The Fundamental Component of a Relationship

You want a better relationship with someone. Excellent. Relationships can be a great source of enjoyment. But they can also be a great source of confusion and frustration too, if you don’t know some very important fundamentals. If you want to know how to connect with people, learn the fundamentals first.

We’re going to look at the basic components of connection. When two people interact, what is the interaction made of? Strip the conversation of its content, and what are the fundamental elements? What are the building blocks of connection?

John Gottman, one of the most influential researchers into marital relationships uses what he calls “the love lab” to study couples. The lab is an apartment fixed with two-way mirrors and cameras, where married couples come and spend the weekend while being filmed and observed, and then these films are analyzed carefully. After 25 years of this kind of painstaking analysis of hundreds of thousands of personal interactions, Gottman discovered an elemental core of connection. It’s something he calls “the bid.”

In an interaction, one person “makes a bid for connection.” The other person responds to that bid in one of three ways: Turning toward, turning against, or turning away.

These are the fundamental components of connection — between anyone. This is what connection is made of: The bid, and the response to the bid.

This understanding removes the complication and confusion from relationships. Each subject and interaction may be different, but underneath it all are these basic components.

People are bidding and responding to bids all the time. But without seeing what is happening, the responses to bids can shut down any further bidding. And the bids people make to others can be made in a way that doesn’t encourage good responses to the bids. Fully understanding the concept of “the bid” can greatly improve your capacity to connect with people.

So what is a “bid?” It can be anything:

  • “Can you tell me what time it is?”
  • “Hey, Joe, how’s it going?”
  • “You look great in that color!”
  • “Are you hungry? Do you want to get a pizza?”
  • “What are you doing tomorrow?”
  • “I just saw a great movie called Date Night. Have you seen it?”

And the response to a bid can be turning away, turning against, or turning toward. The responses of turning away and turning against tend to discourage further bidding. For example, you say, “You look great in that color!” The other person could turn away by completely ignoring your statement as if she didn’t hear it, or responding with something like, “Do you know what time it is?”

Or the person could turn against it by saying, “I hate this color,” or “What do you know about color matching?”

Or the person could turn toward your bid by saying, “Thank you!” or “Oh I’m so glad you said that; I don’t usually wear this color but I really liked the dress.”

Every interaction we have with someone else is a bid and one of those three responses to bids. That’s all there is. These simple building blocks are the foundation of all relationships.

You want to know how to connect with someone. Here’s how: Respond to other’s bids by turning toward those bids. And learn to be good at making bids for connection.

Okay, what makes a good bid? The most important element in making bids is to understand that the point of all the bidding and responding is to give and receive emotional information. This is so important, let me say it another way just to be crystal clear: To connect with people, the important thing is to transmit and receive emotional information. So a bid would invite the other person to give you some emotional information. Volunteering some emotional information about yourself is also a good way to bid.

Not all bids or responses might seem like emotional information. If I ask you what time it is and you respond “12:30,” it may not seem to deliver any emotional information. However, the way I ask and the way you respond can indeed give each of us emotional information about each other. I can ask you what time it is in a commanding way, in a friendly way, and many others. You can respond to me in many ways too, while technically giving the same information.

The important principle is that you begin to see your interactions with others as bids and responses to bids. This will give you a whole new way to view what’s happening and it will make it easier for you to connect with someone.

Notice the way you bid, and notice the responses you get, and you will naturally get better at connecting.

Don’t focus on what’s complicated about it. You are a human being, a social animal, and your brain is exquisitely engineered to learn social information, and will learn all by itself. All you need to focus on is making good bids, and responding to others’ bids by turning toward them. This is how to connect with people.

A good book about "bids" as a fundamental element of connecting is The Relationship Cure by John Gottman.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English).

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