Building Healthy Relationships

Monish SubherwalImproving CollaborationLeave a Comment

Whether you’re on a project (or team) for a brief amount of time or a long period of time, one thing is for certain:  you’re going to have to build relationships in order to collaborate and get the project done successfully.

That being said, I believe it helps if people like us or at the very least, have an amicable working relationship with us. And hate to break it to you, whether people like us, does matter.

For me, this has sometimes been a tough one – because sometimes you have NO CLUE why someone may not be open to you.  We all want to be liked, so it hurts (and bothers) when others don’t treat us with mutual respect or friendliness.

That being said, while we can’t ensure people like us all the time (nor know why they don’t like us) we can ensure our behavior is more conducive and likely for friendships and relationships.

When relationships don’t work

When relationships don’t work, the following can happen to team members:

  • Walking on eggshells
  • You have to be careful about the words used
  • Every word is measured
  • Tensions are high
  • You have to protect yourself
  • Flight or Fight modes of being
  • Hostility and Defensiveness
  • Silence or refusal to talk

In all of these cases, there is one underlying factor for why the relationship went sour:  low (or no) trust.

How to build more trust

In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey talks about a concept called “The Emotional Bank Account” that I have found to be a great framework to describing how to build successful trusting relationships.

The Emotional Bank Account is a metaphor used to describe the amount of trust that’s built up in a relationship.  It’s the feeling of safety that you have with another human being.

Ways to build trust

Adding value to others

Just like a real bank account, one can deposit into someone else’s Emotional Bank Account by:

  • Being courteous
  • Showing kindness
  • Being honest
  • Being vulnerable
  • Making others laugh
  • Keeping commitments
  • Delivering high quality work
  • etc.

Notice, some of these deposits can be soft skills, like being courteous, and others could be more hard skills based – like delivering high quality designs.  Either way, anything that adds values to another person’s life or wellbeing can be said to be a deposit, and can help build more trust.

When a large amount of deposits have been made, the Emotional Bank Account is high and there is a high level of trust in your relationship.

Team norming sessions

In 2015, Google did a study where they discovered that the #1 factor for team performance and success had little to do with talent or IQ.  The #1 factor for teams was psychological safety.

“Psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.”

Amy Edmondson
Harvard Business School Professor

When teams felt psychologically safe, collaboration could happen.  Without it, it was a struggle.

One way that I’ve seen to help establish psychological safety with teams, is to have a dialogue prior to a project called a “norming session.”

What does trust get you?

An Emotional Bank Account where both people constantly make deposits, allows for the following:

  • Mistakes are not big big deals (the emotional reserve will take care of it)
  • Communication is easy, instant, and effective
  • Conflict and challenging each other’s ideas becomes easier
  • “Wording” is not so important, since meaning and intent are understood

When trust is high in a relationship, it provides a good foundation for long term happiness.  A solid relationship forms that can endure both internal and external hardships.  Now that is worth establishing, in my view.

But what jeopardizes trust?

Ways to jeopardize trust

Just like a real bank account, one can also withdraw from The Emotional Bank Account of others.  Withdrawing can happen accidentally (we all make mistakes), but when it happens too much, the account can be OVERDRAWN — trust levels get too low.

Ways to withdraw from The Emotional Bank Account of others:

  • Showing discourtesy
  • Being disrespectful
  • Cutting others off
  • Overreacting
  • Ignoring the other person
  • Betraying trust
  • Threatening the other person
  • Not communicating well
  • Not being inclusive
  • etc.

Why Should We Care?  

Make sure you are making DEPOSITS into the Emotional Bank Account of others – and not withdrawing.

It’s simple.

The Emotional Bank Account is fundamental to healthy, positive relationships that inspire you.

For close relationships like marriage or even your team members that you see everyday – deposits need to happen all the time.  People break up and divorce because they feel victimized — or in other words, they feel the other person has OVERDRAWN from their Emotional Bank Account for too long.  They have had it.

Karma is real.  

Typically, you get, what you give.  If all you are doing is withdrawing from other’s Emotional Bank Account, over time, others will start to get back at you.  Fight or flight ensures – which will start draining your Emotional Bank Account.

And I know, making deposits doesn’t work all the time.  Some people, no matter what you do for them, no matter how nice, don’t turn around and reciprocate.  Your deposits don’t do much.

Stephen Covey gave a great example that I feel, many experience:

“Suppose you have a teenage son and your normal conversation is something like, ‘Clean your room. Button your shirt. Turn down the radio. Go get a haircut. And don’t forget to take out the garbage!’ Over a period of time, the withdrawals (from your emotional bank account) far exceed the deposits.

Now suppose this son is in the process of making some important decisions that will affect the rest of his life. But the trust level is so low and the communication process so closed, mechanical, and unsatisfying that he simply will not be open to your counsel. You may have the wisdom and the knowledge to help him, but because your account is so overdrawn, he will end up making his decisions from a short-range emotional perspective, which may well result in many negative long-range consequences.

You need a balance to communicate on these tender issues.”

Now isn’t that the most insightful quote you have ever read?  Makes a lot of sense.  This is why advice like: “Focus on the positive aspects of your relationship” or “you are being too sensitive” doesn’t help.  The account is going on empty.

Maintain the flow of deposits with each other.  To not allow others to withdraw from your account – and at the same time, not withdraw from their account — is an art!

Deposits or withdrawals can have a long term effect.  

Children can harbor resentment and anger towards their parents much much later in life because of the withdrawals from their Emotional Bank Account when they were younger.

And the opposite is true.  Friends who haven’t seen each other for so long, can pick up where they left off – simply because the deposits made from long ago, allow for the easiness of the relationship years later.

The choice is always yours.  To deposit or withdraw is up to you.

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