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The Relational Bank Account

By Sara Mangat The Center for Supportive Relationships

Think about the last student you interacted with. Ask yourself: If my relationship with that student is like a bank account, what is my account balance? Do I have a lot of credit with this student or have I been making withdrawals without any deposits? The answers will give you insight into how the student responds to you and to requests you make.

The “relational bank account” is a way to think about the goodwill that another person has toward you. It determines how this person will respond to you, especially when you make requests or act in a way that is uncomfortable for the other person. The higher your balance, the more you can ask – but each such behavior will lower your relational account balance. When the relational account balance is low enough, the relationship will become strained, conflict-ridden and make it challenging to build a positive classroom.

You make deposits into the relational bank account by showing care and respect to the other person. Making good eye contact, asking about something that is important to them, listening intently, giving a sincere compliment, asking for their opinion, and speaking to them respectfully are all ways of making deposits. You can make even larger deposits by going out of your way to give them something they need or want, or by entrusting them with something that they know is important to you.

You make withdrawals from the relational bank account by asking them to do something for you. When you ask someone to do something for you, the way in which you make the request will have a big impact on the size of the withdrawal you are making. For example, when you ask someone to be quiet while another group member is talking, you can catch their eye, smile, and put your finger to your lips in a “shh” motion, and then smile and nod again when you see they are quiet (small withdrawal), or you could say loudly “David, you are being very disrespectful! Please be quiet when other students are talking! Is this what they teach you at home, to ignore other people when they’re talking?” (huge withdrawal).

It’s okay to ask others to do things, and a pattern of reciprocation (I’ll do what you ask, and you’ll do what I ask) is a powerful foundation for a relationship. When your relational account balance is high, you can afford to make some withdrawals – and, when you have a very high relational account balance, the other person may grant you “unlimited credit”, just like a bank does with its wealthiest clients. But when your relational balance is low, making a request is likely to result in grumbles or some resentment, or with downright refusal to do as you ask.

Strive to make constant deposits into your relational bank account with every one of your students. For example: Take a moment to give a sincere compliment (“I’m so glad you’re in my class”).

Strive to make constant deposits into your relational bank account with every one of your students. Take a moment to give a sincere compliment (“I’m so glad you’re in my class”); consult with the student about something that is meaningful for you, whether it’s relatively insignificant (“I’m trying to decide which of these two movies to show in class – what do you think?”) or very important (“Can I ask for your opinion on how well I explained both sides of the controversy?”). Remember that every interaction results in a change to your relational account balance with the other person – it either goes down or it goes up. Keep this in mind and aim to increase your account balance whenever possible. High relational bank account balances with your students builds a positive classroom.

For the next few days, try to be mindful of your relational bank account balance with your students and other people you interact with, especially people who are close to you or with whom you interact frequently. Make many deposits, and be mindful of withdrawals. After doing this for a few days, you will probably improve your relational account balance in many of these relationships, and interactions will become smoother. Build your positive classroom one deposit at a time.

For free training resources and activities visit www.supportiverelationships.org (click on “Education”)

Acknowledgement: The concept of the relational account is based on Stephen Covey‘s concept of an emotional bank account, which he introduced in his excellent book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” Although closely related, the two concepts are distinct. For example, in the Emotional bank account framework, one should avoid making withdrawals and apologize for them. In the relational account framework, withdrawals are a normal part of a relationship and, indeed, can strengthen a relationship, as long as one remains mindful of keeping an overall positive relational account balance. Such differences notwithstanding, I wanted to recognize Covey’s immense contribution to the field of interpersonal relationships, and the foundational importance of his model of the emotional bank account.

 The Center for Supportive Relationships

Our Vision: Supportive Relationships for Everybody

We conduct research, provide training, and offer thought leadership to strengthen relationships in education and in medicine.

We consider relationships to be a vital public health resource, and believe that many of the world’s problems will be alleviated when every person has access to excellent emotional support.

Contributing Author Sara Mangat:

Sara Mangat is the manager of training and operations for the Center for Supportive Relationships, on-site in Upper Darby, PA. In addition to working with teachers in the classroom to develop positive relationships with their students through real-time relational coaching, she leads the relational coach training program in the Upper Darby School District.

Sara received her MA in Communication from the University of Washington and BA in English from Vassar College. Her passion for the power of relationships in education began while teaching drama and I.B. Theater Arts at the United World College of S.E. Asia in Singapore.

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