In his widely acclaimed book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, Dr Stephen Covey describes the concept of emotional banking. This is the psychological process where we maintain a bank account inside our head on everybody with whom we have a relationship. From our spouse and our children, to our bosses, to our customers, our neighbors and all those with whom we work. And like a bank account, in emotional banking there are deposits and there are withdrawals.
They can consist of acts of we consider positive. A person pays you a compliment has just made a deposit into their account in your head. Someone doing you a favor would most likely be perceived as making a deposit on their behalf. An employee going the extra mile to help you finish a project would be making a large deposit into his account. A manager giving an employee a fair shake in a work dispute would be making a deposit in her account in the employee’s head.
These are acts that drain the account of your good will towards the person. An employee shows up late to your meetings or fails to get assignments in on time. The person is rude and snippy when in a bad mood. Each time something like this happens, their account in your head gets a little drained.
According to Covey, for the relationship to be healthy, the deposits and withdrawals should balance.
When practicing emotional banking, don’t bounce checks
Many years ago, I ran the training department for a large organization. One of our training rooms contained a large conference table which was fine to conduct a meeting for up to 16 people. When a larger group was going to use the room, it was necessary to move the table, which was a two-person job. If I was there by myself, I would go down the hall to another department where an accountant named Austin worked and ask him to help me. And Austin would always oblige.
One day, I stuck my head in his office and said, “Hey, Austin. I need to move the table can you help me?” He looked up at me and said, “Larry, why is it that the only time you come down here is when you want me to help you move furniture?”
I said, “What?”
He said, “You never come down here just to visit. You never come down here to offer to help me. I see you and your staff go to lunch every day. You walk right by my office door but you’ve never invited me to lunch.”
Taken aback, I said, “Gosh, Austin. I’m sorry. I did not realize that was the case. Listen, after we move the table, you want to go to lunch?”
He said, “No.” Then I guess he took pity on me so he said, “I play basketball at lunch. You’re welcome to join us if you want.” I didn’t see any way to get out of it so I said, “Well, Okay.” And as it turned out, I had a good time so I started joining him occasionally to play.
I think, however, that in my request for Austin to help me, I had just bounced an emotional check. As a manager, I think it’s a good idea to regularly ask yourself, “Am I making enough deposits with the people with whom I work so that when I’m in a crunch, I can count on them coming to help me?”
And here’s a good way to test it: Imagine that you quit your job. You go to another city and get into an entirely different industry, so you have no official influence over the people with whom you work. Then a year from now, you come back to town and for some odd reason we won’t to go into, you get arrested at three in the morning and get thrown in jail. All you have on you is a list of the phone numbers of the people with whom you worked back when you lived here. Would you feel comfortable calling those people at three in the morning and feel confident they would come down and bail you out?
If you don’t think they would, maybe it’s time to examine how often you are making deposits in your account in their heads. Remember, a sincere compliment about their work can go a long way. Fair treatment, getting them what they need to do their jobs well and keeping them informed about what’s going on in the organization are good deposits as well.
To learn about applying the principle of emotional banking to disagreement, check out my blog article