group of people

How to get a grip on people’s behaviour?

November 20, 2019

A few days ago, I found myself in a conversation about how there seems to be a one size fits all concept in the corporate world. The reason we got into the topic was because we were talking about remote work and whether we were in favor of it. Very quickly we concluded that it works for some people and it doesn’t for others. But what was maybe more important was the observation that we form opinions based on our own perspective. 

Somehow we seem to have lost (or maybe we never had it?) the insight that we are all different. And that different things work for different people. Generalization is seldom a helpful thinking path. It’s not in romantic relationships, it’s not in education and it’s not in the world of business either. 

Getting a grip on people’s behaviour 

Which made me wonder whether there are any tools out there to help us get a handle on the wide variety that is the human race and it’s equally diverse individual behaviour. 

Now I want to get this out of the way first: I’m not a fan of Box Thinking. 

It somehow implies the idea that we all fit into a mold and that in essence we are all highly predictable human beings, moving around in a highly predictable world. We all know neither are true. 

Taking it all with a pinch of salt

But here’s the thing: How else do you cope in utter chaos other than try to create some order? 

As much as I dislike oversimplification – human behaviour is never as easy or straightforward as falling into one of four or five categories-  It also offers some helpful insight why some things work for certain people and not for others.  Multiple Box Thinking introduces the concept that we are not one and the same. And that’s both interesting and helpful. 

Bottom line? I think looking at 4 categories is better than assuming that we are all wired the same way. As long as we take any Box Thinking with a pinch of salt, we might be actually on to something. 

4 Behavioral Tendencies or Styles

There are quite a few publications out there that discuss different normal behavioral categories. Some call them Styles (DiSC), others call them Tendencies. Although they approach things differently, what’s fascinating is that  when you get to the descriptions of the different categories, they largely correlate with each other. They’re both worth exploring although the DiSC Behavioral Styles have been around a bit longer.

According to Gretchen Rubin -the new kid on the block- people display one of 4 Behavioral Tendencies. These categories depend on how people handle inner expectations (like a New Year’s resolution) and outer expectations (like a work deadline) as opposed to DiSCs Inner Motor vs Outer Motor.

The way people meet or struggle with inner and/or outer expectations makes them fall into the Box of …

  • The Obligers: Obligers meet outer expectations but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves. They love to please, often at the detriment of their own wellbeing.  However, they will happily meet the deadlines their boss imposes on them. 
  •  The Questioners: Questioners only meet an expectation if they think it makes sense to them. ‘Why?’ is their favorite word. They love to solve problems and they ask questions. Lots of them. Questioners usually know why they are doing things in a certain way, making them very efficient. On the flip side, they can be rather pleased with themselves. 
  • The Upholders: Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations. They are quite self-disciplined, but at the same time they can be rigid and they can struggle to delegate. It’s probably no surprise to hear that they love routine. 
  • The Rebels: Rebels are the opposite from the Upholders. They love freedom and choice, resisting all expectations, outer and inner alike. Things happen on their terms, but they excel in out of the box thinking and innovation. 

How is this helpful? 

The value of the tendencies is that once you have figured out which predominant box you live in, it’s quite easy to overcome the issues and stumbling blocks that have prevented you from unquestionable success in the past. 

So knowing you tendency, how do you remove obstacles that have held you back in the past and gain self-mastery?  And how do you approach the four tendencies differently as a colleague or manager? 

  • The Obligers: Obligers need outer accountability to get things done. Once you’re aware of this, as an Obliger, it‘s easy enough to create that outer accountability to reach inner goals. Create outside pressure by publicly announcing inner deadlines or surrounding yourself with accountability-partners (like a personal trainer at the gym). The same goes for a manager working with an Obliger. Give them simple and clear deadlines, and they’ll be on their way.
  • The Questioners: Questioners have a very logical side and don’t always appreciate if other people don’t share that approach. As a Questioner, this causes friction, especially because they feel so strongly that their way is the right way. As a Questioner, making the conscious decision that less logical or efficient people are important to them (emotionally or professionally), and therefore worth complying with is a way around that. Call it: finding a logical reason to go with a less logical solution. When working with a Questioner, explain to them why this task is important; why you want it done in a certain way and why now. 
  • The Upholders: Because Upholders are so self-disciplined, they may be judgemental towards other tendencies; especially Obligers and Rebels, for not doing what they say they will do. Realizing that the world is made of different people that bring different talents other than self-discipline to the table is a good insight, when you are an Upholder. Upholders hate last-minute changes. When working with an Upholder, it helps to give them plenty of notice for anything you want them to do. They’ll get it done with little supervision. 
  • The Rebels: Nothing will motivate a Rebel as much as taking things outside the Must-sphere. If you’re a Rebel, it helps to get clear on what your choices in life are (important people, values, etc) and choose to act accordingly. It changes the I Must into I Choose.As the manager of a Rebel, communicate in the form of Information-Consequence-Choice. After that, leave them alone and don’t nag them. If they do not run with it, the consequence applies. Tough love. 

On a final note

Clearly, there is a lot more to be said on the topic. There are some quizzes out there that will help you determine your  Style and/or Tendency. 

Finally, it’s important to point out that there is no ‘Best Tendency’. The important thing to take from the whole idea is that different is good and that there are ways to work with the strengths and the weaknesses of every person, no matter how different they may or may not be.