Leadership Tip: Fill the Bucket

Bucket filling with water

Every person has an emotional bucket for their relationships.

We have a bucket for every relationship we are in, including our relationship with ourselves.

When the bucket is full, we feel a high sense of trust and safety in the relationship.

The bucket is filled with positive interactions that feel good and build trust, giving a compliment, investing time, showing empathy, sharing goals, keeping a commitment, learning together, having fun together and giving a gift are all ways you can fill a person’s relationship bucket.

What fills a bucket is somewhat unique to the individual. For one person, time spent together may be a big bucket filler. For another, it only may fill their bucket a small amount.

The bucket can also be emptied. Time tends to evaporate the contents of a bucket. The biggest bucket drainers are actions or inactions that leave a person feeling not so good or damage trust. Things like getting constructive feedback, fighting, not feeling understood, being disrespected or missing a special anniversary can drain the bucket.

Bucket draining can be done with intentional or unintentional actions. But just as the physical pain is the same, whether someone intentionally or unintentionally steps on your foot, “I didn’t mean to” doesn’t necessarily matter, and sometimes makes it worse.

The impact of an action or inaction on our relationship bucket is connected to how we feel about ourselves. When we feel good about ourselves, when we feel confident and happy and trust ourselves, when our personal bucket is full, a bucket draining action tends to have less impact.

Bucket draining events are going to happen to have a healthy relationship and help people thrive we need to address performance issues and we need to wade into conflict. When a person’s relationship bucket with us is full there are reserves to draw from if we need to take from the bucket or we do so accidentally. If the relationship bucket is low or empty, there’s nothing to draw from. Feelings of resentment and contempt tend to show up when the relationship bucket is low. A person shuts down completely when their bucket is empty.

When we strive to keep another person’s bucket full, we can feel confident that we have reserves to draw from if we need to do some bucket draining.

Our bucket is different from everyone else’s, even if we’re in the same relationship. We can learn about a person’s unique bucket fillers and drainers when we get to know and understand them. Once we understand them, we can take action to keep their bucket full, building even greater trust, connection, and greater ability to get to know and understand them.

Think of your relationships with each of the people you lead. How full are their buckets for their relationship with you?


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