What I Learned from Stephen Covey about Emotional Banking

As I prepare to go to the book launch of TIBAK Rising, I remember these lines from a John Denver song that activist couples can relate to:

And it’s goodbye again, I’m sorry to be leavin’ you / Goodbye again, as if you didn’t know

It’s goodbye again, and I wish you could tell me / Why do we always fight when I have to go

It often happened then. Even now it still happens, from time to time. The husband or wife needs to go away on a trip. There is some argument about why and why now. Especially if it is on short notice.

I especially wondered when the emotional reactions seemed disproportionate to the issue – not just tampo, but inis and even galit.

Reading Stephen Covey’s idea of an “Emotional Bank Account” (EBA) was an “AHA moment.”

The EBA metaphor made immediate sense to me, even if I didn’t have a bank account when I first read about it. We can only withdraw from what is deposited in our account. When we try to withdraw from an account that is “overdrawn,” we will be penalized.

Pursuing the metaphor, we have emotional banking transactions every day, in many ways. A kind word, a favor done, a pleasant time together – all these are deposits. A curt remark, a promise not delivered, clueless moments – these are withdrawals.

The tricky part is that the one who ultimately determines if you have made a deposit or withdrawal is the other person, not you or your intentions.

A classic case is a husband who realizes that he has been remiss and needs to do a lot of making up. To dramatize this, he buys his wife a surprise gift, more expensive than usual. He means well. But the wife may instead think, “Why is he doing this? Has he done something wrong?” What he meant to be a major deposit becomes a further withdrawal from an already overdrawn account.

When I talked about this in a management training course for electric coops, some male participants drew this half-mischievous lesson. “When we anticipate a major withdrawal – a long trip, a big favor – we will make sure we make a lot of deposits long before the withdrawal date”

I think the metaphor of EBA is useful. But we can’t  use it to reduce our relationships to transactions. Besides, we can’t track our emotional banking transactions as accurately and regularly as our financial transactions.

Stephen Covey describes 6 major ways of making deposits in the Emotional Bank Account: 1) Understanding the individual  2) Attending to little things  3) Keeping commitments  4) Clarifying expectations  5) Showing personal integrity, and  6) Apologizing sincerely when you make a “withdrawal.”

I especially like the 4th point: Unclear expectations can undermine our communication and trust. Covey writes: “The cause of almost all relationship difficulties is rooted in conflicting or ambiguous expectations around roles and goals.”

When we make a mistake and someone else gets hurt, it is important to sincerely apologize, from the heart. This is hard to do for people with little inner security. Covey quotes Leo Roskin saying: “It is the weak who are cruel. Softness can only be expected from the strong.”

 

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