The Emotional Bank Account

db4de-slice-of-life_individualI believe strongly in the emotional bank account.

Stephen Covey (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) uses the metaphor of Emotional Bank Account to describe “the amount of trust that’s been built up in a relationship” (p. 188).

Covey describes 6 ways to make a deposit:

– Understanding the individual;
– Attending to little things;
– Keeping commitments;
– Clarifying expectations;
– Showing personal integrity; and
– Apologizing sincerely when you make a “withdrawal”

When I first started teaching I had the honor of working with Dr. Rita Brodnax who exposed me to researchers and learning that became part of who I am at the core of being a teacher. One of the workshops she brought to the corporation was Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

The concept stuck with me and connects to all the relationships – students and adults. The emotional bank account works like a checking account. You make deposits and you make withdrawals.

Deposits are the things that are listed above. Withdrawals are when you hurt someone’s feelings, forget an appointment, don’t answer, break a confidence, don’t keep your word, lie, etc

If you have a relationship built with someone over a year and most of the interactions are deposits then you are in the black even if the other person hurts you in a minor way. Your relationship is ok.

If you haven’t known the person long and there hasn’t been many depsostis, then a few withdrawals can deplete the account quickly. A large betrayal could deplete the account all together.

Then you have to decide if you are going to close the account and therefore the relationship. Overdrafting your emotional bank account suffers penalities.

This works in marriage. My husband has a simple explanation of a happy marriage: You take care of my needs , I take care of your needs. Simple to say,  not always simple to deploy.

It works in a classroom. The classroom culture is a relationship. You have to give and take for it to work.  There is the relationship between you and your students and there are the relationships between the students themselves. As the teacher, we often have to manage both to a certain extent.

Deposits are important and can as simple as knowing everyone’s names. My goal is always to make more deposits than withdrawals!

5 thoughts on “The Emotional Bank Account

  1. This is one of my favorite metaphors for classroom culture and classroom work as well. I had to take it even further when I was a high school teacher. For many of my students, asking them to complete any kind of work was a withdrawal from the bank account. I had to invest so much before I could start asking for that. But once we got the balance right, wow! What they could do! The longer I teach, the more central I think relationships are. I love your husband’s words about marriage too. Very simple, yet not easy.


  2. All the eighth graders are required to read this book as they enter their local high school. It should be required for everyone…Implicit is kindness; that pays real dividends. Thanks for this, a reminder.


  3. I love this concept, too, and I especially like how you apply it to the classroom. When I’m talking with new teachers I often explain to them that there are some kids who respect teachers unless the teacher doesn’t something to lose the respect, but there are others who require that we prove our worth first. I’ve never thought to use the emotional bank account metaphor, but I really think it applies. Thanks for helping me think of an old concept in a new way.


  4. Pingback: Mystery Blogger Award! – Tammy's Reading/Writing Life

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