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089 | How to reach your HR career goals by understanding your ‘tendency’
Episode 8916th June 2023 • HR Coffee Time • Fay Wallis
00:00:00 00:23:38

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It’s no good just keeping a career goal in your head or written down on a piece of paper. To reach that goal, you need to take action. But it can feel hard to stay on track with what’s needed when you’re so busy at work. That’s where The Four Tendencies framework can come in handy. By understanding your ‘tendency’ you’ll be able to identify and test out different strategies that will be effective in keeping you on track to reach those goals.

In this episode of HR Coffee Time, career & executive coach Fay Wallis explains what The Four Tendencies are and how understanding your tendency can help you to reach your goals.


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If you've set yourself a career goal or a work goal by writing it down, or you just have a goal in your head, you'll know that it's no good leaving that goal on paper or in your mind. You actually have to take action to reach it. But I know how hard it can feel to take that action sometimes, especially to stay on track with it.

If you are incredibly busy at work, perhaps there's a project you really want to get started with, but you feel so swamped with all the firefighting that you are doing that you just never seem to get round to it. Or perhaps your goal is to be a fantastic manager because you've got people that you are line managing, but you find yourself regularly canceling your one-to-ones with the people who report into you because you feel too busy, even though it's important to you to be a good manager, even though that's your goal.

All the goals we set ourselves are unique to us, even if they have a lot in common with someone else that we know, and there's masses of advice out there on how to stay on track with our goals so that we can reach them. But the problem with most of the advice is that it often doesn't take into account the fact that we're all different.

So that means that not only are our goals slightly different, different strategies, work for different people, something that works perfectly for you, or will work perfectly for you, but you've just not discovered it yet. That might not work at all for someone else, and that is where a fantastic free quiz called The Four Tendencies can really be useful.

So in today's episode, I am going to talk you through what The Four Tendencies are. So you will learn how you can reach your HR and People career goals by understanding your tendency. The Four Tendencies Framework was created by Gretchen Rubin. She is an author and researcher who studies human nature, and I really recommend her work.

It's absolutely brilliant. She has several books. She has a podcast, in fact, she might have two podcasts, and she also has a weekly newsletter that I'm subscribed to. I really enjoy reading it every week. Just to point out, she's not paying me to say any of this. I'm sure she has absolutely no idea who I am.

Or that this podcast even exists. I'm just sharing her resources because I think they're really good and you're hopefully going to see why in a minute. So Gretchen started trying to figure out why some people find it so hard to do the things they want to, while other people can find it easy. It was a conversation with a friend who mentioned that they used to be a dedicated runner when they were at school, but since becoming an adult, they couldn't seem to make themselves start running again or stick to running regularly.

Whereas Gretchen didn't find it difficult to stick to things she wanted to do at all, and then slowly after doing lots of research, she came up with the four tendencies framework to explain the different ways that we all respond to two things. And those two things are inner expectations and outer expectations.

So inner expectations, that's all about meeting things. Meeting commitments that you've made to yourself. So it's doing things that you want to do, and you are placing that expectation on yourself. So that could be something like in sticking to a New Year's resolution, for example, some people find that really easy when they set that expectation for themselves and other people just don't at all.

So that's the first thing, inner expectations. The second thing is, outer expectations. That is how we respond and how we meet the expectations that other people have of us. It doesn't look at anything else at all, which I think is one of its strengths actually.

So it isn't a full personality profiling tool. It just lasers in on those two things in expectations and outer expectations. And an added bonus of learning about The Tour Tendencies is not only can it help you with reaching your career goals by keeping on track with your goals, they also help you to have a better understanding about the people around you and how they may be different.

Let me explain exactly what the different tendencies are. The first one is 'upholder', and it's the second smallest group out of all of the different tendencies.

Gretchen Rubin, from her research, she discovered that about 19% of people tend to be upholder. If you're an upholder, you find it easy to meet both inner expectations and outer expectations. This is the tendency that I wish I was, but hey, ho, I'm always slightly in awe of Upholders because of their ability to crack on and get stuff done without procrastinating.

Upholders enjoy sticking to deadlines, ticking off to-do lists, following instructions and sticking to rules. In fact, probably the only part of the upholder profile that I really resonate with is that willingness to follow rules.

I will happily stick to rules, and I hate the idea of breaking a rule. So it may be that as you hear me talking about the different tendencies, aspects of them do resonate with you, but ultimately there'll be one dominant one that fits you the best.

And of course, as with everything in life, there are things that can trip upholders up because all the profiles have got these amazing strengths and they've also got things that they can find more challenging. So because upholders find it easy to stick to inner and outer expectations. They can find it hard to understand why other people can't do that, and then they might get frustrated with them.

They might also find it hard to delegate because they know they can rely on themselves to get things done more than they might be able to rely on other people. They also might find themselves doing things because they think they should do them. They can start putting themselves under pressure to hit certain goals when actually they don't need to do them, and other people aren't expecting them to do these things either.

Upholders don't need accountability from others, which means they don't instinctively offer it or put it in place for other people. If they're working with an obliger, which we'll come onto in a minute and which is what I am, you'll see that this isn't ideal.

So if you take the quiz, I'd really encourage you to take it. You, you will probably get a sense for which of the profiles you are, which of the tendencies you are. But if you take the quiz, then obviously you'll find out. So if you take it and you find out that you are an upholder, then there are some ways that your uphold tendencies may be getting in the way of you achieving your career goals or feeling really happy and fulfilled at work. As you find yourself

moving up the career ladder within your HR or People career and you have got to delegate and you have got to set expectations for other people and manage other people. That is where you might find this tripping you up slightly. So I think that's where it can be really helpful to understand the other tendencies so that you know how to interact with the other tendencies to make sure.

That you are able to hit your goals, you are able to do a great job because you know how well to interact with the other people and what to put in place to help them. So let me bring it to life by moving you along to the next tendency, which is 'obliger'. And this is the largest group of people. According to Gretchen Rubin's research, she found that 41% of people are obligers.

And when I've encouraged people in my Inspiring HR Group program to try out the four tendencies assessment, by far the most common tendency is obliger. I'm not sure if that's because more people on the planet are obligers. Or if the HR and People profession is particularly appealing to people who have this tendency.

If you are an obliger, you find it easy to meet outer expectations, so that means you can be a fantastic work colleague. You are constantly going above and beyond, so make sure that you are helping people around you and meeting the expectations of the people that you work with. But the thing that can trip you up is that you often resist meeting inner expectations.

Something that definitely resonates with me. So I'm very good at doing things in a work context where people have an expectation of me, but I'm less good at getting things done for myself that I really want to do.

Gretchen Rubin explains that the trick for Obligers to keep them on track with inner expectations is accountability. And this was a properly life-changing discovery for me, which is probably why I'm such a huge fan of the quiz. Apparently a lot of Obligers beat themselves up over the fact that they can't seem to stick to meeting their inner expectations when.

Actually, it's just about recognizing what a difference accountability makes for them. I've mentioned some of the ways that I've built accountability into my work and into my personal life before on the podcast. So if you've been listening to the podcast for a a while, you might have heard about them before.

Hopefully it's not going to be boring hearing about them again, and it's going to be helpful in some way. So, for example, the public accountability of knowing that Apple shows you what time and day this podcast is released each week when you look on Apple Podcasts, that is the main thing that helps keep me on track with getting one episode a week out consistently.

So even though I'm sitting here, it's now 8 38 in the evening, and I could be doing something else and I could be convincing myself, oh, I'm far too busy to do this podcast. Actually, by having that accountability, that really public accountability that helps keep me on track. I also make sure that I tell other people what deadlines I'm working towards with goals because I figured that if I tell enough people that's building accountability for myself, I don't want to say to that person, "Oh no, I never did that in the end", and for staying on track with my other goals, I've really embraced

body doubling, which is also called having an accountability partner, or it's sometimes called virtual co-working if you do it virtually like I do. In fact, I have got a little bit obsessed with it because I found it so helpful. And just to quickly explain what it is, if you haven't heard about it before, Body doubling is when you arrange to work on a task at the same time as someone else.

You set whatever timeframe you want. My sessions are usually always an hour long. You make sure you're not going to be disturbed, so you might have the time blocked out in your calendar. Mine is completely blocked out. No one can book anything else in there, and you turn off all notifications and you remove anything that might distract you.

This is even if you are incredibly busy and you've got lots of other things you could be working on. Then at the start of the time you tell the other person what you are going to be working on. They tell you what they're going to be working on. And because all my sessions take place virtually, we both then mute ourselves on Zoom.

But if you are together in real life, you would just then quietly get on with what you've said you're going to do. So that's all that happens. After you've told each other what you're going to do, you then crack on and do it, and five minutes before the hour is up, you unmute yourself. So I unmute myself if I'm on Zoom.

And then you report back to each other on how you got on. It sounds so simple and it sounds a bit strange. It probably sounds really strange if you are an upholder and you don't need any of this kind of accountability, but there's something strangely powerful in knowing that another person is going to be checking up on you.

You don't want to let them down. You don't want to get to the end of this session and say you haven't done what you said you were going to. And when I did mention this method to one of my friends who is an upholder, she said she couldn't imagine anything worse. But I absolutely love it. If you decide to give it a try, if you are an obliger too, I'd love to hear how you get on with it.

The third tendency is questioner. This is the second largest group, and Gretchen Rubin's research finds that 24% of people are questioners. I definitely have a couple of questioners in my life, and finding out about this tendency was really helpful at helping me to understand them. So questioners only meet inner expectations.

That means that to meet an outer expectation, they have to have turned it into an inner expectation. They love logic and facts, and the clue is in the name - they like to question things to see what the reasoning behind something is before deciding whether or not to commit to it before they make it an inner expectation.

But once they have set themselves an inner expectation, they will easily be able to meet it. It means that deadlines and accountability, those two things that I was just talking about, working well for Obligers, working well for me. They only work for questioners

if they agree, for example, that the deadline makes sense. If they're asked to hit a deadline, that seems pointless because they know no one's actually going to look at their work for another few days, they'll happily miss that deadline and get it done for the date that they think makes more sense. If you're not a questioner, it might seem frustrating to work with one sometimes. If you ask them to do something or you tell them something. They're probably not just going to say, "Yes, of course I'll do that. I'll get started right away". Instead, they're going to ask you why, or they'll ask you for more information.

And the problem with that is that it can feel like you're being challenged, but actually you are not. The questioner is just trying to make sure they can understand and assess what they're being told so they know whether or not to turn it into an inner expectation. So if you are a questioner, one way this can really help knowing this for your career is it can be helpful to share this fact with other people. Because once they know, you're not questioning them to challenge their authority,

or because you don't believe what they're telling you, it's far easier for that working relationship to go more smoothly. And there are many brilliant things that questioners bring to any team. They're really valuable members because they make sure that everyone isn't just going along accepting the status quo or accepting expectations that aren't actually a good idea.

I can really imagine that if you are in a workplace where a lot of things are happening, because people tell you "That's the way things have always been around here". A questioner can help shine a light on the fact that this may not be a good thing. Another great thing about questioners is that they love research to make sure that they find the best way of doing things.

So I can imagine if you are listening to this episode and you are a questioner, you are one of the people who's most likely to go away and learn more about The Four Tendencies once the episode's over, so you can weigh up more information and evidence about whether the assessment, whether taking that quiz is actually going to be worth your while taking it or not.

But of course, one way that your questioner tendency can trip you up when it comes to thinking about your career goals and sticking to them, is that you can find it hard to stick to tasks that feel pointless or unnecessary. If that's happening, if that's getting in the way, then Gretchen Rubin's suggestion is to find a difference or a deeper justification for completing the tasks.

So a way of realizing that doing them is going to help you achieve what you want. Ultimately, my interpretation of this in a work context is that if you think a particular piece of work you've been given by your boss is pointless, but you are ambitious and you want a promotion and you know that it's actually really important to your boss and you know there more likely to think highly of you and put you forward for a promotion if you do it;

that's a deeper justification. So your deeper justification is that you want a promotion. So by doing the work that you've been asked to do, perhaps using the word "pointless" was too strong. Perhaps you just don't think it's the best plan going forward, then actually that deeper justification can take you one step closer to achieving what you want for your career, and you are more likely to be able to motivate yourself to do it.

That brings us to the fourth and final tendency, which is the "rebel", and this makes up the smallest group. Only about 17% of people are thought to be rebels, and this is probably the one that resonates with me the least all, although, funnily enough, apparently obligers and rebels often really gets on well.

There's something quite freeing in the rebel's behavior that obligers really like the fact that they don't feel compelled to meet expectations of other people. In fact, I'd say one of my closest friends is a rebel, and I've always found her incredibly fun.

But anyway, back to you, not me. Let me tell you a bit more about Rebels. So Rebels resist meeting inner expectations. And they resist meeting outer expectations. The strap line that Gretchen Rubin has given to describe rebels is, "It's so hard when I have to, and so easy when I want to". They love having choice.

They love having the ability to use self-expression. And they are the complete opposite of Upholders when it comes to rules. They're perfectly happy breaking them a lot of the time. In fact, they really don't like being told what to do and telling them what to do is probably going to often make them do the opposite of it.

Or they'll just point blank, not do it. Accountability doesn't help them stick to goals. Instead, it really is about having a sense of fun or a sense of choice that's much more powerful. So if you are managing a rebel, please don't start telling them what to do, trying to dictate it to them.

Give them a choice. Ask for their input. Ask what it is that they would like to do. They also love a challenge and they love beating other people's expectations. If they're told they won't be able to achieve something or they can't do something, it will often spur them into action and they can drive themselves really hard.

They can be very committed once that's happened. So they may have set themselves a challenge. They may have heard someone else say, "Oh, I. Don't think that's going to happen. I, I don't think you can do that". And that will really push them forward

As well as making sure they have the freedom to make a choice.

They've got a freedom in their decisions and their actions; having consequences in place can work really well for them. If they see there's a consequence for their behavior, they're more likely to not do it again or to stay on track. When I've been thinking about this, a way of staying on track with committing to a behavior or a habit, or making sure you are chipping away at a goal or a commitment that I think could potentially work really well for rebels.

If this part resonates with them, this part of consequences is a website called stickk.com. And I can't believe this website exists, so this wouldn't work for me at all. But if you are a rebel and you give this a go, I would love to hear how you get on with it.

It's spelled S T I C K k.com. And what's different about this website to anything else I've ever seen is that you make a commitment. So it's a commitment that you put on the website and you say that if you don't hit the commitment, if you don't do what you're going to say, you have to actually hand over cold hard cash.

There's a financial consequence to you not hitting your goals. And I have heard that some people find this incredibly powerful. In fact, I think loads of people have used this site. So that's one thing to think about. I have heard of a friend who did a similar thing, but instead of just putting money on the line through the website, instead she committed to giving money to a cause she didn't believe in at all, and that really helped keep her on track. It's amazing to think of all of these different techniques that we can start to try out once we really understand how it is that we're able to meet inner and outer expectations.

That brings us to the end of today's episode. I really hope you found it interesting and that it's left you a little bit intrigued and ready to dive into The Four Tendencies in a bit more detail. As always, I'll make sure that I put links to everything in the show notes. There's a brilliant book that goes alongside the quiz.

I'll put a link to the book. I'll put a link to the quiz and a link to Gretchen Rubin's website in there so you can take a look and take a deeper dive if you would like to. One thing that I think is really important to point out is something that I say when it comes to any of these sorts of assessments, which is to just hold them lightly. We are humans, not robots. It means that none of these things can ever possibly be a hundred percent accurate and we are not using them to judge ourselves. Be hard on ourselves or judge other people, or be hard on other people. Just try and take anything from it that you find useful. If there are parts of the quiz when you take it that resonate with you.

That's great. Then go ahead and, you know, try out and have a think about what it's saying. If there are parts that really don't resonate, then that's fine. You don't have to abide by it. You don't have to listen to it. You can just disregard it if you feel that it really doesn't resonate with you. So please, please, please never see any sort of assessment like this as being something that is going to box you in or that is very all or nothing.

It's not. It's just that as something that I think is really interesting and could potentially help you for identifying strategies to put in place to really succeed in your career. Have a great week. I will look forward to being back again next week with the next episode. And if you have enjoyed listening to the episode today, or you've been enjoying HR coffee time generally, if you've been listening for a while, I would be so grateful if you could share it with a friend who you think would enjoy it too, because it's my aim to help as many HR and people professionals as possible with these free weekly episodes.

Thank you so much and have a great week.

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