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We Can Fill Buckets

By Jeri Mae Rowley, MS

 Research from the U.S. Department of Labor reveals that the main reason people leave their jobs

is that they don’t feel appreciated. Dr. Donald O. Clifton would say that their “buckets are empty.”

How can you help fill the buckets of the people in your organization?

Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D., was honored by the American Psychological Association in 2002 as the “Father of Strengths Psychology” and the “Grandfather of Positive Psychology” for his half-century-long study of the effects of positivity on people and organizations.

Dr. Clifton taught thousands of people about the power of positivity with the parable of the Dipper and the Bucket, which tells us that we each have a metaphorical bucket that is filled by positive interactions with other people and emptied by negative ones. We feel great when our bucket is full and rotten when it is empty.

We can use our corresponding “dipper” to empty or fill other peoples’ buckets. The parable concludes with one of life’s most powerful lessons: “When we fill another person’s bucket, we fill our own.”

Dippers are important tools for any workplace, since an organization populated by people with “full buckets” has more positive energy than one with “empty buckets” and is therefore more productive and profitable. Dr. Clifton cites data to support this thesis in his bestselling book How Full is Your Bucket?

Research from the U.S. Department of Labor reveals that the main reason people leave their jobs is that they don’t feel appreciated. And in a Gallup Poll, 65% reported that they had received no recognition for good work in their workplaces.

Nine out of ten people say they are more productive when they’re around positive people. Another study found that negative employees can scare off every customer they speak with.

When there aren’t enough positive interactions or “drops” in the workplace, individual relationships suffer, companies suffecolonial_bucket3r, and the economy suffers. According to Clifton’s grandson and co-author Tom Rath, “Our relationships with people are formed by small moments–and relationships are crucial in business.”

There are approximately twenty thousand bucket-impacting moments in a given day, lasting about three seconds each. Those three-second interactions are rarely neutral, and we can deliberately choose to make them positive or negative.

But before we start trying to fill someone else’s bucket, the authors urge us to think about the individual’s unique likes and dislikes.   One person’s positive drop is another person’s negative dip. Ask questions and listen carefully to understand what an individual perceives as positive and negative. Then use the following guidelines.

Formula for Success

  • The magic productivity ratio: five positive interactions for every negative interaction, 5:1.
  • Too much of a good thing? More than thirteen positive interactions for every negative interaction, 13:1, could actually decrease productivity. (Such a high positive to negative ratio is not perceived as genuine. If people feel they are being manipulated, productivity may decline.)

The same year Dr. Clifton was honored by the American Psychological Association, he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. He knew his time was growing short and chose to spend his last few months working on the book so many people had urged him to write. With Rath’s help, he finished the book shortly before his death. How Full Is Your Bucket? Positive Strategies for Work and Life, was released in  by Gallup Press.

Fill your own bucket to the brim by using Clifton’s positive strategies that can transform your briefest interactions into great relationship-building opportunities. Remember, when you help fill another person’s bucket, you’ll be filling your own.