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How to Motivate Your Colleagues

Updated: Aug 30, 2021

Everyone can agree: there is nothing worse than conflicts in the workplace.

Whether you live or work with them, if you aren’t getting along with someone in your sphere, life is a drag. And those petty disagreements? They usually start because someone isn’t doing what you want them to.

So how do your convince your colleagues to get stuff done?

Enter Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies (a.k.a. The Rubin Character Index).

Created by Gretchen Rubin to explain what motivates people to get things done, it has become a part of the Cat’s Cove daily lexicon. Rubin has divided people into four tendencies and if you know what you and your colleagues are, things can go much smoother in your organization.

Let me describe the Four Tendencies using real-life examples from Cat’s Cove last week.


Upholders “respond readily to outer and inner expectations” (Rubin). They are goal-oriented, can easily create habits and love rules. If they don’t have a clear understanding of the parameters or rules rules of play, they can become paralyzed in their work. When things are going well, they can systematize and accomplish almost any project without deadlines needed.

Sounds great, right? But they can be the ones that slow down a progressive conversation out of fear of bending the rules. And in a team, they can get so focused on meeting the goals on paper, that they disregard people.

For example, when the resident Cat’s Cove Upholder was tasked with booking appointments for another team member for a large project, the Upholder successfully booked out 50% of the required meetings within two weeks. Sounds great on paper, but the Upholder’s teammate literally fell over from exhaustion and ended up at the hospital with sinus and lung infections.

Tip: You won’t need to motivate these people, but be honest with the Upholder about your needs and limitations. They won’t notice on their own.


Obligers “meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves” (Rubin). They are the bedrock of any organization. Ask them to do something and they will get it done. On the flipside, they will prioritize work for everyone else over personal projects.

In the previous example, can you guess which tendency the person was who got the sinus infection? Yep, Obliger to the core.

Here is another example from last week: a team member commented at the end of the day that their plate was completely full and they were running up to some deadlines. We’ll call her Masha. An Obliger on the team went home and worked on Masha’s project after their kids were in bed. The Obliger texted at 10 pm and said, “Done! Hope that helps!” with all the cheeriest and most sincere emojis that exist in iOS.

Tip: If you know there is something an obliger needs/wants to happen, do them a favour and tell them that if they do it, it would be helping you out. Don’t ask the obliger for help unless you really need it, because they will help you before they help themselves.


Questioners “question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense--essentially, they make all expectations into inner expectations” (Rubin). These might be the most straight forward workers of the bunch.

Questioners need to figure out why something needs to happen, and boy do they ask a lot of questions to get there. It can be like sitting with a room with a toddler who just discovered the word “why?”

However, if you embrace the inquiry process with a questioner, you will discover that they are masters at bringing clarity to new projects. They are the ones that will inspire the team to think through all the details before committing to a task.

Here at Cat’s Cove we’ve embraced our Questioner and will often pull our Questioner into conversations when we are trying to problem solve.

Tip: Don’t tell a questioner what to do. They will struggle to get it done. Instead, provide them with all the information they need to understand the benefits of the exercise and then just leave it with them.


Rebels “resist all expectations, inner and outer alike” (Rubin). They are rare and they can be challenging to work with. I’ll be honest: we don’t have any on our staff at Cat’s Cove.

If you explain the Four Tendencies to a Rebel and say you think they might be a Rebel, they will flat out refute it. That’s what they do.

Like a questioner, you cannot tell a rebel what to do and expect them to happily work to get it done. You have to give the facts and leave it with them. They will have to frame it in some way to motivate themselves.


At Cat’s Cove, we all know our own tendency and the tendencies of our colleagues, and we use it daily to get stuff done. We own our strengths.

And we use that knowledge to motivate each other.

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