The Four Tendencies

The Four Tendencies

The Four Tendencies: How Does Personality Play a Role in Learning?

Tipped off by one of our fabulous Mabin moms (Aleksandra Pikula, Luka’s mom in Grade 2), Lisa Campbell, Michelle Barchuk and I marched down to Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto last night for their Women and Leadership Speaker Series. Gretchen Rubin was speaking about her new book, The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles that Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too).

Who doesn’t want to make their life better?

Or more important to me is the opportunity to make OTHER people’s lives better. That’s because I seem to be what Rubin calls an “obliger.”

According to Rubin, “you can count on me, and I’m counting on you to count on me.” Meeting others’ expectations brings me pleasure. I’m hardwired to want to do that. Rubin frames personality in terms of expectations — people who respond to external expectations and resist inner expectations are obligers. It’s more important to me what YOU want me to do than what I want me to do. On the other hand, according to her framework, there are three other ways of being”:

  1. Upholders: Meet outer and inner expectations;
  2. Questioners: Resist outer expectations but meet inner expectations;
  3. Rebels: Resist outer and inner expectations.

Most people are obligers, like me. Lisa, Michelle, and I all found this to be our tendency. Many people are questioners — they will comply if you convince them why. We all know people like that — people who ask lots of questions, and need to understand a request before they will fulfill it. A few people are upholders — they will assign equal importance to tasks others set for them as to tasks they have set for themselves. Even fewer are rebels. Rebels do not like to follow directions — even their own! It takes all kinds to make a strong organization and a strong community, and all four personalities are valuable.

As educators, as leaders, and as parents, reflection is a critical part of the ongoing learning we do as we journey through life. Frameworks like Rubin’s can help us to empathize with others and to appreciate the value that they bring to a community. Looking at children through this lens helps us to think about motivation. Is this the kind of kid who needs to set goals in front of all of her classmates to stick with the struggle, or is this a kid who will do better if we start with the why of an activity? Will pushing this student make him dig in his heels, or is that exactly the approach she needs to try harder? Looking for patterns in motivation can help us figure out how to use personality to our advantage in turning on the learning. What works for one person hinders another — and that’s what makes teaching and learning so interesting. One thing is certain — having a diversity of learners in the classroom makes for a more interesting experience. Different perspectives make the learning richer and more robust in the end.