Do you remember the part in the iconic movie “When Harry Met Sally” when Sally’s friend Marie (played by Carrie Fisher) is at a loss about how to handle her partner’s (hideous) wagon wheel coffee table?

In a move reminiscent of this, a friend of mine recently posted a fun question on social media.

She asked, “what piece of furniture or similar item did your partner bring into your relationship that you think is hideous, but kept anyway?”   She then went on to share what her spouse brought into the relationship and posted a picture of a (genuinely hideous in my opinion) mirror.

Now, I imagine at this very moment you are picturing what your partner brought (or wanted to bring) that you were not very fond of, but kept anyway.   Her question sparked a ton of answers along with corresponding pictures of some genuinely strange items (no wagon wheel coffee tables, though).  There was also a bevy of fun and lighthearted comments agreeing that yes, indeed, her husband’s mirror was truly hideous.

Then things took a strange turn.  Someone she doesn’t know personally commented “well remember, he chose you too.”  This sparked a whole different conversation.  Some people thought the comment was meant in a fun, teasing way.  Others thought it was mean and rude.

My friend who originated the discussion (and to whom the comment was directed) was torn.  While she stated that she believed the comment wasn’t meant to be mean and hurtful, it still was.  Especially since the woman who posted was someone she didn’t know personally.

In my leadership and communication programs, I share a concept of emotional bank accounts that I learned from Stephen Covey in his best selling book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”  If you’ve not read or listened to it, I highly recommend you do so.

The basic gist is that we all have “emotional bank accounts” with the people in our lives, everyone from our closest friends and family to acquaintances or social media followers.   When we say or do positive things, we are making deposits.  And, when we say or do negative things, we are making withdrawals.  When we have a high balance with a friend, we can often tease or josh them and it isn’t hurtful.  The message is received as it was intended, good-natured fun sent in a loving, playful way.  When we have a high balance, we also are often cut some slack or are forgiven if we say something hurtful (whether intentional or not).  This is because the balance is high enough to cover the withdrawal.

In this case, the random comment was delivered by someone who had made very few, if any, deposits in the emotional bank account she had with my friend.  The result?  Confusion, hurt feelings, and an overall sense that the comment was made by someone with poor judgment or low emotional intelligence.

As leaders, we sometimes forget this very simple concept. It is so very important to be actively making deposits in the emotional bank accounts of our team members so that when we do become the bearers of bad news, need to deliver negative feedback, or are simply having a difficult day and might be snippy or harsh, our communication doesn’t do damage or completely deplete the account we have with our team members.

Here are 7 simple ways to make deposits into emotional bank accounts as a leader.  You likely know all of these.  However, it is not what we KNOW that matters.  It is what we DO with what we know that matters.  Ask yourself, what more do I need to do to build the emotional bank accounts with my team members?

  • Say “please”
  • Say “thank you”
  • Smile
  • Make eye contact
  • Call people by name
  • Say “good morning”
  • Be an active listener

Of course, these are just the start.  For advanced tools, to develop your leadership communication skills, check out my online program “The Language of Leadership.” 


   Pamela Jett has had a life-long romance with words and their effect on human relationships. As a sought after keynote speaker and executive advisor Pamela helps professionals around the globe communicate and lead more effectively. As a trusted advisor to brands such as TrueValue, Bayer, Intel, Proctor and Gamble, and many more, Pamela has helped thousands master the language of leadership. Through live presentations, on-demand programs, and numerous books, Pamela is changing how people communicate, lead, and succeed.  She lives in the metro Phoenix area and is passionate about words, people, travel, music, and having adventures.