count on me, and I’m counting on you to count on me”
  • Rebel: “You can’t make me, and neither can I”

This book is like Gretchen Rubin’s other books. It’s engaging, and well-written. It’s based on some unique research. There’s a test where you can determine your own tendency. One option is to answer the questions as they appear in the book. The other option is to follow the link to the book website and take the test there. I recommend the latter. It will give you a good idea of where you fit as a primary tendency. Then, as you read the book, you’ll learn a bit about what other tendencies you lean toward.

You Probably Won’t Like This Book If…

You probably won’t like this book if you don’t like simplified presentations of complex subjects. Some people find these sorts of things, especially these 2×2 matrices, helpful. I’m one of them. But I know from talking to my friends and working with my clients that you and I may not see this issue the same way.

You probably won’t like this book if you’re searching for hard science of some kind. Yes, there is a large and well thought out survey that underlies the tendencies, but if you’re looking for several academic papers and lots of laboratory research to support what’s here, you’ll be disappointed.

You Probably Will Like This Book If…

You’ll probably like this book if you’ve liked Gretchen Rubin’s other books. There’s the same common sense melded with experiment and the same engaging writing style.

Obviously, you’ll also like this book if you enjoy simplified explanations of complex issues. Ditto if you like 2×2 matrices.

You will probably like this book if you try to put some of it to work. Reading some books is like studying history. You can read the book and get the points and increase your knowledge. But other books, and this is one of them, repay some personal real-world trials. In other words, it’s more like learning to swim than it is like learning history. Try out the ideas you get from the book to see if they work for you.

If You’re a Coach or Other Helping Professional…

If you’re a coach or other helping professional, you should try some things to see if they work for you and with your clients. I work with writers, and I coach people through the book-writing process. The book gave me several ways to help people achieve what they want to achieve. I now know that there are some people that don’t want me as an accountability partner and others who will really appreciate my ability to get projects on track. I’ve always known that there were those differences, but The Four Tendencies gives me a language for talking about them and a template for using them more effectively.

In A Nutshell

If you are a coach, or a consultant, or a medical professional, or anyone who helps people achieve things they want to achieve, The Four Tendencies should be on your shelf, but don’t just leave it there. Read it. Experiment with what you find. Put it to work.


What’s the fastest way to learn the big ideas from a great business book? Book summaries. Check out summaries from The Business Source, where you can watch, read, or listen to the big ideas from a great book in under 20 minutes.

Join The Conversation

What People Are Saying

There are no comments yet, why not be the first to leave a comment?