How Full Is Your Bucket?

"So we face a choice every moment of every day: We can fill one another’s buckets, or we can dip from them. It’s an important choice – one that profoundly influences our relationships, productivity, health, and happiness."

- How Full is Your Bucket?, page 5

In How Full is Your Bucket?, Tom Rath and Donald O. Wilson have created a very accessible book that shares what many of us intuitively know, but struggle to put to action in our work and personal lives.  Positive emotions win out over negative ones in terms of how they can increase our happiness, productivity, status of our relationships, teams and so on.

They share the Theory of the Bucket and the Dipper:

“Each of us has an invisible bucket.  It is constantly emptied or filled, depending on what others say or do to us.  When our bucket is full, we feel great.  When it’s empty, we feel awful.

“Each of us also has an invisible dipper.  When we use that dipper to fill other people’s buckets – by saying or doing things to increase their positive emotions – we also fill our own bucket.  But when we use that dipper to dip from others’ buckets – by saying or doing things that decrease their positive emotions – we diminish ourselves.”

This book outlines some of the research that demonstrates the power of recognition, positive emotions, and appreciation. Researchers such as Barbara Fredrickson, John Gottman, and Daniel Kahneman are referenced. Overall, they’ve shown in various studies that positivity leads to productivity in all types of relationships. One CEO summed it up beautifully when he said “bucket filling is his ‘secret weapon’ as a leader.”

According to the authors, there are 5 strategies for Increasing Positive Emotions.

  1. Prevent bucket dipping
    • Ask yourself regularly if you are adding to, or taking away from, another person’s bucket. When you notice that you are taking away (such as saying negative comments, criticizing, even mocking), stop it!
  2. Shine a light on what is right
    • Share what you notice is right, good, positive in another person. Fill their bucket with what they are doing right.
  3. Make best friends
    • “People with best friends at work have better safety records, receive higher customer satisfaction scores, and increase workplace productivity.”
  4. Give unexpectedly
    • Look for opportunities to give to another – either a tangible item, or perhaps your time or talents
  5. Reverse the golden rule
    • Do for others what THEY would like

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Filling another person’s bucket also fills our own

"“Studies show that organizational leaders who share positive emotions have workgroups with a more positive mood, enhanced job satisfaction, greater engagement, and improved group performance”."
- How Full is Your Bucket?, page 17

I can only imagine that the leader described above in turn has wonderful job satisfaction. This leader is likely proud, and fulfilled.  Given that “the #1 reason people leave their jobs” is because they “don’t feel appreciated,” it seems worth it for everyone’s sake to create a way for people to feel appreciated.

As we fill other’s buckets with positive emotions, with recognition, with gratitude, with kindness, so too will our own buckets be filled.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Magic ratio is 5:1

"Experts are finding that the frequency of small, positive acts is critical."
- How Full is Your Bucket?, page 43

According to John Gottman (known for his research on marriage), there indeed is a magical thing that happens when the ratio of positive versus negative interactions get close to that magic number of 5:1. Gottman found that this points to successful marriages.

What does this mean for business? If your interactions with colleagues, your team, your manager, your clients, your direct reports aims for the magic ratio of 5:1, you are creating lasting relationships. What would that mean to you? It could translate to more happiness for you, as well as employees who stay with you, and clients for life. Doesn’t that sound like something we all strive for in business?

But how to do this? Keep track. Start by focusing on one relationship that is important to you.  Maybe you have a colleague with whom you are working on an important project. Or perhaps it’s one of your direct reports whose performance goes up and down. Look for opportunities to fill that person’s bucket.  The beauty of this approach is that it takes a mere moment at a time. As long as the positivity is grounded in reality, it fills a bucket.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Bucket filling can be transformative

"Great recognition and praise can immediately transform a workplace. And just one person can infuse positive emotions into an entire group by filling buckets more frequently."
- How Full is Your Bucket?, page 17

And then, the question becomes “who goes first?” Of course, this can’t be a real question. The person to go first has to be “us”, “me”, “you”. Let’s not expect someone else to be the bucket filler.  Let’s take this on. And, of course, it becomes contagious.  Once we fill more buckets, then more and more people do the same.

This an easy strategy to implement. With no cost you can be the one to make the difference.

Start by making a commitment to share positive emotions. There are so many ways to do so:

  • Send a note to one of your employees at the end of each day letting them know what you noticed about something they did today.
  • When you walk by someone’s workspace, stop for a moment to share how much you appreciate their contribution in this moment.
  • When you receive some positive feedback from a customer, share that with the team member who made it happen, and thank them.
  • Pay attention to what others do to fill buckets, and put those actions into practice.

Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton have created a lasting metaphor with the bucket and the dipper. They make it so simple to remember, and yet, it’s a powerful concept. They remind us that this is not just another “feel good” idea about making people happy, but that creating the positive environment translates into real results.  Our organizations will be more productive, and our employees will be engaged. If you have ever struggled with how to engage an employee, the simple answer might just be right here – fill their bucket.

What would it mean to you to increase the engagement of those who work in your team, your department, your organization? Where will you start? How do you fill others’ buckets, and how do you stop yourself from dipping into other’s buckets?

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Hélène Egan

ABOUT Hélène Egan

I help professionals be great presenters so that they can get their message across, engage their audiences, and have fun doing it. As a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, I blend my one on one coaching practice with professional facilitation and teaching...
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