I recently came across an amazing post on social media from @lizlistens talking about bids. I hadn't thought about that term in a long time and it was exactly the same eye opener for me as it was when I first read about them. Understanding bids is a wonderful first step in improving your communication skills with pretty much anyone in your life.
When we communicate with loved ones, we constantly are both hearing and expressing needs, or "bids" for attention. Psychologist John Gottman first coined this term when he conducted a study on newlyweds. He found that couples who tended to each other's bids more often than not managed to stay together longer. And not by just a little bit, either. Successful couples tended to each other's bids about 20 times more often.
So, what is a "bid" exactly? There are many types of bids that all communicate different needs and desires. Read the following "bids" and see the corresponding meaning that goes along with it. You'll find that these are dead easy to decipher, but you'll also realize how easy it is to dismiss them when they're given.
Phrase #1: Look what I just did!
Bid: Appreciate my accomplishments.
Phrase #2: I had the worst day today.
Bid: I need your support.
Phrase #3: Can I have a hug?
Bid: Touch me.
Phrase #4: What did you think of that show?
Bid: Share yourself with me.
Phrase #5: I read this really interesting article....
Bid: Engage with me.
Phrase #6: What are you up to?
Bid: I want your attention.
There are 3 different ways we can respond to bids. We can turn toward them, or respond positively, and give the other person what they need. We can turn away from (ignore) the bid, by not responding or dismissing it. Or we can turn against the bid, by starting an arguement.
In thinking about bids, I began going through all my interpersonal relationships in my head, thinking of the bids I send out and the ones I receive. It was disheartening to think about the bids I dismiss from the people who are close to me. I'm distracted or busy, or I'm not interested in what someone is saying. Sometimes I'm simply busy thinking of something else I need to do. I know these things happen to all of us, but it was a startling reminder of how often people I love make bids that go unfulfilled because I'm not listening to the message underneath the words.
It's impossible to respond perfectly to all of our loved ones' efforts to connect with us 100% of the time. But relationships begin to break down when we turn away from these bids for attention too often, or when we stop sending bids to our partner. When a loved one's bids continually get ignored, they send fewer bids for connection. Relationships don't usually end because of a massive fight or a single negative incident. It's more often because we have turned away from each other's bids way more than we have turned toward them. The less effort we put forth in tending to our partner's bids, the less connected we become to our parter.
When we think of "working on a relationship" we think of getting through tough times, or compromising. We don't think of the hundreds of small ways our partners reach out to us to connect and how we respond, or how often we reach out to connect to them. Responding to bids is one of the ways we can actively participate in the upkeep of our partnernships.
The good news is that our partners and loved ones make constant bids each day, giving you ample opportunity to both respond to your partner's bids and make plenty of bids of your own. To begin, take a couple hours out of your day to run an experiment. Each time your partner says anything to you, look beyond the actual words and find the bid. You'll find that when you actively pay attention to the bid, you'll respond in a much more engaged manner, sending a clear message to your partner: I hear what you need and I'm giving it to you.
Why don't we just say what we need instead of hiding behind random chit chat? Even though our partners are the closest people to us, it's still incredibly vulnerable to constantly express our deepest needs for connection. It feels too emotionally risky to toss out a "I'm feeling lonely today, please text me more often" or "I feel sad about our conversation earlier so now I want more attention from you." It also would be problematic for our partners to continually plainly express every vulerable need to us all the time. We aren't always able to respond to our partner's bids. Sometimes we have to take care of ourselves and we can't provide the thing that our partner needs at that moment. For these reasons, we state our needs as thinly veiled polite phrases, giving our partners leeway by not laying everything out on the table constantly.
Even though we won't perfectly tend to all of our partners bids all the time, we can hear them and take in our partner's desire to be close to us. We can learn what it is our partners need from us and how to actively love them. We are constantly sending these small messages to each other, signaling our need to connect. We just need to remind ourselves to listen.