Emotional Capital

At the heart of all relationships is a bank…

A t work, as I started dealing with clients, I learned about a concept called political capital — where you make credits and debits from all the time. How this works is basically like any bank where you can credit and debit money. With your clients, you work hard to build a brand, a reputation for yourself by doing good work. This is the process of crediting political capital. But there comes a time where you need to pick an argument, say when your key stakeholder is doing something that would be counterproductive for their own business or for another stakeholder of yours. While you are doing the right thing for the right reason, the reason is not always evident to each stakeholder. You pick your battles carefully — and that 'careful' part is basically about debiting from the political capital. You need to know that you are debiting less than you have credited to ensure that you are not losing the client altogether. Once you have debited, you typically need to work extra hard to make more credits to replenish what was debited.

Sounds normal?

How about we apply the same concept to personal relationships as well? I recently came across the term 'emotional bankruptcy'. This made me think that every relationship carries with it an emotional capital from where people in that relationship make credits and debits. With stakeholders at work, it's political capital, because you don't typically get emotionally involved with your work related stakeholders. However, in personal relationships, your counterparts — your friends, spouse, family members — are still stakeholders. With these stakeholders, you don't have a political capital, but an emotional one.

What I have recently realised is that I either don't think about relationships or if I do, I do so as an idealist. I tend to imagine relationships as giving — where there's no transactional undertone. But a part of growing up is realising that real, adult relationships are, mostly, not like that. A truly non-transactional relationship is the one where you experience unconditional love and that's only with a few, very close family members, if one is lucky. In most adult relationships, however, there's always an emotional capital that you need to maintain if you wish you keep those relationships.

From a long term perspective, it's critical to ensure that you have positive emotional balance in your shared account for the relationship to survive. It's alright to have a net debt for brief periods of time, but over a long term- the strain that it brings in any relationship is not sustainable.

It also got me thinking about old, neglected accounts. We all have a few relationships that we do not rekindle for extended periods of time. But if you leave some emotional capital in those relationships, you can quickly resume them. It’s just a matter of dropping an email, a message or calling and you can pick things up from right where you left them. The ones that broke because they were emotionally bankrupt, are the ones that you need to write-off.

There are several ways of crediting emotional capital to increase the balance, but the hard thing is that it needs to be done by both the parties. For example, taking a vacation together, discussing books, movies, philosophy and even hyperboles together is something that does it for me and my friends. It's also important to note that one person cannot indefinitely keep adding to the emotional capital because the other person's neglect is an equal amount of debit, if not more, from the emotional capital of the relationship.

Being cognisant of this concept, alone, could help with not taking things for granted. The best thing about this capital being an emotional one is that it's not supposed to be kept a track of. You can't count or quantify it, but you do feel it. Being honest, being clued in and being objective about the emotional capital can help you realise how much of it you have in any of your relationships and take corrective action if you feel it's in the red or quickly heading there.

Here's hoping we stay in the green for the ones that truly matter.