It turns out that there is a relatively simple way to analyse and categorise people, which helps us understand how we respond differently to assignments, rules, habits and expectations. According to Gretchen Rubin, the best selling author of the Happiness Project, people fall into one of four categories when it comes to motivating themselves to getting work done. The four different categories that she talks about are Obligers, Questioners, Upholders and Rebels. According to her experience, the majority of people are obligers and questioners.
Understanding the category that each of your team members fall into will help you to better motivate and influence them to contribute constructively to your project. At a personal level it’s also useful to know which type you are, as it will help you to follow through with your commitments to yourself and others.
The way that Rubin categorises us is by looking at how likely we are to respond to a rule. In her terminology a rule can either be external or internal. An example of an external rule would be a deadline or a request from your manager. An example of an internal rule would be a personal goal you’d like to achieve or a new year’s resolution. No one asked you to do it. It stems from your own internal desire.
An obliger is someone who responds well to external demands and rules set by others. They do however struggle to keep the rules they set themselves and carry through with private goals. In other words, they are motivated by structures, accountability and deadlines imposed by others. They hate letting other people down and are motivated by doing what’s expected of them. In a team they are super reliable because they like to please. On the flipside they are not good at self-starting because no one is checking on them. They can also be prone to burnout and have difficulties saying no.
If you have an obliger on your team you probably don’t need to do much more than create some outer accountability, for instance by giving them clear deadlines. But don’t put too much pressure on them, as it will cause them to overwork and get stressed. If they feel that you are exploiting them they may end up walking away.
If through reading this you realise that you are an obliger yourself, you’ll need to create some external accountability to help meet your inner goals. If you want to exercise more for instance, sign up with a personal trainer or work out with a friend who can serve as an accountability buddy. For other types of goals you can also work with a coach who will help you stay accountable to yourself.
The questioner is someone who queries everything. They will only follow a rule or a request if it makes sense to them. They are motivated by sound reasons and good arguments – not by random requests or policies. Their favourite question is why something needs to get done and what the purpose is. On the plus side they can be very healthy for an organisation or a project because of their no-nonsense approach. If they agree that something needs to get done, they’ll be highly engaged. If not they won’t deliver what you expect. The drawback is their constant need to question things, which can be exhausting to everyone around.
If you work with a questioner always come prepared. Give them as much information as you have and let them know why the work you are asking them to do is important. If they don’t speak up, ask them what questions and concerns they have. It’s best to get their worries out in the open so that you can address them and also explain what happens if the work isn’t done.
It could also be that you are a questioner and that you struggle to get the things done that are important to you. If so, do sufficient research and get clarity on why you’re pursuing a certain aim in a certain way. Reassure yourself that the approach you’re leaning towards makes the most sense. If you find that you’re holding yourself back because you’re waiting for perfect information, remember that not all information is required to take the first step. To get the benefit from something you do need to get started.
The upholder is someone who respects inner rules and expectations as well as outer rules. They are motivated by fulfilment and by that nice feeling of getting stuff done and achieving something. On the plus side they are self-starters, reliable and don’t need a lot of supervision or accountability. They typically wake up and thinking “what’s on my to-do list today?” On the negative side they need clear rules to be able to operate and avoid letting anyone down. They don’t like to deviate from rules and get frustrated – paralyzed even – when rules are ambiguous or lacking. To others they can come across as rigid or cold. At times they can even make others feel bad because of their high levels of productivity
If you work with an upholder on your project, always give clear directions. Brief them on what you expect and by when you expect it. Also discuss how often you will check in with each other so that you both have full clarity.
If you are personally an upholder (like I am) then it’s probably easy for you to get work done and to achieve the things you want. On the flipside, be aware of how rigid you might appear to others. Be able to let go of your strict rules, and when things change, don’t freak out. Take a deep breath!
The rebel is someone who resists all rules – outer as well as inner. They want to do as they please and are motivated by their present desire. If you ask them to do something, not only will they not do it, they are very likely to want to do the opposite. They resist all control, even self-control. They act from a sense of freedom and don’t give themselves rules. They begin their day by asking “What do I want to do today?” Rebels aren’t constrained by rules and love to not have any. On a positive note it means that they will sometimes be fine to do what others won’t do as they may not be bound by social etiquette or worry about how others see them. On the negative side they can be frustrating to work with because of their nonconforming manner.
If you work with a rebel the best thing you can do is probably to challenge them. They do like a good challenge as long as it comes with buckets of freedom. Like with a rebellious child, say that you bet they can’t do it, e.g. produce a winning slogan. They’ll likely think “I’ll show you!” Be playful and give them freedom to rise to the challenge. You can also get through to them by demonstrating what happens if they don’t show up and take part in an activity. But don't nudge them. Let them arrive at the conclusion themselves.
If you are a rebel yourself, you might find your own resistance and lack of self-control difficult. Set yourself clear challenges and try out the rocking chair exercise. Imagine you are eighty years old and sitting on the porch in your rocking chair, looking into a peaceful garden. In that state imagine that you spent your entire life rebelling and didn’t achieve the things you really wanted. Take time to feel how awful that would feel. So challenge yourself to make your dreams come true!
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