Nurturing The Emotional Bank Balance

It’s a common myth that resilient people don’t need anybody and that they can operate as a lone wolf. But, in fact, the opposite is true. Resilient people actually have strong support networks around them, and they take time to nurture this important personal investment.

In 2015, a study outlined in this Harvard Business Review article revealed the impact that relationships can have on resilience.  The findings reflected that the biggest drain on personal resilience was “managing difficult people or office politics at work”. This was followed closely by stress brought on by overwork, and by having to withstand personal criticism.

The findings echoed what popular management theory already states as a given: that relationships, whether positive or negative, can have a big effect on us.  Therefore, it makes sense to ensure that the key relationships in our lives are as strong as possible. For that to happen, relationships, whether they are personal or professional, require nurturing.


How do you look after something which can’t really be seen?  One way to do this is to think of relationships in terms of an emotional bank balance, which both parties contribute to… a type of joint account, if you will. For the account to be healthy, it’s important for both parties to make deposits on a regular and ongoing basis.

Deposits can come in different shapes and sizes, and they tend to reflect a high degree of respect, understanding and appreciation for the other person.  In this way, a deposit might be taking the time to attend to little things, such as remembering the other person’s hobbies or specific aspects of their life that they’ve shared with you – perhaps a special family birthday or a long-awaited trip away. It’s about sharing a genuine interest in the things that are important to that other person.

In a recent Strong Relationships webinar with a client organisation, we polled participants to ask what behaviour they most valued and felt would constitute a significant positive contribution to an emotional bank balance. 40% said attending to the little things was most important. Of even greater value (60%) was keeping a commitment.


While this all sounds very straightforward, we do have to remember that we’re all human. We all make mistakes from time to time and may slip up in relationships. However brief or apparently inconsequential on the surface, on those occasions you may find yourself making an untimely, unplanned withdrawal from the emotional bank account.

Perhaps you’ve said something in a meeting that has undermined your colleague or, in a moment of pressure, been overly critical or appeared to disregard or dismiss their opinion. It might be that you’ve ignored a request for support or help because you’re busy.  Or maybe, at the end of a long day, you’ve rattled off a rather abrupt email, seeking to close a matter and get it off your desk.

In our recent webinar, 60% of participants said that criticism or being blamed for something was most likely to mean a withdrawal for them.  The remaining respondents were split down the middle regarding the worst behaviour – 20% listed contempt, and the same percentage said stonewalling.

Offsetting such withdrawals from the emotional bank account is not rocket science, but it can require careful consideration to get it right.  In a similar vein to managing your financial bank account, you can take action to minimise the damage.  Acknowledge the withdrawal – be open about your error of judgement and apologise for it.  This shows personal integrity and demonstrates to the other person that their feelings matter enough to you that you’re taking the time to try and put right any misdemeanours.

Balancing The Emotional Books

Authenticity is also important when rectifying a withdrawal. A token gesture will not offset an incident where you have been defensive and obstructive towards someone.  When an emotional withdrawal has been made you need to ensure you make equal deposits to get the balance back in the black.  At the same time, it’s also worth considering what you could do to build in a contingency for the future.

Just as you would attend to a bank account to ensure there are reliable and sufficient funds, the most resilient people monitor their emotional bank balance too.  They don’t run the account into the ground, they ensure it stays topped up, ideally with a ‘slush fund’ to support them on an unexpected rainy day.  They take the time to notice the people in their life, to identify the relationships that are most important, and they pro-actively tend to and nurture them.

By doing that, they are supporting those around them and, if and when the time comes and support is needed in return, the emotional bank account has plenty of deposits on which to draw.  If you take care of the pennies, the pounds will take care of themselves.

When you reflect on the most important relationships in your life, what are you doing to ensure the balance remains healthy?

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