Trust is an Emotional Bank Account

by Barry Sweeny, 2003


Developing effective relationships is like creating and building an emotional bank account. In the beginning, when there is a zero “balance” we must:

1. consciously “invest” in each other’s success and well being

2. be very careful how we “spend our emotional money”.


Therefore, we do at least three things, like…

  • Commit to 100% confidentiality within our relationship
  • Agree to be non evaluative with each other
  • In advance of mistakes, assume we might make honest mistakes and agree to forgive each other if honest mistakes are made that might otherwise endanger our relationship.

By an “honest mistake”, I mean one that does not make me feel used or manipulated. In other words, a mistake makes a “bank account withdrawal” at a time when we haven’t yet built up the account balance (i.e. the relationship) and might ìempty out the accountî, endangering or even ending the relationship.


Later on, when our account “balance” is built up, due to “investing” in each other over time, the bigger “balance” in the account means that when a mistake is made, it does not place the whole relationship at risk, because the “withdrawal” does not empty the account down to zero.

At that time, we can feel free to negotiate and agree to take greater risks together for the sake of growth, such as:

  • Agreeing to share a confidence with someone else we both know and trust
  • Agreeing to offer an evaluation to the other person when asked for one.

We can do these things then because we have built trust in our relationship.

A CAUTION -Whena protege and a mentor feel that their relationship has become sufficiently trusting to take some bigger risks and vary from the general mentoring guidelines for confidentiality, etc. BE CAREFUL to consciously decide if the variation is a one time event (so the old rules remain after that one time) or if the rules you have agreed to change are changed for all time.

Don’t assume or ignore doing this. Explicitly clarify what any change in expectations means for the future of your conversations and the relationship.