Something a lot of people tend to be surprised about when they join the Buffer team (or even speak to a Buffer teammate for an extended time) is how specific, deliberate, and careful we are with the language we use.

There are literally no harsh words at Buffer, or at least none that I’ve ever heard. No brusquely worded requests, no passive aggressive notes, no office politics.

None of that. Only positivity and gratitude.

It’s a pretty great way to work.

As we work on living the Buffer values, we work on our language and communication as well, giving thought to every word and how it will be felt by its recipient.

We think the best of each of our teammates. We try to avoid certainty that our way is the best (or that there even is a best way). We answer in more words than needed (and often more smiley faces than expected) to make sure our message is clear and received positively.

What does this look like in practice? I’d love to show you!

slack_word_cloud 2015

This is a word cloud of the whole team’s communication on Slack, our main form of communication, over the last few months.

It’s a lot of fun to think on the patterns one can discover in here; I’ll share a few that I noticed especially.

Emojis

The words “simple smile,” “smile/grinning” and “thumbsup” are probably a bit better known as ?, ?,  and ?.

Yes, emojis (and GIFs!) are a huge part of the way our global team communicates. They’re fun, positive and easy to understand in any language.

A smiley face is appended to at least half of all messages you might read in our Slack account :)

Some other favorites include:

  • Party parrot
  • Dancing banana
  • And of course our Buffer icon

party parrotdancing bananabuffer icon

Uncertainty words: might, maybe, sense, probably, hunch

Seeing words like ‘”might,” “maybe,” and “sense” in the word cloud makes a lot of sense. At Buffer, it’s rare to hear to hear definitive words like “definitely” or “certainly.”

You’re far more likely to hear:

  • It’s my intuition that…
  • I sense that we could possibly…
  • Might it work to…
  • I sense that it could work to…

Less declarative words help us work on our value of listening, by taking the approach that everything is a hypothesis:

listen

Great one!

Both “great” and “one” feature prominently on our word cloud, and I have a suspicion as to why.

“Great one!” is an exclamation you’re likely to read on Buffer’s chats pretty much every day. It’s how we greet many thoughts and questions from both teammates and customers.

In a spirit of positivity and gratitude, we’re grateful for all thoughts we get to hear from others, whether they take the form of praise, feedback, or a tough question. This is one of ways of sharing this gratitude and keeping lines of communication open and positive.

Greetings: heya, hi, morning

Slack is pretty much the way we each “log in” to the office every morning (or whenever we choose to work). Is it the same where you are?

And because of that, it’s the place where we tend to share our top-of-the-workday greetings. Here’s a recent morning:

morning greetings on slack

Feel

Seeing the word “feel” along the lower right of the word cloud made me smile.

We talk a lot about how things feel at Buffer, as opposed to how they seem or what we think.

“How does that feel?”

“Feels like a great plan!”

“Feels great to me!”

We’ve learned that focusing on someone else’s feelings—as opposed to their thoughts or personal tastes—adds a deeper layer of empathy to the discussion. It shifts the focus from the item or task or object and places it onto the person.

Help, advice

Words like “help” and “advice” appear fairly prominently in our chats.

We’ve talked a bit before about how we use the advice process to make good decisions:

In general, the larger a decision, the more people you might ask for advice. For smaller decision, it’s ideal to speak with fewer people and for some, possibly with no one.

advice
Getting help and advice come as second nature to most of us, and we’re all honored when we’re asked for advice or help from another teammate.

Tone

It was really neat to see the word “tone” in our word cloud. We talk a LOT about tone at Buffer–we find it’s very related to how something feels.

We’ve even got a “Buffer Tone Guide” that I find to be quite inspiring reading.

Some recent examples from Slack:

  • “It’s really important to me to get the tone right here; would really appreciate your insights!”
  • “I’m not quite sure I’ve got the voice & tone right at all here”
  • “Love the positive tone and quick help!”

Gratitude: thank, love

It’s incredible seeing how popular words like “love” and “thanks” are on our word cloud.

Working at Buffer means being part of a culture of gratitude:

Buffer value 9: gratitude

As a result, we express our thanks liberally (we even have a “gratitude” room in Slack that’s a wonderful place to hang out).

And a few more unique words you might hear at Buffer

These are a bit smaller in the word cloud but still important to the Buffer culture and language, so I thought I’d share them, too.

  • Ceiling cat: One of the most handy memes for us is ceiling cat; perfect for use when you’re keen to speak up about a conversation not necessarily directed at you :)
  • Reflect: Reflection is another one of our values, and you’ll often find a teammate sharing that they’d like to take some time to reflect on a decision or thought.
  • Whole self: Bringing your “whole self” to work gets a lot of discussion on our team: How do we know when we’re doing it? How can we encourage more of it?
  • Journey: There are many journeys at Buffer: It’s how we describe our invitation to join the team, and a teammate’s bootcamp process is a part of the journey as well. You might say we’re all on a journey together. :)

How our language has changed over time

We did this word cloud exercise once before, in 2014, when we were a much smaller team and experimenting with Slack for a few weeks. Here’s a look at the difference in communication volume over that time.

slack over time

It’s neat to compare each year’s word graph:

2014 word graph

wordcloud

2015 word graph

2015 word cloud

What changes do you notice?

If you made a word cloud of your office conversations, what words would figure most prominently? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

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Written by Courtney Seiter

Courtney writes about social media, diversity and workplace culture at Buffer. She runs Girls to the Moon on the side and pets every dog she sees.

  • Wow! That’s really interesting reading Courtney. Thanks so much for sharing :) As a lone freelancer my office chat tends to be silence, mostly! I say mostly as we all talk to ourselves now and again… Right?!!! :D

    • sounds like my office too, although my cat can be a rather stern office manager when it’s food time!

      • Haha! That’s understandable, it’s food time after all :D

    • I talk to myself CONSTANTLY.

  • Nikesh Ashar

    Awesome! How did you get a word graph of your slack? We’d love to do the same to our Slack and share it :). I’ve just shared your post with our team.

    • Michael Erasmus

      Hi Nikesh, I’m planning to do a quick write up on how I did the wordcloud soon. Will let you know :)

      • Nikesh Ashar

        Sweet thanks

      • ira levine

        @michael_erasmus did you ever share your secret sauce on this? VERY interested in doing the same on our side.

  • pojda

    Wordclouds are awesome to summarize this sort of information – great job, Courtney!

    Also, it’s great to see a company that lives by what it says :)

  • Tracey

    Yep, our distributed team tends to say hi/bye on Slack as well. :) It’s one way to help us feel like a ‘real’ office even though we’re in different places and time zones. That’s also the “wheels down” channel (where teammates on work trips let us know they arrived safely – sometimes before they’ve even left the plane) and the “my partner has not yet given birth” channel (we had three company babies in as many months, all of them arriving later than expected).

    We also have a “water cooler” channel for the completely off-topic/interesting stuff, and that’s where all the cat pictures go. :)

    I’d love to know how you made the word cloud – I think it would be fun for our company as well, as well as insightful. Any tips? Thank you!

  • ZOB

    This is so refreshing!

  • Lon Riesberg

    ???

  • Terlihat & Ditemukan

    Great Post, Courtney.
    Thanks for the Insight ;)

  • This is exemplary

    (I feel that this is exemplary) :)

    The suggesting and positive language leaves room for even the most shy to speak up! I believe Buffer truly would be a great place to work.

    • Thanks, Melissa! I totally agree; the suggestive language might be my favorite thing about how we communicate!

  • Damien

    I do wonder how you guys deal with negative feedbacks.

    I’m sure that using positivity and gratitude must be helping creating a great vibe, however there must be times when things that need to be discussed are not all too positive.

  • sindhus

    Thanks for the post! I am not familiar with Buffer’s way of working (I only know some of the employees are remote) so my question is how is the attitude when employees work in the same space?

    I often wonder about the huge disconnect between peppy cheerful attitude on messaging apps but cold shoulder or curt replies when approached in person.

    • This is such a great one! We strive for the same atmosphere of gratitude and positivity in person (on our retreats) as we do online. You’re right, it’s a very different form of communication that makes things very unique.

  • Krishna Jani

    great write-up! loved the word cloud and simply loved the Ceiling Cat concept. it’s amazing! :)

  • This is so cool! I just joined the Buffer Community slack group and it’s been so fun over the last couple of days to start conversations with people. And the thought of working somewhere where no harsh words are said would be a dream. Seriously, I love y’all’s culture and values so much!

    The Ceiling Cat concept is so neat, too! Love that there’s a defined way to do something like that. :)

  • Liza Tait-Bailey

    This is fascinating Courtney! I really appreciate the value that Buffer places on language, it’s constantly amazing to me how much of a difference thoughtful and open language has in our lives. I’m trying really hard to incorporate this into my personal life and I feel that I’m seeing a rewarding response from my friends and peers. Thank you for your reflections.

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