The Art of Recognizing Emotional Bids
I learned about emotional bids a couple of years ago and now I can’t NOT see them. Emotional bids are like yellow VW bugs, once you have a reason to notice them, you see them everywhere. I want to tell you about emotional bids because they impact your current relationships, future relationships and human connections. These are a little tricky to explain in writing (I’ll do a podcast on this topic because it translates better over voice), but let’s give it a shot.
It started with this huge research project where the researchers watched couples interact with each other and found that the couples that responded to each other’s emotional bids were among the most likely to still be married 6 years later. A quote from the research:
When he says “turn towards,” he’s talking about turning towards an emotional bid. Let me paint an imaginary emotional bid scenario:
A couple is sitting at their kitchen table having coffee. The man is reading the paper and his partner is scrolling on her phone. As he turns the pages of the newspaper, he makes a little “hmmmph” sound. You know the kind of sound I’m talking about, right? That little sound…that’s an emotional bid. Whether he realizes it or not, he’s asking his partner to engage. Also (whether he realizes it or not), he’s going to feel better or worse about their connection based on her response. Now, she has two choices: 1) ignore that sound and keep scrolling. 2) look up and say something like, “what are you reading about, babe?”
I’m sure you’ve been in the presence of an emotional bid and you knew you were ignoring it. I sure have. It usually feels something like this, the stranger sitting next to you at the coffee shop does that little thing where they make a sound or a loud sigh. You recognize it and you say to yourself, “they really want me to say something or look at them so they can say something. I just don’t want to get into a conversation with them.” Or your partner does it while you’re in a fight and you think, “there’s no way I’m going to be the one starting a conversation. If they want to talk to me they can say something first.”
I was on a grand jury last fall. Two weeks of all-day sessions hearing cases and deciding if they would go to trail or not. It was exhausting and stressful for all of us who were selected. We also bonded because we were all tossed into this unexpected situation. There was one girl on the grand jury who was really personable and friendly. She and I became fast friends on day 1. So it wasn’t surprising when the following happened:
Several of us were sitting in the lunch room, silently eating and catching up on work in-between cases. One gentleman took a bite of his sandwich, then sat back in his chair and let out a big, audible sigh. I knew exactly what that was - it was an emotional bid. I decided to stay silent and see if anyone would respond to it. Sure enough, the girl did. She turned her head toward him and said, “what did you get for lunch?” He said “a reuben.” “Can’t go wrong,” she said. And that was it. It made me smile because of course the girl who had a knack for human connections and friendships would be the one person in a room of about 10 people to grab onto that emotional bid.
Emotional bids aren’t always so subtle. You could be walking with your mom down the street and she says, “oh! that’s a pretty bird!” That’s also an emotional bid. It sounds like a statement and many people would either not say anything or would mumble an “mmm hmmm.” But the art of recognizing an emotional bid is in the art of not just recognizing it, but really responding to it and turning towards it. In this case, it could be as simple as “where? Oh yes it is, look at those long feathers!”
Once you know what emotional bids are, I promise you’ll see them everywhere. Someone actively stretching their neck, letting out a sigh is an emotional bid. Someone looking at a kitchen full of dishes to be cleaned and saying, “oh wow - this is going to be a long night,” is an emotional bid. You don’t have to turn towards all of them, but it is proven that relationships are stronger when we catch the emotional bids and connect with the person. So maybe just try it. And it doesn’t have to be just for your romantic parter. This could also be a coworker, your parents or a friend. I’m going to try turning towards emotional bids even more - let’s see how it goes!