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Emotional Bank Accounts

We all do things that are counter-productive to our relationships. We all like to have people be nice to us. The concept of an emotional bank account is powerful, yet not quite as simple as keeping a ledger of debits and credits. One of the problems is the perception of worth. What is a “deposit” worth. We may think it is quite valuable. The affected person may consider it so routine it is not even remembered. The trick in making deposits is to know what value the act has for the person holding the account.

Herzberg was a psychologist who studied motivational factors in American industry. He came up with the conclusion, since quoted out of context, that money is not a good motivator of people. He called things like money, a safe work place, security and such fundamentals “hygiene” factors. That is, the employee needed them to be there and assumed they would be there. They were not, however, efficient in motivating job improvement.

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Herzberg found that various methods of showing personal appreciation were far more important. A company golf team, a compliment, a letter of commendation, a corner office, painting an employee’s name painted on a parking place and such activities were more efficient in motivation. Do you agree?

Many students do not. To many people, money is a prime motivator. How then did Herzberg come up with his findings? Is he wrong? No, we have to understand another theory, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow was also a psychologist who studied motivation and found that people had needs that varied with their circumstances.

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If you are living in the weeds, any job that provides 3 hots and a cot is your dream. You think you would never want anything else. But when you get that job, those needs are satisfied and you quickly want more.

Maslow said the second stage was to want security. You want those physiological needs to be there in the future, not just today. And, if you get that security, you then go to stage three where you want a feeling of belonging to a group that reflects your values and goals. If you get this feeling of belonging, you then go to a stage where you want to be singled out and honored. The last stage is one where you have all those needs met, so you want to contribute in some special way to something greater than yourself.

Herzberg did his studies in a shop where people had stage one and two pretty much assured. Those physiological elements did not motivate because they were already met. Those people were at the stage where they either wanted to belong to a group or be singled out for honors. The ability to read another person and determine what is important to them is critical. This gets back to our emotional bank account deposit value.

Similarly, actions may have different withdrawal value to different people. To someone who is feeling very insecure because of seeing everyone around them being dismissed in a general layoff, a curt word may have them dusting off their resume and reacting very defensively. It may not have been intended in that way but its effect is the important thing.

Our success in keeping a good emotional bank account with other people then depends upon our sensitivity to the values that other people hold, not our own. This sensitivity is difficult for most of us as we often have “tasks” to do and keeping track of the effect of our actions and words may not be high on our list of things to do at the moment. Yet, in the long term, nothing is more important. I once heard someone say of a particular organization, “this place is not about competence, this place is about relationships”. I think that is true of just about any organization.

Cite this page

Emotional Bank Accounts. (2016, Oct 19). Retrieved from

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