Be More Successful by Understanding How You Respond to Expectations

March 13, 2024 Eric Hinkle

“To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.”
– Socrates

How do you respond to expectations? This simple, decisive question can help you leverage your unique strengths and weaknesses to be more successful. Investing 2 minutes into this quiz to identify your Tendency first will help you save time and get more value from this article.  And then you can jump straight to your Tendency with these links.

The Four Tendencies explain why we act and why we don’t on outer expectations like meeting a deadline. And inner expectations like keeping a New Year’s resolution. There is no right or wrong. No best or worst Tendency. We're all different. The happiest, healthiest people are those who have figured out how to harness the unique strengths and overcome the challenges of their Tendency.

Different strategies work for different people. What works for one person may be the very opposite of what works for someone else. Some are morning people; some are night people. Some do better when they abstain from a strong temptation; others when they use moderation. 

Our Tendencies are hardwired. Nature, not nurture. They don’t change unless we go through some catastrophic, character-reshaping experience. They have nothing to do with your character or personality. But they are only tendencies. Our default mode. We will still flex between them depending on the circumstances. 

The Four Tendencies can also help us be more tolerant of others. It helps to see that a person’s behavior isn’t aimed at us personally. To communicate effectively, we must reach people through their Tendency, not our own. 



How do you get an Obliger to change a lightbulb?
Ask them to change it. 🤣

41% of us (the largest group) are Obligers who wake up and ask “What needs to get done today? And for whom?”

If you’re an Obliger…

You’re a natural “people-pleaser” and probably get along well with others. You are motivated by external accountability, but struggle with self-discipline. You require external expectations. 

You probably find it hard to say No to people. But it’s easier to say No when there is a bigger Yes behind it. For example, you can say No to working late if it means you'll miss your child’s school event.

Leaving a corporate job with well-established outer expectations can be risky. You might be perfectly productive with healthy habits and then become paralyzed (without understanding why) when those outer expectations disappear. One of my best friends was a very successful C-level executive. But has struggled with the motivation required to get their startup off the ground.

You must create structures of outer accountability. You need tools such as supervision, late fees, deadlines, monitoring, and consequences enforced from outside yourself to keep promises to yourself. This is the crucial element. You MUST have outer accountability.

The secret is to choose the right kind of accountability. Introverted Obligers may respond well to emails and apps. Others need an actual person to serve as an accountability partner. Almost anyone (eg, boss, coach, family, friend) can be your partner. But informal partners may be unreliable if they lose interest or don't really want to enforce what needs to be done. You may do better with a professional coach who can set concrete goals, deadlines, and watch over your shoulder. In fact, paying for this service may be the key you need to unleash your potential.

Accountability groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Weight Watchers, and Masterminds can be a great way to give and get accountability as well as energy and ideas. If reaching your internal goal will benefit others (eg, customers, employees, children), promising them something by a certain time can transmute your internal goal into an external accountability.

Obliger Rebellion

If you find yourself in an unfair situation, you're not likely to protest. Until it's too late. Instead of asking them to fix it, you will expect them to correct their own mistakes. And when they don’t, you quit. Jobs, marriages, friendships. But you can avoid this pattern by speaking up sooner. Not saying No soon enough can lead to burnout and feeling resentful, especially if you are a naturally low-energy person. 

You’re also just as likely as Rebels to disobey your doctor’s orders. There’s no one there to hold you accountable, and you may be rebelling against an expectation you disagree with.

LIKELY STRENGTHS: Responsive leader; team player; responsible; goes the extra mile

POSSIBLE WEAKNESSES: Overwork and burnout; Obliger-rebellion; exploitable; may be resentful; trouble saying no or imposing limits




How do you get a Questioner to change a lightbulb?
Why do we need that lightbulb anyway? 🤣

24% of us are Questioners who wake up and ask “What needs to get done today? And why?”

If you’re a Questioner…

You’re highly analytical and like to question everything. You’re motivated by a desire to understand the Why behind things. Your first question is, “Why should I listen to this person?” Depending on the answer, you might react more like an Upholder or a Rebel.

You don’t automatically accept authority. A boss who doesn’t understand your ways may find your behavior annoying, or disrespectful, or decide you aren’t a team player. Or worse, insubordinate. If you’re socially skilled however, you can pose your questions without annoying others or making them feel defensive.

You’re self-directed and don’t need much supervision. You’re good at prioritizing and do well at any task you’ve decided is worth your time and energy. To get you to take an action, people should ask you to “Just try it. It’s an experiment. If it works, keep going. If it doesn’t, try something else.” This approach appeals to your desire to gather information and customize the result. It’s worth their effort to spell out their reasons for you: why this task, why this way, why now? If convinced, you are more inclined to follow through.

You are deeply committed to information, logic, and efficiency. You want to gather your own facts, decide for yourself, and act with good reason. For this reason, you will also question an expert's advice. You’ll take their input and then do your own research before deciding if you’re going to use it or not. Or how you’re going to use it. You may choose to customize it in your own way. You might even question the most basic assumptions like, “Do I have to do what my boss tells me to do?” 

You can add tremendous value to a team because of your relentless need for solid evidence. You like to improve processes, eliminate mistakes, and make things run better. You probably love spreadsheets and send people lots of articles to read. That’s me. I’m actually an Upholder/Questioner. 😊

You can suffer from analysis-paralysis. You crave perfect information, but successful leaders learn how to make decisions and move forward without all the facts. Try limiting your number of sources when gathering information and use deadlines to avoid over-analyzing. Learn to trust your instincts.

Steve Jobs was a Questioner, for better and for worse. He was a brilliant leader, but rejected conventional medicine when he was first diagnosed with the cancer that eventually killed him.

Instead of asking you, “What time are we leaving?”, your friend should ask, “What time are we leaving because I need to know if I have time to finish something?”  And instead of questioning your decisions, people should ask you to explain how you reached your decision.

LIKELY STRENGTHS: Data-driven; fair-minded; interested in efficient and effective systems; inner-directed; unwilling to accept rules or authority without justification.

POSSIBLE WEAKNESSES: Analysis-paralysis; impatient with complacency; unable to accept closure on settled matters; may refuse to observe fair expectations (eg, traffic laws); may resist answering others’ questions.


How do you get an Upholder to change a lightbulb?
They’ve already changed it. 🤣

Only 19% of us are Upholders who wake up and ask “What’s on my schedule and to-do list for today?” As an Upholder myself, I used to wonder why other people had trouble following through on the habits required to achieve their goals. This book made me realize that I am the one who is “not normal.”

If you’re an Upholder…

You don’t need anyone else to hold you accountable. You’re hard enough on yourself. You’re reliable, self-directed, and have little trouble meeting deadlines. You find it easier to form new habits than the others. You love routines, schedules, and checklists to stay organized and productive.

If you decide to do something, you do it. Even if no one else cares. Writing this article is a good example. My life was extremely busy at the time, but I made time almost every day to get it done. On time. My deadline. No one else would have cared if it was posted a week later.

You're good at ignoring others’ expectations in order to protect yourself and meet your own inner expectations. 

You probably like rules. And the rules behind the rules, such as ethics and morals. Other people may see you as rigid, extreme, cold, or inflexible. And you can be, but that makes you feel free inside. Your rigidness however, might cause you to be too hard on others when enforcing deadlines or rules.

You may find it difficult to delegate because you doubt others’ ability to follow through. And yet, you probably don’t like holding others accountable. Because you don’t need much outer accountability yourself, you’re not very sympathetic when others do. 

You can sometimes be impatient when people reject their expectations, can’t impose expectations on themselves, or question their expectations. When others want to comfort or treat themselves, they might think, “I’ve had a tough day so I’m going to skip my CrossFit class.” But as an Upholder, letting yourself off the hook would make you feel worse.

LIKELY STRENGTHS: Self-motivated; conscientious; reliable; thorough; scheduled; eager to understand and meet expectations.

POSSIBLE WEAKNESSES: May be defensive; be rigid; struggle when plans change; appear humorless and uptight; be impatient when others need supervision; be demanding.


How do you get a Rebel to change a lightbulb?
Do it yourself. 🤣

Only 17% of us (the smallest group) are Rebels who wake up and ask “What do I feel like doing right now?”

If You’re a Rebel…

You want to do what you want, in your own way, and on your own time. You resist control (even self-control) and enjoy defying rules, expectations, and conventional social customs.

You place a very high value on authenticity and self-determination. And want your life to be a true expression of your values. You like to establish your own way of doing things and probably do better when there are no expectations at all.

You remind the rest of us that we are more free than we think. If you’re female, you may be successful in a male-dominated industry and the primary breadwinner in your household.

You enjoy meeting challenges and proving other people wrong. You refuse to be limited by a label, even if it’s accurate. You may not care about your reputation or what others think. You might change jobs frequently to resist being trapped into a single identity.

You can frustrate others (and yourself). Your instinct to resist can cause problems with your spouse, parents, managers, etc. Think about this… Do you read emails that begin with, “Please read”? I didn't think so. 🤣 You resist just about anything you perceive as an attempt to control you, ringing telephones and standing meetings included. Even if you know it’s self-destructive or counterproductive.

Rebellion is the opposite of compliance, but rebellion is not freedom. You don’t give in to peer pressure. But you’re still responding, just in the opposite direction. You resist systems and standard operating procedures. You’re unlikely to commit to a schedule. Calendars make you feel trapped. And repetitive, boring tasks? Forget about it. Someone else will do it. 

If someone pushes you to hurry, you’re likely to drag your feet even more. You’re not a procrastinator. You’re just refusing to be bossed around. Those around you must appeal to your Rebel nature. Teach them to lead with this sequence: information, consequences, and choice. You need…

  • Information to make an informed decision;
  • To know the consequences of your actions and;
  • The freedom to choose your course of action without lecturing or hovering.

Your first reaction when someone asks you to do something (or checks up on you) is “leave me alone.” Pestering you to do something makes you less likely to do it. But don't get in your own way. You can remind yourself that you’re still in control even if someone else asked you to do it. It’s your choice. Act out of desire, not obligation.

Try renaming your "To-Do" list to be a "Could-Do" list. You get to choose which (if any) tasks to do. Consider the consequences of your actions. Don’t be too rebellious.

LIKELY STRENGTHS: Independent; thinking outside the box; spontaneous

POSSIBLE WEAKNESSES: Uncooperative; inconsiderate; trouble accomplishing routine tasks consistently; ignoring ordinary rules; restless; trouble sticking with a job or relationship; routines and planning; indifferent to reputation

Still don't know your Tendency? Take the quiz.
👉 Inspired by Gretchen Rubin's book, The Four Tendencies.


Share This: