Resources for Intentional Communities. Stephen Covey on Emotional Bank Accounts

Tonight was our Community House meeting. One of the rhythms of Greenaway House is to meet monthly to deal with any logistical and relational issues, and also to explore teachings that help us do community better. Each of us takes a turn leading, and we share different things we have learned.

Today I was teaching, and I pulled out one of my favourite teachings from Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, about emotional bank accounts.

Stephen says it much better than I could:

An Emotional Bank Account is a metaphor that describes the amount of trust that’s been built up in a relationship. It’s the feeling of safeness you have with another human being.

We’ve all experienced relationships where our emotional bank accounts are low, or overdrawn. How about when everyone is walking on eggshells around someone (hopefully not you)? Or housemates are hiding in their rooms? “I live alone together with 7 people,” I once was told by a friend.

Stephen says the most constant relationships, say for example the people we do intentional community with, require our most constant deposits.

Here are six ways Stephen says we can make deposits:

1. Understand the individual. What is their love language? I show love by serving, and I’m not so big on gifts. You may think you’re showing love to your housemate, but you’re not speaking their language at all. Find out what it is. What is important to them? What do they like to eat? What are their deepest dreams and desires? Sometimes the most difficult thing to do is to step out of our own autobiographies and stop imposing them on others.

2. Attending to the little Things. Small courtesies, friendly greetings, little kindnesses, and a general demeanour of honor and respect make a biiiig difference. As an experiment, attend to how you greet the people in your house, and kick it up a notch in favour of friendliness.

3. Keeping Committments. “Yes, I’ll do my housework today…maybe.” “Oh, was it my turn to cook dinner? I forgot.” Nuff said.

4. Clarifying Expectations. This is a really important one for intentional communities. Many times we have implicit expectations that we don’t share, but do bring to the table, usually from our families of origin or other shared living experiences. We have found it critical to have a Community House Agreement in writing, which clearly outlines expectations and committments, and new housemates sign when they arrive. (Email me if you want a copy of it to see)

5. Showing Personal Integrity. Tell the truth. Covey says “A lie is any communication with intent to deceive.” Respect confidences. Be loyal to those absent. There is nothing that can degrade intentional community like people complaining about housemates to other housemates, rather than having the courage and love to address issues face on.

6. Apologize Sincerely When You Make a Withdrawl. We all mess up, have bad hair days and cranky moments. But a good apology goes a long way. Kirk and I, when newly married, made it a game/challenge to see who could be quickest to repent, and step back into the relationship with humility. I was pretty good at it, mostly because I had to repent so often!

Covey wraps it up by saying, “when we truly love others without condition, without strings, we help them feel safe and validated and affirmed in their essential worth, identity, and integrity.“. That’s a dream we can all have for our intentional communities.



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