The Bonding Cycle

The story of every relationship can be represented as the graphic shown below. The first three steps are easy to understand: they are like the birth, life and death of a relationship. Nevertheless, the final step, the grief, is less known by most people. After the end of any relationship, and in order to go on with new attachments, it is necessary to fulfill a proper grieving. Whenever we fail in achieving new relationships, we should ask ourselves whether we passed over any bonding with a proper period of grieving. Grieving is not only about crying over whatever we lost: it is a much more complex, but positive, process.

Why is it important in our daily job?

A simple answer might be that we cannot completely separate our job from our personal life. Anything that affects one of these fields has its influence on the others. Our own experience shows us how a problem in our workplace most times backfires at home. And problems at home undermine our productivity: it gets difficult to keep our minds focused.

This might seem to be a problem, but the good news is that we are just humans. It is precisely the capacity to be engaged with others that is one of the most gratifying characteristics of human hearts. The experience of personal problems affecting our behavior means that we are able to build bonds.

The capacity to build bonds with the people surrounding us makes the difference between a results-based leadership and a person-centered leadership. A highly productive leader might be unsuccessful because of a lack of bonding. Although many sample studies can prove this point, our intuition and experience are better guides in this matter: when we are getting a new job, one of the most important points to consider is the environment; how do the people working there seem, etc. On the other side, when we interview a candidate, as important as the academic background are the personal skills. In other words: would one like to work with that person?

Constructive relationships lead to a high-performing organization: “The capacity to develop close and enduring relationships is one mark of a leader. Unfortunately, many leaders of major companies believe their job is to create the strategy, organization structure and organizational processes. Then they just delegate the work to be done, remaining aloof from the people doing the job.” (Bill George, Authentic Leadership). Attachment behavior biologically activates many hormones in the body and provides us with a sense of comfort. The act of bonding involves all aspects of a person: body, mind, emotions and spirit. Seeking harmony in our lives must count on such a unifying behavior.

So, what keeps us from bonding? Most of the times there is a lack of grieving for a broken relationship. Sometimes we might not even be aware of that lack of grieving: that is why we need a profound reflection of our own life; that is why what we considered a problem (that difficulty for bonding) plays a necessary role of warning. Just as the pain alerts us of an injury, being unattached warns us of an unsolved separation.

Attachment and bonding

As science has many times proved, all mammals have a basic need to seek proximity. We are a walking pharmacy that is activated by proximity with other beings or things that are important to us. Bonding is all about how we hold the proximity and how we give and take emotional energy when we are in the state of attachment.

This is the main reason why we need to develop rich relationships, in order to fulfill a good life (and good job results too). If completely developed, our social self provides us with outstanding skills, applicable in many aspects of our jobs. We will have the capacity to be fully engaged in our tasks, with our teammates, etc. And it has also been proven (and we have surely experienced it in ourselves) that when people are bonded, they feel no fear; in fact, fear can be a manifestation of broken bonding.

On the contrary, when people are detached they are not engaged in what they are doing. And a lack of engagement can have serious consequences for a leader and an organization. This is a quite normal phenomenon: according to a thirty-year study driven by an organization named Gallup, in the best scoring country in the motivational field, only 30% of workers declared to be engaged in their jobs; that means at least 70% of workers did not feel emotionally attached with their tasks.

Separation and grief

After bonding always comes separation. It doesn’t have to be a total separation: in any relationship changes, disappointments or any kind of separation comes. Well handled through grieving, we can rebound in a richer relationship with the same person. The main point here is that we all need to pass through a proper grieving stage in order to open our hearts to new (or renewed) attachments. If not, we become hostages of badly handled separations.



  • KOHLRIESER, George. Hostage at the table.