I love making connections between techniques that work in your personal life and how those same tools can be applied—with a few tweaks—to growing your business. In my Earn the Ask podcast episode about ‘Making the Chili’, I talk about the concept of bids for attention that was identified by psychologist and famed marriage researcher John Gottman. A bid for attention is a request to connect and it can be big, such as asking your wife to sit down with you and discuss a large issue in your marriage, or as small as trying to catch your husband’s eye across the room at a party. Gottman found that happy couples turned toward and responded appropriately to bids for attention 86% of the time while unhappy couples did so a mere 33% of the time.
Though Gottman’s research on bids for attention centered on married couples, the concept can easily be applied to parents, friends, and any other type of personal relationship. And, with just a little bit of adjusting, it can also easily apply to building strong relationships with your clients or customers.
Identifying bids for attention by clients
So what does a bid for attention from a client look like? It’s unlikely any of your clients will want to have a talk about feelings or try to hold your hand, thank goodness, which are common bids for attention a husband might expect from a wife. Instead, bids for attention from a client may take one of these forms:
- A phone call or email asking for progress on a project.
- An invitation to an event they are holding.
- A request for a meeting.
- Telling you about a problem they are having.
- Feedback on your product or service.
- Comments on your social media posts.
There are plenty of other examples. A bid for attention from your client boils down to an attempt to connect in some way. Keep in mind that all bids for attention might not be positive. A client may submit a bid in a form of criticism of a service you’re providing them or a complaint.
The three ways to respond to bids for attention
You can respond to a bid for attention in three different ways.
If you turn toward the bid, you are acknowledging and responding to it.
If you turn away from the bid, you are ignoring or missing it.
If you turn against the bid, you are rejecting it.
So let’s say a client has left you a voicemail asking you for updates on a project you are working on for them. If you turn toward the bid, you call them back as soon as possible and give them the requested update in a friendly manner. If you turn away from the bid, you forget to call them back. If you turn against the bid, you may send an angry email telling them you’re doing your best and if they don’t like your timeline, they can find another provider.
The more you turn toward bids of attention from your clients, the stronger your relationships will be and the more likely those clients are to recommend you to others. Too many turns away and especially turns against and your clients will get frustrated and eventually leave (and they’ll probably tell others to steer clear of you as well.)
What to do when you can’t respond
Of course, you can’t turn toward every bid for attention from every client and you need to have boundaries so you don’t end up responding to even the most outrageous of requests in an attempt to make your clients happy. There will be plenty of times when you’re not able to turn toward a bid and how you handle that is important. When a business owner is unable to turn toward a bid, they often fall back on the second response—simply ignoring it. Instead of doing that, make a point to tell the client why you can’t respond and offer an alternative. For example, you may call a client back after he’s left you several after-hours voice mails requesting immediate responses and explain to him you’re happy to return calls the next business day as you turn off your work phone at 6 pm every evening.
Will every client accept your explanation or alternative and be happy about it? Of course not. But by explaining why you can’t respond and offering an alternative, you’re at least showing your willingness to try and you have a chance at strengthening the relationship.
Why we sometimes turn away from or turn against bids for attention
It seems pretty obvious that responding in a positive way to bids for attention from our clients is a good way to give value and build the relationship, right? So why do we so often turn away or against? Some of the most common reasons include:
- We think we don’t have time (I’m running around putting out fires all day, and now I’m expected to be on the phone with this client for 20 minutes?).
- We think we shouldn’t have to (Aren’t I already giving them enough time and attention?).
- We think we’ll always have a chance to do it next time (I won’t go to this event my client is holding, but I’ll make sure to go to the next one.)
- We don’t notice when a bid has been made.
Knowing what bids for attention look like and understanding that turning toward them is the key to strengthening relationships is the first step toward change. So start paying attention. Notice when your clients want your attention and do your best to give them what they need.
Want to learn more about giving value to your customers and clients by using Engagement Equity? Reach out to Angela at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out one of these blogs or podcasts for more information.