A New Kind of Training – Responding Well To Others Is A Skill: Buoyancy

blake-ross-croppedBy Blake Ross, Lead Front-End Developer

There may not be a word in the dictionary for the relational skill we want to target today, so let’s borrow a word from physics. We’ll call this relational skill “buoyancy.”

What’s buoyancy? Well, it’s a word that can help us capture the thing one can do when coworkers are feeling stressed, people are frustrated and venting, and a simple remark can disarm and lift the situation a little bit. A simple, skillful remark can play a small but substantive role in keeping a stressful situation afloat and help us dial in and do the work that needs to get done.

Here are a couple scenarios to illustrate:

  • A coworker is rightfully stressed and overwhelmed over a particular surprise development in a project. That coworker comes to you and tells you about the genuinely unreasonable request the client just made. Though the coworker’s stress and frustration is valid, you choose not to use your words to amplify the desire to vent and instead choose to respond with “Man… that’s rough. It’s alright though… we’ll get it done.” It’s simple assurance that helps keep things afloat. It judo-chops stress and flips it into “Okay, we can do this.” It’s buoyant.
  • A conversation ensues at a meeting where people start making a pile of comments about how frustrating some aspects of the project have become. (Ever notice how venting like this in a group can snowball to greater frustration and dissatisfaction?) Instead of tossing a negative comment onto the pile yourself, you choose to speak something buoyant: “Well, we are close to the end, and when it’s done, it may not be what we originally were excited about, but it’s still going to rock. Let’s go rock what’s left of this.”

Can you glimpse now what is meant by being “buoyant?” It’s a skill and a choice, and it fights against what can seem like a very natural gravity of negativity and frustration.

BuoyancyThere is something important to note, though. If you’re at all like me, reading those two little examples has a bit of a cheese factor. Frankly, words like that generally don’t affect my outlook or feelings in a given situation. However, being a student of relational skills, I can conclusively say this: I have observed that words of encouragement tend to not affect me strongly, yet I have also observed that words of encouragement—even very simple-yet-sincere words like in those two examples—affect some people more strongly than I would have guessed.

In short, words affect people differently. Not everyone responds to words in the same way with the same degree of power. Any student of relational skills must internalize this and be willing to learn those skills which will impact others, even though it may not impact oneself as much. For some people, a little statement of encouragement can really shift their internal needle from frustrated and dejected to “okay, we can do this. It’s not so bad.”

Finally, as with all these relational skills we explore in A New Kind of Training, to learn and practice and develop this skill of “buoyancy” will make you more desirable to have on a team and your team will be more effective, just as if you were to deepen any other area of your professional expertise. Plus, it’s low hanging fruit, so get on with it already! Is there a scenario going on right now in your workplace where you can skillfully craft your words to be buoyant?