You may be a skeptic when it comes to personality tests. However, they may be more accurate than you believe. But first, let’s get the unpleasantries out of the way. How can you tell if the test is worth taking?
We love hearing good things about ourselves. Confirmation bias kicks in when my results are compassionate, initiator, and independent. What if the Harry Potter test results show that I’m a Slytherin, cunning and ambitious? I wouldn’t be sharing those results, that’s for sure. But if I’m the Hermione Granger-type, creative with a thirst for knowledge, I’d find a way to work it into the conversation.
Perhaps the best-known personality test is the Myers-Briggs (MBTI), taken by millions. It assigns you a combination of four letters based on how you navigate the world: Extroversion/Introversion, Intuiting/Sensing, Thinking/Feeling, Judging/Perceiving. These combinations result in 16 possible personality types like ENFJ and ISTP.
On a girls’ trip to Canada, all six of us took the test. Five of us were INTJs, but Hannah had a one-letter difference. We forgave her. People bond over the results of the MBTI. I was attached to the idea of being an INTJ, a part of 1.5 percent of the population, the second-rarest female personality type.
Since C. G. Jung developed the MBTI in 1944, researchers have found evidence against its validity in categorization and scoring. For example, you can receive different results within a short period even though nothing in your life has changed meaningfully. In other words, you didn’t spend ten years nursing infants in Haiti’s rural areas, which could explain your higher compassion score. A test-reliability score gives credence to its validity.
Another test, the Enneagram personality system, gained popularity after Ian Morgan Cron, an Episcopal priest, published his book, The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery. The Enneagram is based on nine types with a sub-type (1-9).
The Enneagram has received scant research attention. Unlike the MBTI, the test includes mystical elements and purportedly has ancient origins. The two tests have in common a loyal following: people who adopt their type as part of their identity and defend it vigorously.
Any test claiming to be scientifically validated raises red flags. Personality tests are based on observations at best. The Big 5 personality assessment was mentioned in several sources for this article as having the greatest validity.
A familiar quote is, “Hell is other people.” Getting along with others is a challenge. Getting along with myself is no picnic either. My deep dive into personality testing is an effort to understand how I can communicate and understand others while remaining true to myself. Then, along comes yet another test, The Four Tendencies, one that’s not based on Jungian psychology or the mystical.
Gretchen Rubin divides us into four groups (tendencies), based on the fundamental aspects of our nature in terms of what motivates us to act and behave in certain ways. The Four Tendencies framework reveals whether a person is an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel. By asking, “how do I respond to expectations,” we gain insight into ourselves. Knowing how others tick offers valuable insight for better communications.
All of us face two types of expectations, outer and inner. Outer expectations such as responding to an email or reading a book for book club. An inner expectation is to follow through on a New Year’s resolution or set a goal to walk two miles each day. How we respond to these expectations determines our “Tendency” and defines our category (Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel). No one tendency is better or worse than another. We are who we are.
Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations. The Questioners question all expectations and follow those that make sense to them. The Rebel resists all expectations, inner and outer. The Obliger responds readily to outer expectations but struggles to keep inner expectations. Rubin points out that its the Questioners who question this test’s validity. Then again, they question everything.
Based on The Four Tendencies, Tim and I are opposites. Although it didn’t take the test to tell us this fact.
Tim (Upholder) wakes up thinking about “What’s on the checklist for today?” Upholders are motivated by execution, getting things accomplished. They don’t like making mistakes, getting blamed, or failing to follow through.
Edith (Rebel) gets out of bed wondering what she wants to do today. Rebels are motivated by a sense of freedom. They don’t like to be told what to do.
Questioner’s morning thought is, “What should I to get done today?” They’re motivated by good reasons for a particular course of action. They don’t like spending time and effort on activities they don’t agree with.
Obligers wake up and think, “What must I do today?” They are motivated by accountability and don’t like being reprimanded or letting others down.
Edith loves to get together with people, all kinds of people, but when the day arrives, she laments scheduling it in the first place. Initially, Tim questions whether we should plan a get-together at all, but he is all in and looking forward to it when the day comes.
Tim is a follower of agreed rules. Edith doesn’t want the rules or care to learn them. He wants to be on time. She presents synonyms for flexibility.
Planning a family vacation, the Rebel son wings it at the last minute. The Obliger daughter offers to make plans for everyone. One Questioner daughter will show up if she doesn’t have something she likes doing better. The other Questioner daughter initiates her own plans working them into the rest of the family’s. Tim, the Upholder, is the first to firm up plans and make reservations.
Rubin sums up The Four Tendencies with this question: How do you get a person to change a light bulb?
How do you get an Upholder to change a light bulb?
He’s already changed it.
How do you get an Obliger to change a light bulb?
You ask him to change it.
How do you get a Questioner to change a light bulb?
They will say, why do we need that light anyway?
How do you get a Rebel to change a light bulb?
Do it yourself.
The Four Tendencies test is a tool for understanding self and others. Rubin’s book provides deeper insight, an opportunity to understand human behavior, motivations, and relationships with loved ones. Is it valid? Time will tell. For now, take the test and decide for yourself.
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