Improve Your Communications Skills with the Four Tendencies

One oft-ignored rule of engagement when it comes to communication is that its goal is to receive other people’s meanings and have them receive yours. Many people don’t realize how much they communicate is affected by the way a message is delivered. If your message is square you can’t force it into a round hole. That is why communication can be so tough. To be an effective communicator you must understand:

  • the message,
  • the person who will be receiving it,
  • the way to communicate for them to optimally understand.

Further, if someone is trying to tell you something but you just don’t get it, you have to figure out how to change the way you’re receiving. Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project fame has identified four different tendencies that guide how most people react to communication expectations. Understanding The Four Tendencies will improve your ability to give and receive messages.

The Four Tendencies

Upholders are both intrinsically and extrinsically motivated. They do what they believe to be right and also what others think is right.

Questioners are intrinsically motivated. They do what they believe to be right and ask questions to understand external expectations to judge if they match with their internal ones.

Obligers are extrinsically motivated. They are more likely to fulfill others’ expectations at the expense of their own.

Rebels resist both internal and external expectations.

Why does this matter? Take these three scenarios, for starters:

  1. Butting HeadsYou’re in a regular team meeting – maybe it’s the management team, maybe a project team – and it starts. Inevitably. Again. The two people that always butt heads on everything hijack the meeting with their never-ending debate and the rest of you can do nothing but sit back and watch the scene because you have tried a million different ways to calm it in the past, but nothing works. They just can’t talk to each other.Helping these two develop self-awareness of their own tendencies and each other’s will start to bridge the gap to better communication.
  2. boxing-1038x576You need your boss (or your direct report) to understand a critical issue that must be addressed right now. Your chest is tight, your shoulders are slumped, and your jaw is clenched. Your whole body already knows this is going to be a fight – what else can you do but enter the ring? After all, this hill is too important to ignore like you did with the other issues that came along this week. It’s a good day to die (gulp). Understanding your boss’s motivation tendency will help you craft the message in such a way that they are more likely to receive it. Maybe a fight is not inevitable.
  3. You look up from your desk and see him coming. Oh no. Not another, “Have you got 5 minutes,” that ends 45 minutes later after a diatribe of complaints about how no one does anything right but him. You want to help him let off steam, but you’re starting to suspect that being the receiver of these endless complaints (though some are valid) are not actually helping anyone. Instead of just being a release valve, what if you could give this person solid strategies to understand why they are perceiving the world as they are and how to relate better to others?
Photo Credit: Kate Haskell / CC

If any of these scenarios sound familiar, add the Four Tendencies Model to your communication toolbox. Instinctively you know that your world view isn’t the same as everyone else’s, but this model helps categorize how others may be perceiving things and allows you to customize your delivery methods accordingly.

Invest 10 minutes to take the Four Tendencies quiz and read the book Better than Before if you’re a reader. This is a 5 star recommendation.

As a communicator (and human) it behooves you to develop your ability to read who you are working with, understand their tendencies and modify your tactics accordingly. When all you have is a hammer, the whole world can look like a nail. The Four Tendencies Model is a screwdriver. Pick one up and add it to your toolbox.

Let us know how it went in the comments or drop us a line.

Written By:
Tara Landes

Tara Landes is the Founder and President of Bellrock. She has spent over 20 years consulting and training in small to medium-sized enterprises. A sought-after speaker on a wide range of business topics, Tara has delivered workshops and seminars at conferences and industry associations across Canada. Tara obtained a BA (Honours) in Political Science from the University of Western Ontario (UWO) and earned an MBA from UWO's Richard Ivey School of Business.

More By This Author