The emotional bank account

Relationships can be hard to manage. In fact, an entire industry has evolved to teach us how to better manage relationships. Some of these approaches focus on things like improving communication, improving empathy, creating understanding and acceptance, or recognizing and respecting diversity in the relationship.

All of these approaches are valid. However, there is another approach that I feel really encompasses what it means to develop great relationships, and maintain them. This approach is behavioral and was introduced by Stephen Covey in 1989.

In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey uses the metaphor of an emotional bank account to describe the dynamics of interpersonal relationships. This account describes the good and bad in the development of relationships.

As with any bank account, we can make deposits and withdrawals. Unlike a normal bank account which uses money in its transactions, the emotional bank account uses emotional units, or good will. Deposits into the emotional bank account are made when we take positive actions towards the other, and withdrawals occur when we do things that are damaging to the relationship.

Like any other bank account, we can have a large balance, a small one, or even a negative balance. When there is a large balance, the relationship is good and can withstand small withdrawals. As the balance gets lower, there is an increasing danger that each withdrawal will result in an overdraft. And, just like with your monetary bank account, when you overdraw the account there is usually a penalty. Too many overdrafts and the bank may close your account permanently.

By maintaining awareness of the emotional bank account and making many deposits and very few withdrawals we can create and maintain close relationships with friends, family and colleagues.

Covey discusses six ways to make deposits into the emotional bank account. I won’t go into those in this post as I don’t want to give away the surprise when you buy the book! However, I will discuss some very specific ways you can make healthy deposits below.

10 ways to make deposits to the emotional bank account:

1. Be consistently kind
2. Be genuine
3. Take notice
4. Show understanding
5. Demonstrate interest
6. Show empathy
7. Be consistent
8. Keep commitments… even small ones.
9. Be attentive
10. Apologize sincerely when you make a withdrawal

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