Building great relationships, Part I

Relationships are tough sometimes. But they are the most important aspect of our human existence. Even the shyest person is a social being. We need relationships to feel included and to have a sense of control in our lives; to make meaning of our place and purpose in society.

However, it seems that we as people are becoming more disconnected from each other and our humanity in our modern world. This can be seen in the divorce rates in the West; the tragedies of Columbine, Stockton, Washington and other school shooting; reduced empathy, civility and social intelligence in our interactions; and surges in violence not only in our own cities, but globally. Perhaps you can think of other signs.

While some may argue that the above are caused by the media, poverty, greater access to guns, and many other circumstances I would argue that these may be factors, but the primary cause is a failure to connect with others and form deep relationships.

The good news is that all is not lost. Even if you have difficulties forming relationships there is a skill that you can learn that can turn it all around. That skill is learning to recognize and appropriately respond to “bids.”

What is a “bid?”

John Gottman, perhaps the world’s most respected expert on personal relationships, talks about bids in his groundbreaking book, The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships. In his book he defines a bid as the most fundamental unit of emotional communication. In other words, a bid is the most fundamental building block of any relationship. And when I say any relationship, I mean any relationship, whether its intimate (marriage, family, other intimate partner relationship), work related, friendships, etc.

The bid can come in the form of question, a gesture, a look, a touch… or any other action that we use to attempt to become connected to another person in some way. Again, this connection does not need to be intimate. For instance, in the context of a business negotiation a bid may come in the form of an icebreaker, or a concession of some kind. In friendships bids can be showing an interest in what another is talking about.

Obviously, for any relationship to deepen and become meaningful regular bids must come from all parties involved. By bidding for another’s attention or affection we are showing interest in the relationship.

How we respond to a bid makes or breaks a relationship

A response to a bid is just that… its how the other person responds. He or she can accept the bid and respond in kind, ignore or be simply unaware of the bid, or outright reject the bid.

When a bid is acknowledged and responded to in a positive way bonds deepen, positive regard is developed, and the relationship deepens. In fact, the more successful bids that are exchanged in a relationship, the more likely the relationship is to survive hard times. Essentially, accepting and offering bids is like putting money into the emotional bank account.

Again, this not only applies to intimate relationships like marriages. It applies to all relationships.

Imagine you are looking to buy a new car. You go to the dealership and find a car you absolutely love… but the salesman is with another customer and makes you wait for an hour to speak with you, with hardly any acknowledgment. When he finally gets the time to speak with you he looks at you as if to judge whether or not to take you seriously, and shows little interest in closing the deal. Will you likely buy the car from this salesman, or go elsewhere?

Most of us would not even wait the hour, much less buy a car from the dealership. Why? Because the salesperson showed no interest in a relationship with us. He offered no bids, and refused the bids we offered to him.

Now let’s say that salesperson immediately acknowledged us, and let us know he was working with someone else but would be with us as soon as he could. Maybe he even offered us a coffee and showed us to the customer lounge, where the secretary gave us regular attention. Maybe we were even given the option to set an appointment to come back. And when we finally did speak to the salesperson we found out that there was a 2 month wait on the model we wanted, but he showed us several other models that we may be interested in.

Statistics show that with this level of customer service most of us would either wait 2 months for the car we want, or we would buy another model. The difference is that the salesperson showed a genuine interest in helping you find a car by responding to your bids, and likely offering bids of his own by asking open ended questions and offering solutions to help making your car shopping easier.

Both of these scenarios play out all the time in all of our different relationships, and we are often unaware of how our actions shape these relationships.

Take a couple of weeks and really try and recognize the bids you are giving and receiving in one of your important relationships, and try and respond in a positive way and see the difference. People appreciate being appreciated, and want to feel important. I suspect that if you do this you will see that relationship improve and deepen.

In Part II next week I’ll talk about the 5 steps of mastering the bid and making your relationships great!!

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