The Emotional Bank Account – Opinion Piece

The first time I was introduced to the “Emotional bank account theory” I was fifteen years old and fighting with my sister. My stepmother, Elizabeth explained to me the concept she uses in her line of work. (Elizabeth is a management consultant who trains executives to build effective and productive relationships with their teams.) The concept Elizabeth explained to me is very simple. In any relationship between two people, exists an “emotional bank account”. A person may make deposits and withdrawals from the bank account through their words and actions towards that other person. Deposits boost the other person’s self-esteem. Withdrawals are the opposite. Examples for these in a teaching scenario are plentiful. A student who attempts to answer a question and is met with a dismissive response by the teacher has had a clear withdrawal from their account. That same teacher might make a deposit into the account by using that student’s project as a demonstration to the class of what excellent work might look like.

The book “Bucket Fillers” by Carol McCloud was written for primary school children to help teach them to treat each other with more dignity and respect. It takes the idea of the emotional bank account and makes it more understandable for a younger audience. I first heard this concept explained this week by my partner, Candice (who teaches five and six year olds). Candice explained to me over dinner that her school implemented this program not long ago and have had great results so far. The students are all using the terminology, “don’t dip into my bucket please.” This language helps separate the actions of the perpetrator from their identity, making it easier to tackle undesirable behaviour in students without them feeling they are wearing the stigma. E.g. “Your behaviour is unacceptable Jimmy but that doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.”

Adam Hills is an Australian stand-up comedian who performs a show called, “Inflatable.” In his show he uses the metaphor of people as inflatable balloons. Adam explains, “You have a choice. You can choose to put air into the balloons of those around you”, he then demonstrates strong and confident body language drawing the similarity of a full balloon. “Or you can choose to deflate their balloons instead.” He then pretends to lose air and in the process sags and lets his shoulders slump. Watching this gave a vivid and clear likening to how body language reflects a person’s mental disposition. At the end of the show, Adam poses the rhetorical question to his audience. “How do you want to live your life? Do you want to want to be a deflator? Or do you want to inflate people up?” His final action matched with his words as he stood up tall, had a beaming smile on his face and waved to his audience as he left the stage.

It is one thing to write about these ideas, and it’s another thing to practice them. I have a few vivid memories of interactions with students where I have both “dipped into their buckets” and made deposits into their bank accounts. I’m sure everyone reading this too has memories of interactions they clearly remember (for either good or bad reasons). Hold the phone. Did a teacher just admit he contributed to deflating a student’s self-esteem? I know it’s hard to comprehend, but teachers are mere mortals too and we do make mistakes. Sometimes we get it wrong, and it’s how we resolve our short comings that help us build our relationships back. Understanding the concept is a start. I ask you now to reflect on your day to day dealings with your loved ones, colleagues, students etc and ask yourself if you’re running an emotional deficit or surplus.

I’ll finish this piece by offering up a challenge. For the next two weeks I’d like you to actively try and fill the emotional bank accounts of those around you. Make GENUINE deposits. Mean what you say and what you do. Cheap flattery does not count. Deposits must be genuine! I’d love to hear from you at the end of your challenge. Let me know how, or if it has affected your life. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

REFERENCES:            – Bucket Fillers by Carol McCloud                          – Adam Hills – Comedian – Explaining the emotional bank account

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