A Look into Gretchen Rubin’s 4 Tendencies

IAC President Vicki Zanini and IAC General Manager Natalie Tucker Miller recently had the opportunity to attend the Harvard Medical School and Institute of Coaching conference, Coaching in Leadership and Healthcare in Boston, MA on September 25th and 26th. The conference offered a rich environment of  coaching researching, and including things like emotional intelligence, positive psychology, and what constitutes happiness.

One of the keynote speakers, Gretchen Rubin, presented her work on how habits are formed and maintained, based on 4 Tendencies that she’s identified. This was one of the presentations that resonated strongly with Natalie and Vicki, and in addition to the interesting topic, it provided some moments of levity and fun throughout the very rigorous conference.

Speaking with Natalie, we were able to learn about her exciting takeaways and how Rubin’s 4 Tendencies align with the IAC Masteries.

VOICE: First, how did you feel about the conference as a whole? Did you have any main takeways?

Natalie: The part of the conference that was really affirming for me was the variety of professionals that were not just speaking, but in attendance. There was an attention to researching coaching approaches that coaches are using every day in their profession. One thing that was very affirming was how many professionals are looking to the coaching world as a necessary step in the progress of business and education.  This makes the research component even more important!

VOICE: Tell us about the keynote speaker, Gretchen Rubin.

Natalie: A lot of you might remember her from “The Happiness Project” and I was curious to see what else she had to say. Her latest book, “Better Than Before” covers the topic of habits in our everyday lives. One of the things that many coaches have in their tool boxes are assessments (finding ways to help their clients to discover who they are, then doing things that will support them, etc.). If you notice that your client is having difficulty with change, or with identifying or maintaining habits, this could be a fun little quiz for them, based on the 4 Tendencies Gretchen has identified.

VOICE: What are the 4 Tendencies?

Natalie: In her work, Gretchen identified four tendencies that we all embody in some capacity, but there is one of the four that we most likely have as our dominant tendency. Gretchen identifies them as Upholders, Questioners, Rebels, and Obligers.

On her website, the 4 Tendencies are described as:

  • Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations
  • Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense
  • Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike
  • Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves

Natalie: My understanding is that the Tendencies help us to understand why we’ve been successful, and why we have not, when it comes to following through with things that we want to change in our lives. Being aware of our Tendencies helps us to leverage ourselves to structure environments that support us.

VOICE: Do you see the 4 Tendencies relating to the Masteries?

Natalie: Absolutely. Any information about your client that deepens your and their understanding helps you utilize the Masteries in the most powerful way possible.

For instance, Mastery #7 Helping the client set and meet clear expectations. If you know that your client leans toward the Obliger profile, you’d understand that they can easily meet outer expectations, but resist inner expectations. By having this information about their tendency, you’d be able to ask questions that would help reveal the clients’ intentions, while aligning the coaching points with the client’s values. And that’s just one simple example. There are several more.

In my own coaching experience, I had one client who tested as an Obliger. She’s an Olympic-trained athlete and was very successful, but when she left the field, she had difficulty setting clear and direct boundaries in her business environment. Once we recognized that she was an Obliger, we were able to better understand why she was having a hard time: When she was an athlete, she had many people invested in her, which fueled her obligation to succeed. She had people cheering her on, supporting her, etc. Outside of her athleticism, she was no longer obligated to anyone in that same personally meaningful way, and had a hard time motivating.

Looking to Mastery #6 Clarfiying, we were able to connect to the client’s key values and needs in an even deeper way. Using the Tendency helped to deepen our understanding of the Masteries elements and help her move forward through a more powerful understanding of her innate tendencies.  Plus, it helped to further identify what was her way of being, vs. conditioning or limiting beliefs.

When it comes to what we do as coaches, something that Gretchen said really resonated with me: “We’re not very different from other people, but those differences are very important.” By utilizing the Tendencies and Masteries, we can highlight our clients’ differences and better acknowledge and honor them.

Interested in what your tendency is? Take the quiz!

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