Emotional bank accountIt’s just after 5 a.m. on New Year’s Eve here in San Diego, and I haven’t slept all night. I keep thinking about the events of the last 12 hours and the ramifications of those events as I look forward to the next 12 months.

A few days ago I took some pretty high moral ground regarding honesty and integrity, both professionally and personally.

I’m determined to present myself honestly both professionally and personally and to try to avoid my own identity crisis. This fall has been tough in terms of dealing with relationships with people who seemed to misrepresent themselves…. In these situations this fall and a couple more, I found myself looking at the person in question and saying, “Wow. You’re not who I thought you were.” My resolution is to make sure I stay honest so that neither Avenue Z nor Beth Ziesenis is ever the subject of that observation.

Sure, one should aspire to be honest and to represent oneself accurately. Duh. In reality, I forgot to factor in the human element that makes an otherwise honest business or person make an old-fashioned mistake, which, in hindsight I find very arrogant because I have a whole category called “Avoiding My Mistakes.”

As a new freelance copywriter, I have many new clients, and I try hard to keep their deadlines. I’ve got several deadlines for Wednesday when everyone gets back to the office (January 2). Because I have the best of intentions that I will get things done and do what I’m supposed to, my missing a deadline would be something I consider a major but honest mistake.

But that doesn’t mean that my mistake won’t cause my client to look at me and say, “Wow. You’re not who I thought you were.” And it doesn’t mean that my mistake will be without ramifications. Thus, in the making of this honest mistake, I may lose a client or cause a client to think I’m not honest.

A colleague of mine at a former job used to talk about Steven Covey’s concept of emotional bank accounts from the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, another business book I haven’t read. Covey says that in business and in life, your relationships with people are built on the amount of trust you have established by making deposits into the emotional bank account. Withdrawals decrease the amount of trust. Covey defines several ways to make deposits and withdrawals:

Deposits come from:

  • understanding the individual
  • attending to little things
  • keeping commitments
  • clarifying expectations
  • showing personal integrity
  • apologizing sincerely when you make a withdrawal

A short list of withdrawals:

  • showing discourtesy
  • disrespect
  • overreacting
  • betraying trust
  • not honoring commitments
  • threatening

So, assuming that I missed a deadline for my client, I’ve made four withdrawals: I showed discourtesy to my client’s deadlines; I’ve disrespected my client; I’ve betrayed his trust; and I’m not honoring commitments. And since I’m just establishing the relationship with my client, it’s likely that he won’t know that I have many deposits to make: personal integrity, keeping commitments, understanding… etc. After the mistake is made, the only deposit I can make into the relationship is to apologize sincerely about the withdrawal. And that probably won’t be enough to save the relationship.

Despite all my lofty goals to represent myself as a person of integrity, I made a big mistake yesterday. A really big mistake. A mistake that I regretted the moment it occurred to me to make the mistake. Losing a new relationship because of a major mistake, personal or professional, is heartbreaking and makes me sick. I want to go back and erase what I did wrong. But I can’t do that, and I can simply hope that the lesson I learned will help me avoid making the same mistake again and that the damage I caused will eventually subside.

But today I will sit here in my pajamas in my chilly little apartment and work hard to make sure I don’t make any more mistakes in 2007. 17 hours and 45 minutes to go.