Wisdom//

The Emotional Bank Account

Recognizing the role it plays on the job and keys to keeping it healthy.

You probably pay attention to your financial bank accounts—the deposits and withdrawals, the interest and penalties. But are you at risk of being overdrawn, or even bankrupt, in any of your emotional bank accounts?

When it comes to relationships at work, we make similar kinds of deposits or withdrawals in what is called an Emotional Bank Account (EBA). When the EBA balance is high, so is the resulting level of trust—and so is your ability to achieve the results you’re measured by. When the balance is low, trust plummets, the quality of your work suffers or slows down, and relationships suffer.

To build a strong, healthy EBA with the people with whom you work, follow these six keys:

1. Never deposit to withdraw. While there are similarities between a traditional bank account and an Emotional Bank Account, you should never accumulate a high emotional balance in order to make planned withdrawals later. If you do, don’t be surprised if you’re passed over for promotions, important projects, or lunch out with your coworkers.

I know a colleague who kept a box of thank you notes in his office because he’d developed an unhealthy habit of using them to build a reservoir of goodwill before dumping a big project on someone. This approach is exactly how not to utilize the Emotional Bank Account.

2. Know the other person’s currency. It might be tempting after a successful game of Monopoly to take your newly acquired stack of money and deposit it into your actual bank account. Despite the validity of the colorful currency used during the game, your bank is going to have different thoughts on the matter.

So too with people—we all have individual forms of currency we’re willing to accept. What amounts to a deposit for one person in the office can be meaningless or even a withdrawal for another. Take time to learn what the important people in your workplace (aka your boss, your cubicle mate, your best clients) consider a deposit.

3. Communicate your own currency. You can’t expect people to read your mind. In the fast-paced world of work, it can cost you plenty if you do. Clarify and communicate your expectations before, during, and after every project. Doing so sets everyone up for success.

4. Make small, consistent deposits over time. Relationships grow in security and trust when they are built with frequent, meaningful contributions rather than occasional grand gestures. This stockpile can be invaluable when the unintentional, but inevitable “you-know-what” hits the fan, and you need to draw from the deep well of deposits to turn a situation around.

5. Right wrongs. A piece of Eastern wisdom says, if you’re going to bow, bow low. In other words, when you mess up, make a sincere apology. There’s nothing more meaningful than admitting a mistake without making excuses for it. Doing so can be a huge deposit in the EBA of another, and an experience that will build strong trust.

By applying the six keys for building healthy Emotional Bank Accounts, you not only develop habits of good character out of the meaningful deposits you make, but you build the kind of security and trust that can weather the mistakes of unintentional withdrawals in the future.

Todd Davis is EVP, Chief People Officer for FranklinCovey and author of Get Better: 15 Proven Practices to Build Effective Relationships at Work

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