Why Speaking Your Mind is Costly
Whether it be marriage, friends, coworkers, business clients, or complete strangers, all relationships are like bank accounts. When we do someone a favor, listen when they need to talk, show up on time, affirm them, or do what we say we're going to do, we're making deposits into those accounts. On the other hand, anytime we call in a favor, assert an opposing view, offer critical feedback, or fail to do what we promised, we're withdrawing from the account.
Granted, not all withdrawals are bad. Sometimes, it’s necessary to take a portion of the goodwill we’ve built with someone and spend it on a worthy conflict or tough conversation that helps the relationship grow. However, we are only afforded an opening to do so when we’ve invested enough into the relationship prior to those encounters.
The same principles that constitute good financial stewardship also apply to relationships. Don’t spend what you don’t have. Your deposits into the relationship should exponentially outweigh your withdrawals so that when you do have to spend, it doesn’t completely exhaust what you’ve built.
It’s late one weekend afternoon. My best friend and I are lounging around her room having somehow managed to find space amongst a floor that had been repurposed as a closet, a hamper, and a bathroom all in one (so, pretty much the standard state of existence for the average high school girl). My friend was typing away at what I’m guessing was anyone with an available status on her AIM Buddy List, while I was venting about a teacher at school that I had gotten into a heated argument with. I don’t even remember what it was about, probably something ridiculously trivial. Regardless, I was fully prepared for her to be on my side and to mindlessly jump in and validate my frustration, because that’s what besties do. It’s tradition.
This is about where you’d insert the most demoralizing, red-X, wrong-answer buzzer sound.
Without even turning toward me and certainly without compromise to her infuriatingly faster words per minute than mine, she matter-of-factly responds, “Courtney, that is never how authority should be treated, even if they’re in the wrong.”
Thick tension soaked the room with only the furious clacking of the keys to pierce the deadening silence. With my emotions now severely heightened, I'm determined more than ever to defend myself. I jump right back in, even more animated this time, attempting to further justify my position.
With her countenance still composed, her principles still pervading, and her fingers still flying, she readily countered with some more compelling (read: maddening) points about respect and authority.
Ugh. I needed to think.
I left her room and paced her kitchen floor for the better part of 30 minutes, mulling over what had just happened. The excuses starting filing in one by one, like slats meticulously lined between fence posts, forming my spiteful and stubborn wall of resistance. But for a brief and merciful moment, there was a detectable gap in my bullheaded barrier. "What if there was wisdom to what she was saying?”, I thought. I froze and peered through the proverbial gap, finally able to see beyond my own stubborn domain. Clearly, she was right. My mistreatment of authority wasn’t isolated to this one incident, I had to admit. This was just the first time somebody had ever called me on it.
The surge of senseless pride that had tensed up every muscle in my body over the last hour slowly started to loosen into wearied remorse. I sauntered limply back to her room, plopped myself down on the bed, and admitted with all sincerity, “you’re right”. For her, it may have been an easily forgetful moment of simply expressing what she believed, but for me, it was a turning point in my life.
Ultimately, I was receptive not because she presented a profoundly convincing argument, but because there was a sufficient amount of relational equity between us that strengthened the value of her feedback.
How often do we ask a favor of someone when we haven’t even checked in on how they’re doing? How quickly do we jump to giving someone critical feedback when we haven’t stopped to champion their deepest passions and goals first? How eager are we to offer an unabashed opinion when we haven’t spent any quality time with that person as of late?
It’s not just irresponsible, it’s also volatile to the relationship to initiate a withdrawal on an already depleted reserve. That’s why it’s so important that we constantly take inventory of each account in our lives, staying vigilant about strategically depositing goodwill and trust where we want to see the greatest returns. Beyond that, we must also be mindful about how we’re stewarding this equity we’ve built over time. Are we mindlessly spending it on things like being brazenly opinionated or are we making it an intentional investment that betters the relationship, even if it invites some temporary tension or discomfort?
The more aware we are of this, the richer our relationships will be—from brief encounters with strangers to life-long loyalties with loved ones.
Deepen the reserves. Strengthen the connection. Multiply the returns.