Our 4 Tendencies at Work

As the federal workplace becomes more diverse, it is increasingly important to understand what makes people different in order to work productively as a team. Combined with the constant churn of change, the onslaught of volatility, the avalanche of uncertainty and the fog of ambiguity in the public sector, it is helpful to understand personal tendencies at work to create win-win interactions with our colleagues and customers.

Gretchen Rubin, who writes on subjects like habits, happiness and human nature has come up with 4 predispositions that we all show up with in life and at work: (1) Upholders; (2) Obligers; (3) Questioners and (4) Rebels.

These kinds of folks thrive in federal bureaucracies. They are the law and order people. They have never met a rule they do not like. They defend the culture and climate of their workplaces with the mantra-this is how we do things around here. You know what to expect out of them. They get the job done on time and under budget.

They are detail oriented which according to Rubin can lead to a phenomenon called “tightening.” This is why they are such great bureaucrats. They obsess about frivolous details that can often times lead to extra work and the expenditure of additional energy that could be better utilized on future tasks.

This is the second biggest group in the 20th century federal government model known for overvaluing experience, undervaluing unconventional thinking from newcomers and external sources and crippling initiative by creating risk adverse work environments.

Rubin claims that bureaucracies give obligers exactly what they need in the form of accountability to meet their inner expectations so they can be dutiful in meeting the outer expectations of the bureaucracy.

Obligers work well with firm and final deadlines. They do not mind being micro-managed a little bit. They don’t mind being told what to do. They thrive with extrinsic motivation by doing their work in ways that avoid punishments and gain rewards.

Unlike obligers, questioners challenge assumptions. They have to be convinced that any task is a good use of their time. Their entire work experience is one of satisfying their inner expectations. They tend to do their work in an intrinsic motivating spirit that eschews the “avoid punishments and gain rewards work” model to “I do my work because I enjoy it motif.”

They gravitate toward solutions based on data and gain a reputation as “fixers” since they are so good at questioning, anticipating and visioning the unexpected.

They can get under the skin of upholders and obligers by gumming up the works by asking so many questions and can fall into a mindset of “paralysis by analysis.”

Rubin insists this category is the rarest tendency in our workplaces but many times a necessary one to ensure creativity and innovation. She points out that we often respond to rebels with more bureaucratic control which deepens their tendency to resist conventional norms.

She claims the best way to deal with rebels is to give them choices. Realize that the best in roles can deliver outcomes differently but at the same time, those choosing the path less traveled must own the negative outcomes that can come from their occasional poor choices.

We need all kinds in the public arena. As the Dali Lama once said, “Just because someone is not traveling the same road as you, does not mean they are lost.”

While some of us are traveling different roads, most of us are moving in the same direction to success. It just may take some of us a little longer to get there than others.

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Elizabeth Henley

Good one! I knew which category I fell into immediately, before reading any of them. Obviously I’m a rebel! -E.