Give and Take

Traffic rules are designed to help us find our way through traffic in a safe and effective way. Following the traffic rules is therefore the most logical thing to do. Traffic by the way does not only refer to cars but includes everybody and everything on the public roads. In other words, cars, motorbikes, bicycles, buses, trams, pedestrians, even animals guided by a person, are all part of traffic. When we want to go from A to B we normally plan what we think will be the shortest and quickest route. Short and quick are not the same though. Sometimes, taking a longer route will take us quicker to our destination, than the shortest route. Many of us don’t want to take a longer route, even if it is quicker, because it will take more gas, or so we assume. Also this is often not so the case as we may spend more gas crawling forward in the traffic jam. Traffic rules also teach us when we have the right of way and when we have to give way to other traffic. Sometimes though it will help traffic flow and it is smarter to give way to others than to insist on claiming our right of way. In other words, in order to be an effective driver and to help traffic flow so that we and others reach their destination quicker, it is wise not only to claim our right of way but also to give way, even though strictly speaking we don’t have to.And so it is with many other things in life, where interaction with others is essential and where combined efforts will benefit all. To be able to give and take effectively a certain amount of trust must exist between the parties. Give and take. It is like what Stephen Covey refers to as the Emotional Bank Account, a metaphor that describes the amount of trust that has been built up in a relationship. When a driver of one vehicle decides to give way to another driver, the latter must trust the driver of the first vehicle enough to indeed give way, otherwise an accident will still occur.The Emotional Bank Account is a feeling of security between two persons. As we make deposits into a Financial Bank Account, we build up a reserve from which we can make withdrawals when we need to. When we make deposits into an Emotional Bank Account, we similarly build up a reserve, from which we can make withdrawals. Examples of deposits in an Emotional Bank Account are courtesy, kindness, honesty, keeping promises, keeping commitments. While building up a reserve, we are now in a position to occasionally make a mistake, like not being able to keep a promise, as long as there is a trust level, an emotional reserve that will compensate for it.Now more often than not we make overdrafts, we withdraw without having a big enough reserve. We lie, we brake a promise, we miss an appointment, we snap at somebody for example. Now, writing a bouncing check is a criminal offence, but what about consistently making emotional overdrafts? It may not be criminal alright but it is surely offending. In other words, we can only withdraw and occasionally overdraw if we regularly deposit and build our reserve. We can only take if we also give.This applies to personal relationships as well as to business relationships. Without trust and a reserve built up over time it is very difficult to deserve in return what we have not earned in the first place. Now, keeping promises and commitments is the quickest way to build trust in any relationship, also between services providers and customers. Breaking promises and commitments on the other hand, is the quickest way to destroy trust. Realizing this, it is vital to be careful with making promises and commitments. In fact, most of us know this and as an escape strategy many of us have learnt to make commitments that are so vague or elusive that nobody can pin us down. Some of us don’t even make commitments at all. Such approach doesn’t work in today’s global economy however, where companies need to make and follow through on promises to even get noticed amongst so many other companies offering the same products and services.

Keeping promises and commitments is based on the principles of integrity and performance. Particularly it involves the ability to do what you say you are going to do. The next time you make a commitment, personal or on behalf of the company you work for, be sure that the commitment is realistic. Even if you have to disappoint someone, it is far better to do this up front than to promise and not deliver. Now I realize this is a tall order in the Ethiopian cultural context, where we don’t want to disappoint people, especially those we know, as relationships are so important here. We need to learn however that not keeping our promises will disappoint them even more. And learning to keep our promises in its turn will help us to rely on commitments rather than on connections. This is what it means to invest in the Emotional Bank Account and to build trust to a level that a withdrawal or even an overdraft can be made.

Give and take is striking a balance between making Emotional Bank Account deposits and withdrawals but like in a Financial Bank Account we like to see the reserve balance grow instead of slide into the red.