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4 tips for accumulating a healthy balance in your Emotional Bank Account

Emotional Bank Account
Nicholas Lim

It seemed like quite an eye-opener when I shared these tips with my juniors so I thought hey why not write about this. Maybe somebody could benefit from reading this 😉 Special thanks to my mentor for introducing the concept of the Emotional Bank Account to me!

The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People

So by your mid-twenties, I figure that many of your peers would have talked about this book by Stephen R. Covey – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Hell, I even have a copy sitting on the bookshelf above me. As one of the all-time self-help classics, there are countless articles on the web talking about it. Nevertheless, let me share my take on one of the concepts that Covey introduced under Habit 4: Think Win-Win. And that is the concept of the Emotional Bank Account – arguably one of the most powerful ideas behind interpersonal relationships!

Emotional Bank Account

Let’s start off by defining the Emotional Bank Account. Most would agree that the Emotional Bank Account is built on a currency of Trust. But my focus will be on the currency of Favors, simply because it’s easier to understand and I have more examples for this hehehe.

The equation is simple – help strangers and friends more to achieve a positive bank balance.

Think of the Emotional Bank Account as a ledger that exists between you and your friend only. When you do a favor for him, you accumulate credit. And when you request for a favor, you chalk up a debit. The actual amount of credit earned or used is very subjective as people perceive the difficulty of a particular task differently. For instance, a particular task might be worth 10 units to you. But in the eyes of your friend, it could be worth 20 units. Nevertheless, be it requesting for a favor or receiving one, it is the perceived value of the task in the eyes of your friend that should be counted towards your ledger with him.

Though you might argue that the Ben Franklin effect (asking people for favors and making them like you as a result of cognitive dissonance) might have a positive impact on your relationships with others, I believe the general rule of thumb should be to maintain a positive balance as much as possible. I will now share with you 4 tips to accumulate a healthy balance in your Emotional Bank Account.

TIP #1 – Always say YES

Yes Man

There there. Before you fall off your chair, I’m not asking you to be a YES man like Jim Carrey over here. But instead of approaching every favor request from your friends with apprehension and hesitation, would it not leave a better impression on your friends if you are always EXCITED and WILLING to help them out? By displaying your undying enthusiasm, you will inevitably achieve TOP OF MIND AWARENESS (TOMA for those marketing folks reading this) when it comes to favors. Getting yourself into the no.1 spot guarantees you more requests (for the purpose of this post let’s treat this as a positive thing), and ultimately allows you to chalk up a very healthy balance in your Emotional Bank Account. Of course, if you are really unable to do it, just politely decline.

Now, if you are going to decline, the basic response would be to offer your best justification, e.g. you are really tied up at the moment or you are just not the best party to help out. Most people do that and be done with it. But NO! You don’t want to be like most people. You want to be a MEGA AWESOME FRIEND!! So what you could do on top of providing your justification is REFER your friend (the one who requested the favor) to another friend who can help him/her out.

“Don’t worry bro. I can’t help you but I know someone else who can.”

Doesn’t this remind you of the popular D-word in the workplace? Yep you guessed it. It’s D for Delegation lolol. With all the negative connotations surrounding this word in the workplace, I feel like I must stand up for it! #contrarian As a leader, delegation not only allows you to relieve yourself to do more important things, it also allows you to assign the RIGHT resources to the RIGHT tasks. Although in order for this to work out, you must possess excellent knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of your team members. Ok back to my story, the best thing that you can do for your friend here is to REFER him/her to one of your “resources” who can help him/her on your behalf. This brings us back to Habit 4, doesn’t it? Think Win-Win.

Win Win Win

  1. Friend gets favor request accepted – WIN
  2. You get a few referral credits (starting to sound like Shopback^^) for helping your friend out – WIN
  3. Your “resource” gets the opportunity to earn credits in your Emotional Bank Account with him AND your friend – WIN


^^mini shout-out for Shopback – this is a mobile app that gives you CASHBACK worth your while when you make purchases via the app. It is connected to a whole host of highly frequented merchants, e.g. e-commerce, shopping, flights, hotels. Fuss-free and easy to use. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Truly a no-brainer for consumers. You will also get $10 free credits if you use this referral link to sign up for your Shopback account. Do it so that we can achieve a WIN-WIN situation together hehehe.

Having said all that, it’s one thing to readily agree to favors and another to make empty promises. You don’t wanna be that guy. The guy who no one can trust. The guy who can’t get the job done. The guy who is so unreliable you’d rather he didn’t offer to help in the first place. If there’s anything that will last you a lifetime, it’s credibility. NEVER ever conduct yourself in any manner that will undermine your credibility. Once trust is lost, regaining it will be tougher than climbing Rinjani or Kota Kinabalu (the Notchbad team is climbing KK next month so do look out for our next post 😛😛😛)

TIP #2 Maximize the perceived value to actual effort ratio

Simple equation right? It does remind me of Economics in SMU where our professor taught us the concept of Comparative Advantage. This is an important concept that can be applied (loosely) to favors as well. The basis being that all of us have our strengths and weaknesses. So the best kind of favor to accept is the one that leverages on your Comparative Advantage. In so doing, you will optimize the perceived value to actual effort ratio.

An everyday example that I like to use revolves around Microsoft Excel. Suppose you are great at it (in some organizations, simply knowing how to do a pivot table or waterfall chart makes you an Excel God lol) and your cute colleague asks for your help to create some fanciful graphs for her presentation. Now, you could either A) complete the task in 1 minute and make her drool over your awesome skills or B) tell her that it is rather complex and that you will need about 30 minutes to get it done.

Putting aside your ego might be a wiser choice in this scenario. How often has your ego caused friction in a relationship? Very often perhaps. While going with option A might give you a temporary ego-boost and immediate gratification, option B will undoubtedly enable you to lock in more credit in your Emotional Bank Account. By refraining from downplaying the difficulty of a task, you will get the credit you deserve. Come on, why shortchange yourself? And if you are in “debt” at the moment, you could also opt to make the simple task (to you) seem more difficult than it really is, effectively AMPLIFYING the perceived value of the favor.

Higher perceived value equates to higher credit.

And all this while, the actual effort from you is minimal. Sound like a good deal? KA-CHING KA-CHING!!! 🙂

TIP #3 Don’t forget to remind

The one thing in common between the Emotional Bank Account and the Japan Central Bank is that they both offer negative interest rates. In layman’s terms, if you don’t withdraw from the account, your credit will diminish steadily over time, or in some cases exponentially 😱 Blame it on human nature, but people tend to take things for granted. Thankfully, there is a neat trick to maximize the lifespan of your credit. And that is by shamelessly reminding your friend about how you stuck your neck out or bent over backwards (no. not in that way 😂) for him once. By talking about that particular favor every now and then, you can be assured that there will still be some of that credit left in your Emotional Bank Account 3 years down the road.

Dark Knight

You might argue that you prefer to be a silent hero or a Dark Knight for that matter (my favorite movie of all time btw). But you know what? It takes a lot of selflessness to do so. Which begs the age-old question – are humans altruistic? But let’s not go into that today.

It also takes a certain type of person to be able to pull off the reminders without coming across as an idiot so being tactful is key. And if the favor is not worth mentioning, then please don’t. The only result you will get out of that is annoying your friends.

TIP #4 Go out of your way to help

This reminds me of a 2013 Carlsberg commercial where they called people’s best friends in the wee hours asking them to bring money over to save their friend who gambled away his fortunes. You can watch the commercial here. In the end, the best friends got to drink a Carlsberg with their friends if they went down.

A friend in need is a friend indeed.

When you ask someone for a favor, you know you might be asking the world of him. And it may come with some form of sacrifice on his part. It could be his time, or him having to pull favors from other friends, or even putting his own reputation on the line. But ultimately, you still hope that as your friend, he will agree to do it. The question is – would you have done the same? How can we expect others to help us when we won’t even help them ourselves?

Deserve what you get and get what you deserve.

Goes without saying but the correlation exists – the bigger the sacrifice on your part, the more the favor is worth. And it is these types of favors that really define your relationships with others. This is the stuff that you guys will remember for the rest of your lives. And by remembering, the credit will not diminish as quickly.

Going The Extra Mile

I learnt this in some negotiation course. The best way to respond when someone thanks you for your favor rendered is to say “I know you would have done the same for me”. This strengthens the bond between both parties as you have subtly asserted that your friendship is of a certain level; a level that would warrant either of you going the extra mile.

To wrap up, relationships are fragile. Putting a little thought into how you interact with others will go a long way. Now that you have a better idea of the modus operandi when it comes to doing favors for others, I wish you a better life ahead with more meaningful interpersonal relationships 🤗🤗🤗

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Disclaimer: The tips above are food for thought only. My advice is not to obsess over them and over-calculate your interpersonal relationships. When you get too calculative, people tend to think that you always harbor ulterior motives. It may even come to a point where your friends don’t even ask you for favors because they are afraid of what they have to compensate you in return. And to be frank, these are the types of people you should stay away from. 


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