The Emotional Bank Account – A Powerful Tool in Influencing and Engaging Others

Coach’s Corner
CSPE Newsletter

As a physician executive, we quickly learn that influencing our colleagues and getting physicians engaged is a key aspect of meeting strategic goals, and often one of the most difficult. How can we best manage the opposition and persuade our colleagues to work with us effectively towards a common goal? 

It comes down to trust. To be able to build a relationship, work together, and persuade others to risk trying new things, we must be able to create an environment of trust. Within this, people feel safe and supported. Trust is essential for a relationship to thrive. Trust is not just a vague, feel-good concept. It is a vital component of any viable business relationship. There is nothing that better accelerates a transaction, a task, or project, than trust. In a high-trust situation, you can stumble at times, and people will still support you, stay with you, and follow your true meaning. In a low-trust relationship, you can be precise, articulate, and clear, and others may still find a way to misinterpret your meaning or distort your intent.

Stephen Covey’s metaphor of the Emotional Bank Account is a proactive way to establish a foundation of trust. This idea describes relationships just like bank accounts.  All relationships start with a neutral balance in the account, and allows for deposits and withdrawals. Just as we make regular deposits into our bank account, as we interact, we can make regular deposits to build up our relationships.  Over time, we create a healthy positive balance.  Then, on the day when we may have a negative interaction, such as when we are upset or require something, we may end up making a withdrawal; yet hopefully, the relationship is rich and stable and there is still enough reserve left over in our account to build upon.  A higher balance in our emotional account leads to a higher level of trust and healthy communication.

How can we tangibly make deposits into these accounts? Instead of monetary units, we are dealing with emotional units.  Imagine how a kind word, a smile, a friendly gesture or a sincere compliment makes you feel.  Now imagine how you are likely to respond to negativity, tension, or criticism. We can all learn to make conscious efforts to make positive and meaningful deposits in our relationships.

Steven Covey suggests that there are six major deposits we can make.

  1. Understand the individual – Put yourself in their shoes, listen to them, learn their unique way of thinking and looking at the world
  2. Attend to the little things – Small details have a huge impact. Think of how you can treat others with respect, and behave in ways that show care and thought. Consider small gestures, basic courtesies, kind words, warm smiles, small acts of kindness.
  3. Keep commitments – First, make sure your promises are realistic. Keep your promises and live up to your word, not just about major strategies and goals, but daily things such as being on time, attending meetings, taking phone calls.
  4. Clarify expectations – We need to define our expectations to our self, and then express them clearly.  No one can read our mind. It is also very frustrating when expectations seem to be changing and one feels they can never meet them and please the other.
  5. Show personal integrity – This is the bedrock of the relationship, and others need to see that you are solid, integral, whole. We must define the vision, be honest, and walk the talk ourselves to be seen as a credible leader.
  6. Apologize sincerely when making a withdrawal – None of us are perfect.  Sometimes, we are wrong.  When we show insight and admit our mistakes, we become more accessible and real.  A sincere apology goes a long way.

We can all learn to improve trust in our relationships. Thinking of being in the workplace and making regular deposits soon becomes an integral part of how we do things. However, there is no one thing that we can do which works for all.  The most important deposit is empathy, listening to others and understanding their unique and differing point of view.  This helps you recognize what is important to that person, what constitutes a deposit or withdrawal to them, and thus, what deposits will work best for them.  Investing time and effort in building trust pays huge dividends.  Often, when we establish trust with one, we end up establishing trust with many.

Mamta Gautam is an Ottawa psychiatrist who specializes in treating physician patients. If you have a question you would like addressed in this column, please contact Dr. Gautam at Please include “Helping Hand” in the subject line. All inquiries will be confidential. Your questions will not be replied to, but may be selected to be answered in this column, which is intended to be educational, not therapeutic.