Author Archives: Rob Kendall

How to Find Happiness Where You Least Expect It

Many years ago, I worked with a remarkable man who’d spent 20 years as a monk before getting married, starting a family and becoming a brilliant educator. He was making a brief stop in the UK and I had the afternoon free, so I took him to Hampton Court Palace near London.

I imagined that we’d go round the palace, but he seemed more interested in the garden, so we walked round that instead. I set out at my normal walking pace, which was almost a jog, but he wasn’t in such a rush. He asked me when the blossoms came out, and although the same trees were on my street, I couldn’t remember because I always dashed past them. He inquired into the history of Hampton Court; I knew King Henry VIII had lived there but couldn’t recall anything else. He was aware that I’d been a professional artist and he stopped to ask me about the correct name for a particular shade of red on one of the flowers. I said I had no idea. He must have got a little exasperated at this point because he turned to me and said, in a gentle way, “Do you notice anything?”

His words stung, but they highlighted an uncomfortable truth: that I lived in a cloud of distraction and missed out on experiencing what was in front of me. As Leonardo da Vinci is claimed to have said, “An average human looks without seeing, listens without hearing, touches without feeling, eats without tasting, moves without physical awareness, inhales without awareness of odor or fragrance, and talks without thinking.”

Living in a state of distraction inevitably leads to shallower relationships and reduced effectiveness, but a study conducted by Harvard University psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Dan Gilbert revealed that we pay a price in happiness too. They used an iPhone application to gather data from 2,250 participants, aged 18 to 88, on subjects’ thoughts, feelings, and actions as they went about their daily lives. They concluded that people spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing. The punchline was this: people were less happy when their minds were wandering than when they were not.

The challenge of being present isn’t helped by the fact that our attention span is shortening. For example, researchers at the University of California tracked the average time people spent looking at a computer screen before moving their attention to another window. In 2004 the average time was three minutes. By 2012 this had dropped to one minute and 15 seconds and in 2014 it broke the one-minute barrier, averaging 59.5 seconds. The issue with switching attention is that it exacerbates our tendency to bring thoughts and emotions from the last task or conversation into the new one, which in turn erodes our ability to engage in the present moment. Sophie Leroy, a business school professor at the University of Minnesota, refers to this phenomenon as attention residue. It’s the same challenge faced by a professional tennis player whose game suffers because she gets caught up in thinking about the volley she missed in the last game rather than playing the point in front of her. Equally, we rob ourselves of experiencing the present moment when we are engaged in anticipatory rumination; on these occasions, we are too busy thinking about a future moment to experience the present one.

The good news is that small changes in our habits can make a demonstrable difference.

  1. Start to notice how little you notice. Improving the quality of our attention starts with observing it. While it’s impossible to always give people your undivided attention, you can notice when your attention drifts away and then bring it back to the person you’re speaking to. This takes discipline and practice but begins to turn the habit of being distracted into a habit of being present.
  2. Practice switching on and switching off. The correlation between preoccupation and unhappiness makes good sense when we consider the converse: that simple activities can be a source of great joy when we become absorbed in them. The following practice will help. When you begin a task or conversation, imagine that you’re turning off a switch that relates to the last thing you were doing and turning on a switch that relates to the new one. Sports professionals use the same prompt to remind them to stay in the present. Before moving to your next activity, you’ll need to switch off again, before repeating the process again. You can practice this countless times each day; each time you do so, you are strengthening the mental boundary between tasks and improving the quality of your attention.
  3. Go deeper. Interruptions are a part of life, but this doesn’t stop us scheduling uninterrupted time, during which we put our phone away and stop checking our emails. During these activities, focus entirely on what you’re doing, expecting to be nowhere else. Being absorbed is both productive and healthy.

As neuroscientist Moshe Bar puts it, “Except when you are flying an F-16 aircraft or experiencing extreme fear or having an orgasm, your life leaves too much room for your mind to wander. As a result, only a small fraction of your mental capacity remains engaged in what is before it, and mind-wandering and ruminations become a tax on the quality of your life.”

Thankfully, the route to being happier may lie directly under our nose.

 

References:

Moshe Bar, ‘Think Less, Think Better’, The New York Times, June 2016.

Steve Bradt, ‘Wandering Mind Not a Happy Mind’, Harvard Gazette, 11 November 2010, news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/11/wandering-mind-not-a-happy-mind

Ian Hardy, ‘Losing Focus: Why Tech is Getting in the Way of Work’, BBC News, 8 May 2015, www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-32628753, based on studies by Professor Gloria Mark, Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences, University of California.

Sophie Leroy, ‘Why is it so hard to do my work? The challenge of attention residue when switching between work tasks’, Science Direct, July 2009. 

How to Manage Your Emotions

The life lesson we should have been taught at school.

We all suffer from emotional overreactions. In the heat of the moment we say something to a person we love without stopping to consider the shockwaves. Or we blast off an email and wonder why we didn’t sleep on it before pressing ‘Send’. Our emotions spill over and, by the time they recede, the damage is done.

There’s no denying that this kind of behavior is on the rise. In the public domain, barely a day passes without newspapers splashing the story that a comment, tweet or email has caused an uproar. Demands are made for heads to roll, and responses range from retractions (‘I apologise unreservedly for my lack of judgement …’) to defiance (‘This is a ridiculous case of political correctness…’). And then the next story breaks.

The converse situation is that we feel gripped by fear or anxiety and fail to seize the moment to speak up or act according to our values. The consequences of freezing can be just as deleterious, and sometimes more so, than overreacting. Either way, managing our emotions is a tricky business.

When we look back on these situations our stock explanation is, ‘My emotions got the better of me’. But this raises a serious question: am I in charge of my emotions, or are they in charge of me? Nobody asked me this question at school, or told me the answer. Consequently I stumbled into the adult world with a royal flush of emotions – ranging from joy and excitement to fear and anger – without a manual for how to live with them.

The truth is that we’ve ended up with a tangled mess of advice in this area. Much of the prevailing literature tells us to squash negative emotions and replace them with positive ones. Other experts tell us this is tantamount to putting icing on dog food and calling it cake. So which, if any, is right?

To navigate through this emotional battleground, some important distinctions need to be made:

  1. We cannot turn emotions on and off like a tap. They will come and go whether we like it or not. Once this is clear in your mind, you can stop waiting for unwanted emotions to go away. The idea that we can banish them is unhelpful and doesn’t hold up to scrutiny; they are part-and-parcel of the human experience. Besides, the more we strive to live according to our values and commitments, the more our emotions will rise up to challenge us.
  2. Emotions aren’t positive or negative. The human brain is wired to categorize things as positive or negative, and is particularly alert to threats. This made good evolutionary sense for our ancestors, who learned to react to external threats for the purposes of survival. As humans developed language, we employed the same process of classification to our internal state, including our emotions. Thus we see joy as positive, and therefore welcome, and fear as negative and unwelcome. However, this creates new problems. On the basis that ‘what we resist persists’, suppressing emotions that we perceive to be negative causes them to tighten their grip on us. So what’s the alternative? If we can experience the full range of human emotions without attaching positive and negative labels to them, the result can be hugely liberating. Take Dame Judi Dench as an example, who has won one Oscar, two Golden Globes and 10 BAFTA awards. She says that the more she acts the more frightened she becomes. In contrast to thousands of aspiring performers who are waiting for the day when they’ll overcome their fear, she treats it as a companion rather than an enemy. This is not to say that she finds her fear comfortable, but she makes no attempt to resist it, and therefore it doesn’t define her. ‘I have the fear,’ she says. ‘I wouldn’t be without it.’ Perhaps this is why her on-screen characters brim with humanity.
  3. You are not your emotions. Emotions are, by their very nature, strong. However, it’s important to get clear that you are not your emotions. You are a person with values and commitments who happens to have emotions that are triggered on a regular and ongoing basis. This point might seem semantic, but it isn’t. When we become fused to our emotions – thinking that ‘they’ and ‘we’ are one and the same thing – we are effectively hijacked by them. If you can notice emotions without becoming them, they no longer determine your behaviour.
  4. We always have a choice. A thought or feeling in itself doesn’t prevent you from taking any action. It’s easy to think, ‘I’m frightened and can’t speak’, but this is a trick of the mind. It would be more accurate and authentic to say, ‘I’m frightened and I’m choosing not to speak.’ Being able to observe our emotions – even when they feel overwhelmingly powerful – creates a space in which we can reference our commitments and values. While we cannot always choose our emotions, we can choose our response to them. This gets to the heart of responsibility, and responsibility is probably the closest thing to a superpower that human beings possess.

This blog was published on the Psychology Today website on 14 August 2017. 

Background

The route through my professional life has not been traditional or linear.  I worked with amputees at the age of 18 in India, before completing a degree in English at the University of York and becoming a professional artist with work sold in 24 countries.

I’ve spent the last 25 years studying the art and practice of conversation. During this time I’ve worked with over 70 organizations on five continents, including the 2012 London Olympics, Virgin, the Post Office and BBC Worldwide.

My first book Blamestorming: Why Conversations Go Wrong and How to Fix Them was published by Watkins in September 2014 and is available in 5 languages. The follow-up is Workstorming: Why Conversations at Work Go Wrong and How to Fix Them which was published in September 2016. The techniques referred to in my books have been developed from working with thousands of people, including business leaders, sports professionals and teenagers.

I  am represented by Robert Kirby at United Agents.

I’m a Non-Executive Director at BAFTA and EMMY-winning visual effects company Jellyfish Pictures, based in Soho, London. Have a look at www.jellyfishpictures.co.uk

Clients

Over the last 25 years I have worked with leaders, managers and staff in over 70 organisations on five continents. My job is to support you in delivering on your commitments, without losing yourself in the process.

Areas of focus include:

  • Helping you invent a bold future and strategy for your team or organisation that people are passionate about delivering
  • Developing strong and resilient leadership teams
  • Turning around relationships and projects that are failing
  • Designing bespoke programmes that equip your people to lead and manage in an environment of continual reinvention
  • Individual support for leaders faced with challenging commitments
  • Creating leadership meetings (often globally) that mobilise the commitment of your leaders
  • Working alongside teams who are delivering critical projects that will define your future success

Clients include:

  • Abbott World Marathon Majors
  • Alliance & Leicester
  • American Express
  • AT&T
  • BAA – Heathrow Terminal 5
  • Bank of Cyprus
  • Bank of Ireland
  • BBC Worldwide
  • Bovis Lend Lease
  • BP
  • British Gas
  • BRITs
  • Burberry
  • Chillimint
  • Citi
  • Crossrail (BFK)
  • Direct Valuations
  • Directgov
  • Egg
  • Ferrovial Agroman
  • First Rate Exchange Services
  • FTSE Group
  • Heathrow Airports Ltd
  • HS2 (Fusion project)
  • Jellyfish Pictures
  • Jones Lang Lasalle
  • Kent County Cricket Team
  • Lagan Construction
  • Laing O’Rourke
  • Line Up
  • Liquid Capital
  • Lloyds Register
  • London 2012 Olympics
  • London Marathon
  • Lucent Technologies
  • Manchester Metrolink
  • Mercury Communications
  • Met Office
  • Morrison
  • Mortgage Force
  • Nationwide Platforms
  • Old Mutual Group
  • park run
  • Penna
  • Premier Farnell
  • Prudential Assurance
  • Prudential Banking
  • Saatchi & Saatchi
  • Scholl
  • Scottish Water Solutions
  • Selfridges
  • Shell
  • Skandia
  • smile
  • Société Générale
  • St James’s Place
  • Sweatshop
  • The Institute of Financial Planning
  • The Post Office
  • Unisys
  • Virgin Money
  • Virgo Health
  • Vodafone
  • VOICE
  • Warwick Schools Foundation
  • Zopa
  • Zurich Banking

What people say

“‘Thank you so much for speaking at our Directors Forum. It was informative, inspiring and practical.”
Mike Wilsher – Founder, The Executive Foundation

“As the CEO of 55,000 staff, I have valued Rob’s partnership at defining moments in our history that have helped us shape our view of the future. He knows how to have meaningful conversations that move life instead of talking about life.”
Julian Roberts – Group CEO, Old Mutual Group

“In all the interactions Rob has had with me and my team over a period of many years, the outcomes have been consistently positive. As a result the way the team operates has improved and business performance has been enhanced.”
Gordon Gourlay – Managing Director, First Rate Exchange Services

“The Kent players are desperate to win the title’, said coach Graham Ford who, after last year’s dressing-room ructions, sought professional help to instill the importance of teamwork. It has paid dividends all summer.”
The Sunday Telegraph

“Rob helps teams to identify what really matters and to give the focus required to deliver results. His expertise has been invaluable.”
Kay Eldergill – Executive Head of HR, Met Office

“As an organisation [in the Top 10 in the Great Place to Work Index] we have been working with Rob to run a bespoke ‘Managing for Excellence’ programme for our managers which has provided those fortunate enough to attend with the confidence to work towards being the manager they aspire to be. Rob’s style, experience and insight have been instrumental in the development of our managers.”
Anna Parfitt – HR Director, Virgo Health

“Rob’s contribution has been immensely valuable to me in every aspect of my leadership and business performance at Virgin Money.”
Trevor Field – Marketing Director, Virgin Money

“I’d like to thank you for your personal support for myself, my team and the Post Office. We touch so many communities and customers across the UK and your efforts have helped us to remain relevant and vibrant during challenging times.”
Gary Hockey-Morley – Marketing Director, The Post Office

“Rob’s relaxed, open character combined with his integrity, his capacity to listen and his engaging style makes working with him both effective and enjoyable. Running workshops and programmes to facilitate change is one thing, but inspiring individuals to achieve demonstrable results is another. Rob has helped our leaders understand the challenges they are facing and be more comfortable with ‘living in the gap’. They have responded by collectively driving improved action and performance across a number of key areas in preparation for the London 2012 Olympics. There are many influential people I have experienced in this field over my career and I would rate Rob Kendall as one of the best I have worked with.”
Kevin Furniss – Head of Health, Safety, Environment & Sustainability, London 2012 Olympics

“I have been working with Rob to develop myself, my senior management team and my staff, who work in retail stores across the UK. I cannot praise his style, commitment and methods highly enough. He has engaged people at all levels of my company and has made a real difference to our performance, communication and ability to listen to each other. I have no hesitation in giving him the highest recommendation.”
Hugh Brasher – Managing Director, Sweatshop

“What I found from Rob was practical help and a very ‘no kidding’ approach to problems and issues. There was no fluffy nonsense, no creeping to the boss, no pulling of punches, but we found it easy to be brave because we knew it came from a great commitment to us. His approach allowed us to become more self-reliant.”
Bob Head – Chief Executive Officer, Skandia

“Rob is the most effective transformational coach and team builder I know. He achieves inspiring results that measurably drive team and individual performance and energy.”
Andy Craggs – Human Interests Director, Saatchi & Saatchi

“Rob Kendall was introduced to Premier Farnell through a programme of work on culture change and breakthrough performance. In 1:1 coaching, working with small project teams and indeed working with a group of over 100 senior leaders, Rob has proven to add real value and have impact without bringing the attention on himself. We increasingly use the tools he has introduced throughout the business.”
Matt Toogood – COO, Premier Farnell

“I have been working with Rob as a coach. Specifically I was keen to get coaching support from Rob as Penna was about to go through a period of significant change – with the potential to grow three-fold. Rob’s experience in working with CEOs to take their business to a different level has been inspirational and hugely helpful. Rob has an ability to get you to focus on the key issues to make those giant steps – a focus on what needs to be done. This has been exceptionally helpful in thinking through difficult situations. Rob is an exceptional coach and I would recommend him to any CEO.”
Gary Browning – Chief Executive Officer, Penna

“The feedback from our 150 front-line site supervisors working on the Manchester Metrolink Project showed that the Supervisor Forum you led seemed to touch the spot.”
Bryan Diggins – Project Director, Manchester Metrolink

“Rob’s contribution has been invaluable in assisting our leaders to operate in a manner which enables ambitious business growth.  Rob has a distinctive style and has the ability to unravel even the most complex of scenarios with his understated but insightful techniques.  He is a real professional and knows how to draw the best out of people so that their potential as future leaders is unlocked.  I highly recommend Rob – he is inspirational and every business or individual would benefit from his expertise and guidance.”
Jennifer O’Brien – Group Head of Human Resources, Liquid Capital Group

“Rob has worked with the Laing O’Rourke business since 2009. He has helped design and present our behavioural and leadership programmes to over 1000 of our senior leaders in UK and Australia, and also our annual safety conference. He is a trusted friend of our business, and we have benefitted enormously from his guidance and help. It is always a pleasure to work with Rob.”
Paul Lynchehaun – Director of Health, Safety, Environment & Quality, Laing O’Rourke

“Rob Kendall is the best listener I’ve ever worked with. He coaches people and teams to fulfil their goals not by preaching or dictating but by allowing them to unlock their own doors to greater performance.”
David Fulton – Captain, Kent County Cricket Team

“In 2011 I had been looking to further develop and really inspire our leaders by providing them with a very different health and safety training experience. On numerous occasions and through various contacts within the construction industry Rob Kendall’s name had been recommended to me. It was very clear that Rob had an excellent understanding of our requirements and within a few weeks had developed a bespoke Safety Leadership Programme that was inspiring, powerful and most importantly very practical. Rob and I have now jointly delivered the Safety Leadership Programme to over 200 leaders in UK and Ireland and have received the best post course feedback I have ever had from any previous training. In fact for the first time in my experience we have employees requesting to participate.I could have picked out the feedback from any of the leaders who have completed the programme, but can summarise one of them who said this was probably the best and most educational course he had been on in over 20 years in the industry.”
Bob Hackett – Health, Safety, Quality & Environment Director, Ferrovial Agroman

“I have been reflecting on our time together and we achieved everything I could have hoped for. Thank you very much for your partnership.”
Mark Taylor – Global Head of HR, Burberry

“I have had the pleasure of working with Rob on several occasions across the financial services and media industries.  Rob is one of the finest management development coaches and facilitators.  He is incredibly knowledgeable, understanding and very professional.  The key difference Rob brings is his energy and drive to ensure you get the business results you need for your business.  He takes time to understand all elements of a situation and works with you and your team to drive actions that lead to outstanding results. Once he’s working with you, he doesn’t let you off the hook or settle for just ok results – he’ll always push you and your team to greatness.  I have been lucky enough to have been involved in some ground breaking businesses at which Rob has been instrumental in coaching individuals and teams to take on the impossible.  Rob truly makes a difference.”
Pete Marsden – Chief Technology Director, BBC Worldwide

“Constructing the largest project in Europe (Terminal 5) at the world’s busiest international airport (Heathrow), and delivering on time, on budget, to the highest quality standards and with the best safety record in the UK – seemed impossible to many in the industry.A new team was formed to lead the Buildings scope over arguably the most challenging period of the T5 project. Effective leadership wouldn’t deliver the results – exceptional leadership was needed. Working with the team at Walleczek & Partners, Rob Kendall was identified as one of the best in his field to support the creation of a high performing leadership team.Has the leadership programme delivered? Without question, it has been immensely important to our delivery against our promises and goals. A recent survey confirmed that the leadership of buildings is more focused, has created confidence, is more disciplined in resolving issues and is trusted by suppliers, stakeholders and BAA to deliver Building’s commitments.Rob’s personal style and methodology worked incredibly well and I would have no hesitation in asking for his contribution on my next assignment.”
John Milford – Head of Buildings T5, BAA, Heathrow Terminal 5

“Rob has outstanding expertise in the area of people development. He has worked successfully in designing and delivering a huge programme of work to maximise the potential of our people. His razor-like focus and incisive interventions resolve critical issues and problems. His ability to design and deliver a complex programme has made a huge difference to the capability of our Technology division.”
Darren McKenzie – Chief Technology Officer, Alliance & Leicester

“Thank you for all you have done. Brilliant. Just brilliant!”
Chris Morgan – Director of Health, Safety, Environment & Quality, Morrison

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