An Upholder, an Obliger, a Questioner and a Rebel walk into a bar…now that I have your attention, this is not the start of a joke but rather an article breaking down the four personality tendencies that inform our behavior, and in turn how we respond to others. Whether we are community association managers, homeowner volunteers or business partners, knowing our tendencies and the tendencies of those that we work and live alongside will help us better function in our roles.
The Four Tendencies, written by New York times bestselling author, Gretchen Rubin, explores what happens when you ask yourself, “How do I respond to expectations?” The results are fascinating and according to Rubin, when we ask ourselves this, “we gain explosive self-knowledge.” Expectations fall into two categories—outer expectations (work deadlines, social commitments) and inner expectations (keeping a New Year’s resolution, losing weight). Our response to these expectations determines our “Tendency.”
In Rubin’s research, she discovered that people fit into Four Tendencies: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers and Rebels. Our Tendency determines our behavior and forms the foundation on which all our subsequent actions rely.
Understanding the why behind our behavior allows for better decision making, better deadline and stress management, better engagement, and empathy with others. In short, we become better at being ourselves and accepting the differing perspectives of others.
The Four Tendencies are as follows:
Upholders: They want to know what should be done.
Questioners: They want justifications.
Obligers: They need accountability.
Rebels: They want freedom to do something their own way.
Based on these definitions alone, one may assume that community association managers are Upholders, wanting to know what should be done and expecting others to do the same. Not so. In fact, this is an assumption that leads to misconceptions about the community association industry. We are not an industry composed entirely of Upholders, but we have Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels, too! How do I know this? Because I am an Obliger. More on that later.
One of the unique characteristics of the community association management industry is that it attracts people from all walks of life and backgrounds. Ask any community association management professional, “How did you become involved in the industry?” and you will hear a myriad of stories, where no one is the same. For most of us, we “fell” into it, as up until recently there were no undergraduate programs specializing in community association management. In our past professional lives, we were in such fields as education, philanthropy, finance, retail, and hospitality just to name a few and we brought our same personality tendencies along with us.
Not one of us experienced a wholesale change in our personalities and tendencies when we came to this industry but while our personalities and tendencies remained intact, I would venture to say that we have had numerous opportunities to learn that not everyone sees the world in the same ways that we do. It is this diversity of ideas and perspectives that When we see people’s differing perspectives and understand the why from their viewpoint, it leads to understanding why people do what they do. This understanding does not guarantee agreement, but it does allow for better cooperation, which leads to better communities.
Let us delve a bit further into the point that understanding the why behind another person’s viewpoint can lend itself to better interaction, cooperation and synergy between our residents, fellow managers and business partners that serve our communities.
Their motto is summed up by the statement, “Discipline is my freedom.” According to Rubin, Upholders are typically “self-starters, self-motivated, conscientious, reliable, thorough, sticklers for a good schedule, and eager to understand and meet expectations.” These are all admirable qualities and ones that make an Upholder an excellent colleague. Nevertheless, it does not mean that Upholders are without their weaknesses. Upholders can have trouble at times with delegation, because in their minds, “If I want something done right, I must do it myself.”
Additionally, Upholders may be reluctant to pitch in on a team project because it may mean that they must set aside their own obligations and commitments. This is unacceptable as they have a strong desire to meet both inner and outer expectations.
Understanding an Upholder’s tendencies will allow those working with them to adjust their approach. For example, establishing clear goals, priorities and expectations is appreciated by the Upholder. Communicate clearly and concisely and the Upholder is off to the races. There is no need to check in or in the worst case, micromanage. They will deliver as promised.
The same is true for the Upholder resident in your community. A covenants violation notice that clearly outlines the issue, the remedy and the compliance deadline will result in prompt, corrective action.
Have an Upholder on your board of directors? This is an excellent thing. They will keep you on the straight and narrow as it comes to making sure your policies and procedures do not conflict with your governing documents. They know what is expected of them and they expect others to fall in line and stay the course. Have a strategic plan that you need to get off the ground? The Upholder will get it going.
“I’ll comply—if you convince me why?” This is not a rhyme from your favorite rapper but instead the mantra of the Questioner. Rubin states “They question all expectations and meet them only if they believe they’re justified, with the result that they may meet only inner expectations.” Questioners place high value on reason, research, and information. They follow the advice of “experts” or “authorities” but only if these agree with their expertise. They are persistent in their questioning which makes them appear uncooperative or defiant, yet they chafe at being questioned themselves. Like Upholders, they have trouble delegating because they suspect others may not have done sufficient research on a matter on which to base their actions. Questioners may at first glance look like Rebels but that is not the case. Rather, they are deliberate in their analysis of an issue before making a decision and perceive it as a personal affront when questioned about the basis of their actions.
Oftentimes, Questioners serve on community association boards of directors because they want to change policies or rules that are arbitrary. Several years ago, I worked with a new board member that hated the three-minute rule imposed upon residents to speak during open/resident form. He felt that residents should be able to speak for as long as they wanted and when he became board president the following year, he immediately changed the rule. However, that soon changed, and he realized the error of his ways. He found out that the board meetings produced little actionable results because so much time was given to the resident forum that the board could not accomplish the business of the association. Now he was warned that this would be the outcome by the association’s legal counsel, his fellow board members, and his community manager, yet he knew better and esteemed his own judgment over these experts.
Yet, Questioners serve a valuable role within our communities. They love to digest information, data and analysis and excel in environments where research is emphasized. They enjoy improving systems. This makes them indispensable to communities who have projects that require intensive study and analysis to affect change. Questioners do not work well with the notion that “we’ve always done it this way.” This makes them perfect agents of change within your communities and organizations.
I come from a family that loves a good musical. When I think about Obligers, I think of the song, “I Cain’t Say No,” from the 1943 musical play Oklahoma! written by Rodgers and Hammerstein. “But when I’m with a feller, I fergit! I’m just a girl who cain’t say no: I’m in a terrible fix; I always say ‘come on, let’s go!’ JIst when I orta say nix.” Obligers have a can-do attitude coupled with a cheerleader spirit. Rubin characterizes them with the statement, “You can count on me, and I’m counting on you to count on me.”
Obligers make good bosses, are responsive leaders and team players. They feel obligated to meet others’ expectations. They are responsible, are willing to go the extra mile, and respond well to outer accountability. On the surface, it would appear as if Obligers have no weaknesses, but they do. Obligers are susceptible to overwork and burnout, many times due to being exploited by others. As a result, they can become resentful and may begin to exhibit a destructive pattern that Rubin labeled “Obliger-rebellion.”
Understanding the Obliger is critical because we mostly likely have several Obligers in our sphere of influence. This is important because of all the Tendencies, the Obliger Tendency is the largest Tendency, for both men and women. Obligers are the rock on which many other lives are built. Whether at home, work, or in life, not only are we the largest group (remember, I revealed I was an Obliger earlier), we are the ones that people come to rely on most. Obligers show up, we answer the frantic call at all hours of day and night from friends and clients alike, we meet our deadlines and fulfill our responsibilities, all the while making time to volunteer and help in any way that we can, until we cannot. We are the ones who most likely contribute and the Upholders, Questioners, and Rebels in our lives love us for it.
As an Obliger, I have often felt exploited–and that is because I am. The people in my life know that if someone asks for help, all they have to do is look my way and I will answer the call. The Upholder, Rebel and Questioner Tendencies do not have the same pull in their lives. If you ask and they do not want to do it, they simply say, “No.” They may even say, “I’ve got my own obligations to meet (Upholder), Why should I help you when I am busy doing my own thing (Questioner) or I don’t want to do it, so I won’t. (Rebel).” Pressed too many times and I rebel. I am sure the Obligers reading this article can relate. How can we prevent this behavior from occurring?
As mentioned before, Obligers respond to outer accountability and the people around them–family, friends, colleagues, etc. — play a role in safeguarding against burnout and Obliger rebellion. By setting up systems that encourage them to say no, to delegate, to take breaks, to turn down requests and to take time for themselves, we are not only helping the Obliger but helping ourselves.
How many times have you seen a volunteer that has been a pillar in your community for years all of a sudden drop off the radar, seemingly without warning? It is very possible that this volunteer felt undervalued and underappreciated. Maybe they felt the burden of being a community volunteer leader was too great? Regardless of the reason, once Obligers succumb to Obliger-rebellion, they need relief from expectations but as Rubin points out, “they may need external expectations to get that relief.” A call from the board president expressing their thanks for a job well done goes a long way. Also, being reassured that others in the community would love the opportunity to step up and take on some projects would prove another “shot in the arm” to your burned-out volunteer. Knowing things will not fall apart while they take a much-needed break will be a relief.
The same can be said for that star manager in your organization. If we see someone on your team display signs of burnout and Obliger-rebellion, we as leaders must act. It may mean removing some responsibilities and delegating them to others and making sure that others on the team do not “dump” on that manager. It could make a difference in whether that manager feels equipped to make changes in how they do things or if the only alternatives are “fight” or “flight.”
On the surface it appears that rebels are one dimensional but as it pertains to this personality tendency, it is interesting to note that each of the other three tendencies have a bit of rebel inside them. Let’s face it! Most people do not like being told what to do and are like the small child who gets sent to the corner to sit in time out. They are outwardly compliant and sitting down but inwardly, they are standing.
Rebels are inwardly and outwardly defiant and want the freedom to do as they please. This at times will strike other personality tendencies as unnecessarily contrarian. Yet, rebels serve a vital role within our communities because they challenge us to have our “I’s” dotted and our “T’s” crossed. Arbitrary rules and regulations will be easily rooted out by the rebel. They are especially adept at finding the weaknesses and vulnerabilities within your organization and will exploit them so why not entreat them to be an ally. Give them an issue that is seemingly impossible, and they will provide perspective that may have been missed otherwise. Partner the Rebel with the Questioner, give them a challenge and watch them work. Allowing a rebel to have agency in problem solving is a powerful tool in garnering their cooperation.
The Four Tendencies is a fascinating study on what makes us tick and how understanding how each of these Tendencies work will improve every facet of our lives–personally, professionally, physically, and relationally.
By Crishana L. Loritsch, CMCA, AMS, PCAM
Crishana is the general manager of The Adagio Condominium located in Bethesda, MD. An active member of the chapter since 2002, she’s a passionate advocate for the community association industry and believes in the power of volunteerism and paying it forward. Her commitment and enthusiasm have allowed her to be recognized as a Rising Star, Committee Chair of the Year, Volunteer of the Year and to receive the Chapter Appreciation Award. A natural mentor, she strives to influence everyone in her sphere to be better, every day. She truly believes that the chapter represents the best and brightest in the industry. An avid runner, she spends many early mornings preparing for her next big race.