Last post, I introduced this new mini-series to help you work better with yourself and others.

Gretchen Rubin’s The Four Tendencies looks at how people respond to:

  • inner expectations (set for ourselves)
  • outer expectations (others set for us)

Let’s start by looking at OBLIGERS because they’re:

1) the largest group.

2) most likely to set New Year’s resolutions and “fail.”

As you read, what rings true for you… or might help you understand someone else in your circle?

Obligers are typically responsive to other’s expectations…

>> If an Obliger’s manager asks for an assignment at a certain time, they’ll meet that deadline.

But they can have a hard time meeting their own expectations…

>> Even if an Obligers wants to work out, they may struggle to get going.

Rubin writes, The Obliger is the rock of the world. …the ones whom people count on the most. Obligers show up, they answer the midnight call from the client, they meet their deadlines, they fulfill their responsibilities, they volunteer, they help out… Whether at work or at home, Obliger is the Tendency that’s most likely to contribute.”

While others may appreciate them for the reasons above, Obligers are the most likely not to like their Tendency.

—> It’s frustrating to struggle with personal goals.

—> While delivering for others can feel good, Obligers can get fed up and/or burnt out. (When someone gives up on meeting an expectation, Rubin calls it “Obliger rebellion.”)

—> Work-wise, Obligers can struggle to prioritize, often at the expense of longer-term work that’s due later. Even with lots of lead time, they often end up down-to-the-wire on deadlines.

Good news for Obligers. The challenges of their Tendency are actually the easiest to work around.

Rubin: “To meet inner expectations, Obligers must create structures of outer accountability. They need tools such as supervision, late fees, deadlines, monitoring, and consequences enforced from the outside to keep their promises to themselves.”

Imagine an Obliger wants to read War and Peace this year…

Even if it’s a bucket list book and they put time on their calendar to read every day, chances are slim that an Obliger will finish all 361 chapters… unless they create external accountability.

>> Start a book club. Send out calendar invites to the group. Volunteer to send out discussion questions beforehand and/or to lead the conversations. (Each step creates more obligation to others.)

>> Find a friend who wants to read more. Make plans to meet at a coffee shop for a couple of hours every weekend; read your respective books.

>> Post on social media that you’re determined to read War & Peace in 2024 and, to keep yourself on track, you’re going to share a favorite quote online each week.

>> Maybe, marathon-style, you get sponsors to donate to a certain cause if you finish the whole novel?

A “streak” can create accountability without needing anyone else. I didn’t care about consistently doing Wordle until I saw my stats going up. Now, with a current streak of 52, I don’t want to miss a day.

Sometimes, when managers realize they have Obligers on their team, they resent having to create accountability for them (one more thing on their plate).

But what if early thoughtfulness could save you time in the end?

Instead of overextended Obligers churning out less-than-their-best work as they burn the midnight oil, it might be as simple as:

  • checking in on their progress during weekly team meetings,
  • reviewing sections of something in chunks (instead of when it’s supposed to be complete), or
  • having someone give a “dress rehearsal” to peers before a big presentation.

If you can help team members learn what kinds of outside accountability are most helpful to them and how to set it up for themselves, they’ll be more effective now and more prepared to advance professionally.

Understanding that I’m an Obliger (and what that means) helped me set up accountability so I’ll exercise more this winter.

If you live with an Obliger, how could you set up accountability so 1) you’re not frustrated by having to repeat yourself and 2) they don’t feel like you’re nagging?

  • Would a dry-erase board help?
  • Time set aside to work on individual projects at the same time?
  • Weekly game nights with friends so the Obliger feels more impetus to get things done?

Now that you know more about the Obliger Tendency, what do you see differently? Comment below and let me know!

Sheila Devi is an Executive Life Coach.

She focuses on deadline-driven, high-pressure careers (like law and accounting).

Individuals: Sheila helps private clients get perspective on professional/personal challenges so they have more time to focus on their best work and other priorities, such as family and health.

Firms/Corporations: Sheila teaches EQ (in a way your team has never heard) to help them navigate working with stressed clients/colleagues, avoid burnout, and rediscover satisfaction and engagement.

Interested in one-on-one coaching or having Sheila connect with you company? –> Simply email

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