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Want to Be Better? Watch Your Words.

Mindset Made Simple Tip #119

What if I told you someone could predict the success of your marriage with 94% accuracy by listening to how you talk? Would you believe it? Did that make you as uncomfortable as it made me when I read the study?

It’s true. Dr. John Gottman of the Gottman Institute began studies in the early 80s in which he observed couples in conversation for a mere 15 minutes. Following many of the couples for more than 20 years after his 15 minutes of data collection, he found that the way they communicated, studying what he calls “bids,” proved critical in the success of the relationship.

Bids are any attempt from one person to another to make conversation. How your bid lands on the receiver determines whether you will send out another.

Think about how you respond to those around you as you read the types of bids below. These examples made me shudder a bit as I started to think about my responses, or bids I return, to those I love the most…and those I coached!

Gottman’s bids come in three forms:

  • Toward bids: anything from a simple uh-huh acknowledgment, to a simple “ok”, a laugh or joke, to a hug or sloppy kiss.

  • Against bids: contemptuous comments like “we wouldn’t have to ask if you could read a map” as a response to “should we stop for directions?”, to an always annoying “actually, I believe it’s pronounced…” comment.

  • Turning away bids: the silent treatment, a “yeah, but the real issue is….” Or changing subjects without acknowledging the bid, meaning “ I obviously am not listening at all or just don’t care”. (Maybe you do this when your kid is explaining Fortnite…or is that just me? 😊).

Toward bids lead to longer, happier, more stable relationships. No shock there.

But the shock is this. The words we choose – how we respond – matters BIG TIME…more than a lot of other stuff that goes on in relationships!

Remember Trevor Moawad’s quote that I beat like a dead horse with athletes and teams? “Words are tools. They both predict and perpetuate our performance.”

Apparently, they predict more than just our performance…with 94% accuracy!

I am working through Jon Gordon’s You Win in the Locker Room First: The 7 C's to Build a Winning Team in Business, Sports, and Life with one of my DI women’s basketball teams – one C per week - and C number four is communication. And in line with what Dr. Gottman found, Gordon contends that communication is the foundation of every great relationship…and team.

During my time at Akron, our men’s soccer team and current Columbus Crew head coach, Caleb Porter, won the 2010 NCAA National Championship. I was lucky enough to be in Santa Barbara to witness it, but almost as awe-inspiring as watching the time I spent watching…and listening to…the team practice. It was CONSTANT chatter. Constant communication. It was different than watching any other team on campus work. This is a very small sample size, but if what Dr. Gottman and Jon Gordon say is true, this team’s communication made a difference.

As Gordon and co-author, Mike Smith talked about the importance of consistent communication when building a culture, establishing connections and much more, I was struck hardest by this quote. “When there is a void in communication, negativity will fill it.” This plays well off Dr. Gottman’s work – how we respond to communication determines whether there are more bids. Then, if there aren’t more bids…negativity will fill that space. Yuck!

The point here is that how we communicate matters. The words we choose matter – they are tools. How we respond to communication matters because it changes what happens next!

The cool part is that we decide how we respond. Doesn’t it all go back to EVENT + RESPONSE = OUTCOME?

So even as my heart sank as I read about the three types of bids and began to evaluate my communication tendencies, I felt a little better since I get to choose how I respond from this point forward. That is all I get to decide…and it is so important that it dictates what comes next.

Even better, if we do choose more than just an “uh hu” response we can change everything about the interaction, even what we think of ourselves!

According to Newberg and Waldman in Words Can Change Your Brain, “the longer you concentrate on positive words, the more [they] begin to affect other areas of the brain. Functions in the parietal lobe start to change, which changes your perception of yourself and the people you interact with.”

It makes sense, but how often do we pay attention to the fact that if we use positive words, we feel better…about everything and everyone around us. But how often do we make the opposite choice?

How does all of this affect our performance? If communication is the basis of all strong relationships, what we say to our athletes and teammates (and ourselves) can certainly affect the team environment.

Remember the positivity ratio, the Losada Line that suggests that flourishing teams have a 3:1 ratio of positive interactions to negative?

Think about it. How many championship teams have said, “that was the most negative culture I have ever experienced”?

Is this easy? No. Do we always feel positive? Heck no. I certainly didn’t reflect on positive words many times as a coach.

But we can always choose our words.

Are my words making things better or worse? Am I saying stupid $%*! out loud? Am I complaining about things I can’t control, but exist regardless? Is my language making things harder than they need to be?

This last question was the topic of conversation in a recent session with one of my DI softball teams last week. How are we making things harder than they need to be? We are pros at this!

One answer? COMPLAINING! The more we complain, the more our brain solidifies our experiences with those negative emotions…even if it’s not that miserable! This leads to a cycle of looking for misery every time similar memories come to mind. As they say, synapses that wire together fire together!

Our moms were right, if you can’t say anything nice, it’s better to say nothing at all. It will help you perform better… because you will be in a better mindset...and it makes life easier in the long run!

So simple, yet so hard to do!

We spend so much time saying stupid stuff out loud…that doesn’t make anything or anyone better.

We spend so much time telling ourselves what we don’t want, and communication starts on the inside and finds its way out.

What words do you use? Can you do better?

So many things get in the way of us communicating at our best, but if we are aware of our tendencies, we can adjust and manage our responses.

How important is this?

What would Dr. Gottman find if he watched you communicate for 15 minutes (I'm still shuddering at the thought)? Then think about how your words…the tools that they are…are affecting your performance and the performance of those around you…and respond accordingly.

Manage your responses and the moments! Have a great week!


P.S. Mental training tools make a difference. Contact me at any time to talk about how we can help your athletes through my 5 Minute Mindset™ program and customized team sessions to help them make the most out of the opportunities in front of them! Email me at or call/text 234-206-0946.

Julie Jones

Mental Performance Coach

SSB Performance • 234-206-0946

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