by Steve Adubato, PhD

“How did you feel after your last interaction with another person? Did that person “fill your bucket” by making you feel more positive? Or, did that person “dip from your bucket” leaving you more negative than before?”

That’s one of the main questions asked in the quintessential communication book, “How Full Is Your Bucket? Positive Strategies for Work and Life”, by Tom Rath and Dr. Donald Clifton.

Very simply, this powerful book centers on the theory of the dipper and the bucket, which says that each of us has an “invisible bucket” that is regularly being filled or emptied by those around us. Think about it. How do others make you feel? Do they give you energy or take it away from you? When you see the caller ID come up on your phone, do you get excited that Bob is calling or do you avoid him like the plague?

So many of us don’t realize how often we give off negative energy. We are dipping from other people’s buckets, instead of filling them.

According to this must-read book, “A full bucket gives us a positive outlook and renewed energy…but an empty bucket poisons our outlook, zaps our energy and undermines our will. That’s why every time someone dips from our bucket it hurts us.”

Rath and Clifton conclude that based on the theory of the dipper and the bucket, “we face a choice every moment of every day; We can fill another’s bucket or we can dip from them.” That’s pretty profound when you think about the impact that our communication, be it verbal or non-verbal, has on those around us, both at home and at work.

With this in mind, consider some practical communication tips and tools:

--Learn the names of everyone you see regularly. I’ve been going to a local deli for the past couple of years and the guy behind the counter is friendly, smiles, and communicates in a positive, upbeat fashion. The problem is, I’m not sure of his name and since it’s been so long, I feel embarrassed to ask him. However, every time I come in, he says, “Hey Steve, good to see you. What will you have today?” I respond without ever addressing him by name. That’s ridiculous and embarrassing. What I should do is simply ask him his name and start using it. Learning and using people’s names makes people feel better about your relationship.

--Sit and talk with colleagues at lunch or on break. We are always going a million miles per hour at work, but how often do we really communicate with those we work with in a more relaxed setting. I’m not talking about a 2-hour lunch or a half-hour coffee break, but take the time to get to know the people you work with on a personal level. Ask about their family, their kids, spouses, and their exercise routine. This stuff matters. Showing you care and taking an interest will make you a bucket filler.

--Lend a hand. Bucket fillers reach out and help colleagues who are overwhelmed. Too often, we become isolated in the workplace and figure if we are doing our job, everything is fine. But as we all know, that is not how great teams work. If you sense that a colleague is swamped, proactively reach out and say; “Mary, I know you are overwhelmed, let me take that Jones project off your hands.” Mary won’t expect it, but she will appreciate it. It will give her a sense that she is not alone and is working with people who care.

These are just a few examples of how you can help fill the buckets of those around you.