Bidding for Stronger Relationships

– By Sharon Ashton and Raksha Dave-Gates (Counselling Psychologists)

For many of us, December is the busiest social time of the year. Our lives get even busier as we squeeze in all the extras – gift and food shopping, cleaning and decorating, house parties, staff parties, and school festivities. In spite of all the effort we make to get together socially with family, friends, and co-workers, we may not feel especially close. We hope that the following paragraphs will provide a few tools that will help you draw closer to the important people in your life.
Dr. John Gottman describes a useful tool that he calls the “emotional bid”. Understanding how bidding works can help us to improve our relationships. The “bid” is an essential unit of emotional communication. To improve relationships, you need to understand the way you respond to others’ bids.

Do you recall the last time that someone important to you – a partner, child, parent, friend, or a co-worker asked for your attention? The request or bid for your attention might have been a look, a touch on the shoulder, a question, or statement. How did you respond?

Did you notice that he or she made a bid for emotional connection to you? Did you turn toward the bid? That is, did you provide a response of a few words to let the person know that they were heard? Were you attentive and provided your thoughts, feelings, or opinions regarding the situation? These responses indicate that you turned toward strengthening the relationship. Whether you responded with high energy, enthusiasm, sincere empathy, and affection to demonstrate that you were fully engaged or with a low energy response of a few words or a question to clarify, you made a step toward emotional connection with the person.

Did you notice the bid for connection to you but turned against it? Did you respond by anger or aggression, patronize with put-downs or insults, argue or become defensive? It is not surprising to hear that turning against responses to emotional bids are destructive to relationships.

If you did not notice the bid that was made toward you, you may have turned away from the relationship. Whether it was unintentional because you were preoccupied with something else (e.g., work, television etc.,) or intentional, ignoring the bid or responding with something irrelevant is the most destructive response to relationships.

So, what can you do to turn toward the emotional bids of others? First, collect emotional moments. That is, become more aware of emotional bids that others make to you. Second, recognize that turning toward bids will likely result in a more stable and long-lasting relationship and enable more humour, affection, and problem-solving in the relationship.

Understanding the way you respond to others’ bids is only part of the process of improving relationships, the other critical question to ask yourself is how do you make an emotional bid? The next Counsellors’ Corner will focus on useful tools to make clear and direct bids for connection with those important to you.