Building Relationships and Emotional Bank Accounts
I first heard this phrase… emotional bank account, from an excellent Leader about 12 years ago. I don’t know if Dr. Stephen R. Covey was the first to talk about this, and he also has a great take on it, well worth checking out. In fact we’ve been attempting to explain it to our 17-year-old using the audio version of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Anyway, it was her way of describing how relationships work, and it made perfect sense to me. I have since used it many times to help developing Leaders understand more about relationships, the importance of trust and transparency, and admitting and fixing mistakes as soon as we make them.
In case this is new to you, I’ll attempt to explain it the way it was explained to me. It’s a bit like a bank account, where we make deposits and withdrawals. If we withdraw more than we have deposited, well… we have a deficit.
For our emotional bank account, instead of money, we deposit other things, like trust, good will, guidance, honesty, transparency, and true care for the other. Each time I helped one of my department team Leaders build a display, understand their margin problems without making them feel stupid of that their job was in danger, helped resolve a conflict with a team member, listened to understand without judgment, or helped with their long-term goals, I made a deposit into our joint account.
There are so many ways to make deposits that I’ll just list a few more… when we show integrity and walk our talk; when we admit our mistakes; when we apologize, when we follow through; when we back them up; when we compliment and encourage them; and moving poor performers off the team quickly.
There are also many ways in which we make withdrawals, whether we are aware of them or not. Some of them are simply when we fail to do the things listed above… when we constantly critique instead of compliment and encourage, when we fail to be transparent and hide our real agenda… I think this is a big one with to many of us; when we don’t make the time to listen to people; when we throw others under the bus; we when unintentionally hurt their feelings; when we forget an appointment; when we expect them to do as we say, and not as we do; and when we fail to value their goals, opinions, and feelings.
This account is so important because we are all human, and we are going to make mistakes. We are all going to end up with hurt feelings, and unintentionally hurting other’s feelings. We all forget, reschedule, and fail to communicate. We may have the best of intentions, and they mean very little in the real world of feelings and perceptions.
So… our goal of course, is to be the best Leaders we can be, and make deposits into these emotional bank accounts as often as we can. And yes… it can be tough to find the time. For some of us, our boss may not value Leadership, and so the time needed to build these relationships and make these deposits can be very hard to come by. What are we to do?
Knowing how tough it may be in the future, I start making deposits as soon as I possibly can. The instant I hire a new person for the team, I not only begin indoctrinating them into the culture of the team, but also make sure they know how I feel about them. I tell them straight out that I am very happy to have them on the team; that I chose them carefully out of all of the other applicants, and getting onto this team is not easy… they should be proud that they made it. I will ensure them that I am very interested in helping them achieve their goals, and since we just finished the interview I can easily talk about them. I make sure they know that I am confident in their ability to be successful on this team, and that I am looking forward to introducing them to the rest of the team, as well as being a part of their future success.
For many of us, after that it can be difficult to continue to make regular deposits for all of our team members. So what should we do?
I believe that it is necessary to focus on the small things… the things we would want for ourselves. For instance, it is so easy to focus on the results, updates, and reports, and forget all about the person. Because of that many of our team members, and perhaps we too, end up feeling constantly critiqued, and almost never thanked or encouraged. We can use the ‘book of positives’ that I wrote about here to help us be more aware of the good things that are happening around us.
But what else can we do?
We can end every meeting with appreciations. I’ve talked a bit about this before, and it bears repeating. I was introduced to this practice after starting at Whole Foods Market as an Associate Store Team Leader. Every meeting ended in appreciations, and at first I wasn’t sure what to make of it… it was very foreign to me. It didn’t take very long for me to see the positive effect these ‘appreciations’ had on not only store leadership and department team leaders, but also everyone in the store.
It was an opportunity to appreciate anyone and everyone. So I might appreciate the young man shagging carts in the parking lot, after I saw him sweeping the far corners of the parking lot without being asked. Someone appreciated the a bakery team member, who had only been there a few weeks, and had asked if a prep table could be moved in order to have a better view of customers… That table had been in place for at least 4 years, and up to this point no one had noticed that working at it meant having your back to the customers. A team leader might appreciate our store team Leader for grabbing a mop and bucket and cleaning up a mess in his department the previous Sunday… Every team member who witnessed that had a new-found respect for our store team Leader.
After the meeting, we made sure that the appreciations for team members were given to each team member publicly, and rewarded with some token of thanks. These appreciations went farther than I could have imagined bolstering egos, and maintaining the high morale in the store. Everyone participated because the store team Leader and the rest of the store leadership team took them seriously, and arrived at every meeting with a variety of appreciations from the previous week.
What else can we do to fill our emotional bank accounts? How do you fill them where you work?
How do we most often make withdrawals, and what is the penalty when we overdraw our account?
We make withdrawals in the ways listed above, as well as when we fail to give credit where it us due; when we try to push our agenda; try to manipulate others; when we are arrogant… this is a big one; when we break our promises, and/or have one set of expectations for our team members and another set for ourselves. We withdraw when we attempt to hide the truth, or simply forget to be transparent; when we fail to greet team members by name… are we too big to get to know and remember their names?
I have still have friends at one company where I used to work, and they all knew that one particular person was not doing well, and would be likely to lose her job… Do you think she knew? No… it came as a complete surprise to her. This kind of thing happens all too often, and was a double withdrawal… the people working there found out about her issues because someone in Leadership was inappropriate, and talked about personal issues to the wrong person. So, everyone else thinks… how will they be talking about me? This can be a pretty big withdrawal. Secondly… this person was treated very poorly, and not given the chance to change whatever behavior was the problem, so now she will (rightfully?) be talking to everyone she knows about how she was treated, and some of those people she talks to will be customers, or possible future customers… we have not negatively impacted their perception of us. A double whammy!
Sometimes it only takes one instance to completely wipe out whatever balance we might have built up, such as a lack of integrity, outright lying, or openly throwing another under the bus.
We are all human, and we are all bound to make mistakes, big and small. We hope that we will not commit a large wrong and lose our entire balance, however many small withdrawals over time will have the same effect.
This is why it’s important to start making deposits as soon as you can, and put systems in place to ensure that you and your apprentices continue making deposits on a regular basis. It’s also important to have a coach or mentor to keep us on track, talk through decisions, and bounce things off of before we get ourselves into trouble.
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