“Emotional bids are the genesis of every single connection in our lives.” – AJ Harbinger
You had a long day at work. You got stuck in rush hour and hit every red light. You finally got home, made yourself comfortable, and started that latest show your friends have been raving about. It’s getting to the climax of the first episode when your significant other walks through the door and exclaims, “I had the WORST day today!”
She expressed an emotional bid, and how you respond can determine whether the relationship will last.
As humans, we all want to be seen and heard. We want our experiences and feelings validated so we can feel good about ourselves and how we’re navigating this crazy ride called life. But asking people to acknowledge us and our experiences requires vulnerability. And that can be scary. Scary, because we are opening ourselves up to judgment and criticism.
“Vulnerability is a scary thing. So we package it in an emotional bid, like a spark of vulnerability hidden in an ordinary sentence.” – Michael Herold
Your significant other didn’t walk through the door and start talking about the list of events that ruined her day. She made a statement about her experience hoping that you care enough to focus on her and show a genuine interest in what happened.
And that’s just one example.
We all use emotional bids in different ways, in all kinds of social interactions.
Maybe you’re hanging out with a friend when he’s reading something on his phone and says, “Oh, wow!” He might want you to ask what he’s reading so he can tell you about it and share the experience with you.
Maybe it’s been a few months since you talked to a close friend and she texts you out of the blue, asking how you’re doing. Do you think all she really wants to hear is “good”—or could she be looking to strike up a conversation and catch up?
So, why does your response to these emotional bids determine whether or not a relationship will last?
In 1999, Dr. Gottman designed a lab on the University of Washington Campus and made it look like a bed and breakfast retreat. He then invited 130 newlywed couples to spend the day in this “retreat”, where he would observe how they interacted with each other. He discovered that throughout the day, partners frequently made requests for connection to each other—so-called emotional bids.
After six years, he followed up with the couples and discovered that there was a big difference between how couples behaved that stayed married, and those that didn’t. Married couples responded positively to emotional bids 86% of the time, while divorced couples responded positively to emotional bids only 33% of the time.
“When you start seeing these signals and turning toward them, it lights up the room and the other person feels more connected to you.” – AJ Harbinger
But what does it mean to respond positively to an emotional bid? What does it mean to respond negatively? And why does a negative response eat away at a relationship?
Going back to the initial example, the first step would be to acknowledge your significant other. Pause the show and make eye contact with her. Say something that shows her you heard what she said and you recognize the stress in her voice.
“Oh, no, what happened?”
This is called “turning toward” the emotional bid and is considered a positive response. You acknowledged her presence and showed a genuine interest in what she said. When she realizes you care enough about her to shift your attention to her, she feels seen and heard. She feels comfortable and secure being vulnerable with you at that moment and the connection you two share is strengthened.
But it’s not over yet.
If you give her your attention and the space to vent her frustration, and you dismiss her feelings once she’s finished by saying something like, “That’s not worth getting upset over,” then the connection you just strengthened will be weakened. She might be hesitant about opening up to you again out of fear that you’ll tell her again her feelings were wrong. Over time, a refusal on her part to be open and vulnerable with you will lead to an erosion of her feelings for you and an unwillingness to connect.
This explains why couples who stay married respond positively about 8 times out of 10 to emotional bids while divorced couples only respond positively about 3 times out of 10.
Perfection isn’t required, but you must show your partner they are important to you.
And as I described earlier, this doesn’t just apply to romantic relationships. We all express emotional bids with our coworkers, friends, family members, people we meet for the first time. Any time you are interacting with another person open to conversation, emotional bids will be present, so start listening for them!
In fact, this is so important that at the X-Factor Accelerator Program, we have regular live workshops to practice finding – and reacting to – emotional bids. All while practicing with a group of peers, under the supervision of a coach that gives them real time feedback.
We all want to be seen and heard. It is one of the most basic needs we experience as humans. This can be a terrifying world to live in, and sometimes the only thing a person wants is to know they’re not alone in this crazy universe.
If you’d like to learn more about emotional bids, check out our latest podcast episode on the subject!