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Leadership, Teams and Bids

Psychologist Dr John Gottman (along with his wife Dr Julie Gottman) is renowned for his work on marital stability, relationships and predicting divorce in couples. In his research he has famously predicted with a 94% accuracy which marriages will end in divorce. After decades studying the way that married couples interact and the factors that contribute towards healthy, long-term relationships, he originated the concept of what he called 'bids' – attempts that people make to establish a connection with their partner or spouse. The idea around bids is explained nicely in this video:

Gottman describes bids as 'the fundamental unit of emotional communication', and they can be verbal, non-verbal, big or small. They are the moments when a person is reaching to make an emotional connection, however momentary, to another person. Turning towards a bid means acknowledging it. In doing so you're paying attention to the other person and giving them validation. You're showing that you're listening, maybe even actively listening, and you might even ask follow up questions. Ignoring a bid means that you are turning away from it, and being belligerent or argumentative may mean that you are turning against a bid. 

Gottman and his research partners spent hundreds of hours (notably at the University of Washington) filming and watching how couples interacted. The researchers then followed up with the same couples six years later and noted the relative health of their relationships. They revisited the research films to look for the patterns which the 'relationship masters' as he called them were more likely to exhibit and what the 'relationship disasters' were missing. Rather than the difference being down to the depth of intimacy in the conversations that the couples had, Gottman found that the relationship masters were far more likely to be attentive to each other's bids for connection multiple times a day. Put simply, healthy couples are constantly making and accepting bids to connect.

As I was reading more about this idea it struck me how much this applies to so many different kinds of relationships. Not just the one that we have our partner, but relationships with our bosses, team mates and colleagues at work. Just as we might do at home, in our own way we're constantly making bids in the work environment too. How we choose to react to these bids may seem of little consequence in the moment, but over time these subtle choices can build up to become a powerfully positive or negative reinforcer of team behaviour, habits and culture. The reality is that we have a choice every time we interact with another person, whether that person is our partner or someone who is a member of our team. Making a more conscious decision to turn towards bids can make a huge difference to the connection that we can build and the environment that we can create.

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