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Can I trust you?


It's essential to our lives; trying to live without it would be almost impossible - so why do we treat trust so lightly?

Can I trust you?  Are you trustworthy?  Stop for a moment and think about that question.  It’s extremely personal and reaches right into the centre of our character.  It’s one of the most significant things about who we are – are we worthy of trust or not?  The answer to that question can have some wide-reaching impacts on your life, both in work and outside.

In his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” Stephen R Covey outlines a metaphor called the Emotional Bank Account.  It works in the same way as a normal bank account – the more money you put in, the higher your balance goes.  Deposits into the Emotional Bank Account increase the level of trust and improve the relationship between two people; withdrawals from the account decrease the level of trust and harm the relationship. 

Deposits and withdrawals are very personal things.  What is a deposit for me might not be a deposit for you because we might have very different interests.  Withdrawals work in the same way; what one person may see as a withdrawal may have no effect on someone else.  Deposits and withdrawals also vary from person to person because of the different relationships we have with them.  You may see a belated birthday card from a work colleague as a deposit; coming from your husband or wife, that same card may well be a withdrawal. 

A group I worked with years ago gave me this scenario: let’s say you’ve been away from home for a few nights, perhaps on a residential training course.  On the way home, you decide to buy your partner a bunch of flowers and a box of chocolates, just to show them that you’ve missed them.  When you arrive on the doorstep, do they see that bunch of flowers and box of chocolates as a deposit or a withdrawal?

When I ask that question of groups nowadays, it’s often the men in the group who look a little embarrassed and say that their partners would probably see that as a withdrawal.  Their partners, they say, would assume they had done something wrong and had bought the gifts to make up for it.  It’s a great example of the old saying that we reap what we sow.  If we only buy presents for people when we’ve done something wrong, we’re effectively training them to be suspicious of us any time we try to make a nice gesture.

Some things are universal; most people will see being polite to them as a deposit.  Most people will see you being rude to them as a withdrawal.  However, to really understand what’s a deposit or a withdrawal for someone, you really have to listen to them and get to know them better.  Which is lucky because it just so happens that really listening to people, what Covey calls “empathic listening” usually tends to be a deposit, so you’re getting off on the right foot.

Building your Emotional Bank Account is a great way to rebuild or improve any relationship.  This week, before you do anything to or for someone, ask yourself; will they see this as a deposit or a withdrawal?  Next week, we’ll look at the impact it can have if you do it – and if you don’t do it.

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