When it comes to improving and maintaining our relationships with others, I really like Stephen Covey’s concept of the Emotional Bank Account. If you’ve never heard of this, it basically means that anyone with whom we have a relationship with, whether it be our spouses, significant others, coworkers, family or friends, we maintain a personal “emotional” bank account with them. This account begins on a neutral balance. And just as with any bank account, we can make deposits and withdrawals. However, instead of dealing with units of monetary value, we deal with emotional units.
The emotional units that Covey speaks of are centered around trust. When we make emotional deposits into someone’s bank account, their fondness, trust, and confidence in us grows. And as a result our relationship develops and grows. If we can keep a positive reserve in our relationships, by making regular deposits, there will be greater tolerance for our mistakes and we’ll enjoy open communication with that person. On the contrary, when we make withdrawals and our balance becomes low or even overdrawn, bitterness, mistrust and discord develops. If we are to salvage the relationship, we must make a conscious effort to make regular deposits.
Covey’s describes six major ways of making deposits into these Emotional Bank Accounts and how we can avoid making withdrawals.
1. Understanding the Individual
In Covey’s book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, one of the seven habits is “seek first to understand then to be understood”. Truly understanding what others are feeling is not always that easy. We must remove ourselves from our egocentric viewpoint and put ourselves into the shoes of others. Shoes because understanding how a person thinks isn’t always enough. When you walk in someone’s shoes you are more able to empathize with them and see things from their point of view.
Truly understanding someone requires us to concentrate on what the other person is trying to say, not being distracted while they are talking and thinking of what you are going to say next.
2. Keeping Commitments
When we break our promises to others, we make major withdrawals from their Emotional Bank Accounts. However, keeping commitments is not just relegated to promises. It also includes things such as arriving home at a decent time and getting places on time, fulfilling our roles, and honoring the words that come out of our mouths. Basically saying what you mean, and meaning what you say.
3. Clarifying Expectations
There is nothing more frustrating in a relationship than not understanding what is expected of you. Although many of us wish we could be, we are not mind readers. And because each of us sees life differently and has different backgrounds and life experiences, expecting someone to just “know” is not only unfair but completely unrealistic. It’s important that the person you are dealing with, knows exactly what is expected of them. Doing this will keep them out of the dark and allow them to relate you confidently, knowing that what they are doing or attempting to do what is in line with your expectations.
4. Attending to the Little Things
Everyday courtesy, kind words and warm smiles are the little things that brighten up a relationship. It shows recognition and an awareness of others. It’s interesting, but within our relationships, if you want success, it’s the little things that really become the big things. One of the ways to easily learn how to fulfill your mate’s needs is to learn their love language. Here is a Five Love Languages link to completes a free online assessment to find out what yours and your mates are.
5. Showing Personal Integrity
Nothing is probably more damaging to a relationship, then a lack of integrity. Being that the Emotional Bank Account is based upon trust and honesty, you could essentially be doing all of the previous things, but without trust, it is to no avail. Integrity means wholeness, completeness, or soundness. In this case soundness of moral character. Integrity meaning what you do when no one is looking. Honesty is keeping your promises, being wholly truthful with others. Your lack of integrity and honesty with others also affects how your mate views your integrity and truthfulness with them.
6. Apologizing Sincerely When We Make a Withdrawal
We are all human. We make mistakes, which we hopefully learn from. Knowing when you are wrong and admitting your mistakes prevents the wounds that you’ve caused in others from building resentments and allows them to heal. When appropriate, sincere apology will keep your relationships accounts in the positive, allowing you to maintain the balance that has been created in your application of all of the previous steps.