Have You Heard of an Emotional Bank Account?

I’ve mentioned the term “emotional bank account” to several people lately and was surprised that they had never heard the term before. Just in case there were more of you out there that had never heard the term before, I thought I’d share because this is a very important concept in the world of relationships – whether they are work-related, friends, family, you name it. I was lucky enough to learn about it at a very young age from my father.

What exactly is an emotional bank account? It’s the idea that in each relationship, each person has a metaphorical bank account that the other can either make deposits or withdrawals from. Each time you do something that emotionally fulfills that person, it makes a deposit in their bank account. Each time you do something that has a negative impact on them, it makes a withdrawal from that account. Understanding this is extremely important to maintaining successful relationships with others – which has a direct effect on your success in life.

How do we work with these metaphorical bank accounts? Well, each deposit and withdrawal amount depends on the relationship and the individual. Each time you do or say something positive to the other individual in the relationship, it will deposit credits into that account. Here’s the thing though – it needs to be authentic. Compliments, actions in service of the other, demonstrating that you are thinking about the other person, are all ways to make deposits into another’s account. For example, in a personal relationship, you may share how much that person means to you, make them a cup of coffee, cheer them on after a bad day, or whatever else has meaning to them as a positive action.  A great book for learning about this is the Five Love Languages.  An example of a professional relationship would be taking the time to ask the person about their weekend (if that is something that is important to them) or helping them out on a particular project so they can meet a tough deadline – or any other action that they would deem as being in service of them.

Why do we want to make regular deposits in these emotional bank accounts? Because there absolutely will be times when you will need to make withdrawals. Perhaps you are having a bad day and snap at them, that’s a withdrawal. Or there is some situation in which you will have to be very directive to them – something needs to get done and it needs to get done now.

Here’s the thing though – deposits and withdrawals, unlike those in the financial sense, are not equal. When first building a relationship, there will need to be only deposits. Like a new leader of a group – you will need to build trust with the team before attempting any withdrawals. When you’re new in a relationship of a personal kind – lots of deposits. And if you’re dating someone that starts immediately taking withdrawals – that’s a sign – so I’d reconsider your options.

Once you’ve established a relationship and put a lot of time and effort into building up a good balance in that emotional bank account, a good rule of thumb is to follow the five to one ratio. This is based on John Gottman’s research that found that in order to maintain a good relationship with another, there should be five positive interactions for every negative one.  So folks – you will need to make five deposits for every withdrawal if you want to maintain a healthy and fulfilling relationship with the other individual, whether they are a boss, fellow colleague, family member, lover – you get the idea.

Here’s your call to action – identify all the relationships in your life and figure out the balance of the various bank accounts each individual holds. Which ones do you need to make some more deposits in? Do it today!