Author Archives: Rob Kendall

How 2 Seconds Can Save Your Relationship

Whether we like it or not, most of our decisions are made at a subliminal level. Advertising companies understand and exploit this on a daily basis. For example, a study of supermarket shoppers found that 77% of wine purchased was French when French music was playing over the loud speaker. When the music was switched to German, 73% of the wine bought was German. It’s an uncomfortable truth that our subconscious brain determines the vast majority of our behaviours.

Perhaps no real harm is done in the supermarket example, but the damage can be more lasting in our relationships. Our brain is wired to adopt a ‘better safe than sorry’ approach, meaning that it assumes a defensive posture without consulting our conscious mind. Before we know it – literally –  we feel a flush of irritation, snap at our partner, or interrupt them mid-sentence with a well-aimed ‘Yes, but…’

Once the process of escalation starts, the body clicks into well-rehearsed routine. Emotions rise in intensity, a rush of chemicals are distributed in preparation for a confrontation, and our speech accelerates in speed and volume. If we don’t make a conscious decision to change track we find ourselves, in a matter of seconds, in a destructive blamestorming conversation. And words can hurt. They are like seeds that land in the heart.

So, what can we do to keep our centre of gravity? In 25 years of study, I’ve found that one of the most effective habits for regulating the flow of healthy dialogue is to manage the process of turn-taking, by which we pass the baton between speaker and listener.

Turn-taking may seem absurdly simple. After all, what can be complicated about the idea that one person speaks and then the other person speaks? In fact, the dynamics of turn-taking – the product of 50,000 years of language development – are more finely tuned and gloriously constructed than the gears and springs of a Swiss watch. For example, do you know that your voice goes through a slight change in pitch whenever you’re nearing the end of your speaking turn? Or that you provide subtle eye signals that are picked up by the listener at a subliminal level? This is repeated each and every time the speaker switches.

Because turn-taking operates in the background of our thinking, we don’t give it the conscious attention it deserves. Besides, in our world of stress and time scarcity, even a split second gap between speaker and listener can feel like a luxury. Winston Churchill summed up the prevailing attitude pretty well when he said, ‘Stop interrupting me while I’m interrupting you.’ As we adopt the mindset that the only way to get heard is by shouting our opinions through a wall of noise, it’s little wonder employees say that at least a third of work meetings are a waste of time and that political debate is a busted flush.

Here are two habits you can experiment with in every conversation:

  1. Observe the dynamics of turn-taking. For example, notice how you abandon the sacred gap between speaking and listening when emotions start to rise. Since the beauty of ‘noticing’ is that it introduces choice, try allowing the other speaker to finish what they’re saying without interruption and wait for two seconds before you reply. This isn’t easy, because our urge to interrupt can feel overwhelming, but neither is it impossible. Introducing a pause between speakers creates a space for thinking and perspective-taking, and allows people to feel heard. The more strongly you disagree, the more important the pause becomes.
  2. Jointly agree that you’ll respect the value of turn-taking with your colleagues, family and partner. Jony Ive’s creative meetings at Apple are famous for long periods of silence, allowing time for people to think. Such pauses are only possible if people feel confident that they’ll get their opportunity to speak, which makes it easier to listen. Demonstrating the importance of turn-taking can be hardest with the people we love the most, which makes it all the more necessary.

Turn-taking is an ancient practice, built on time-honoured values of respect and reciprocity. In a world in which outrage is all the rage, the health of our relationships may depend on it.



Bögels et al., Neural signatures of response planning, Scientific Reports, 2015.

De Ruiter et al., Projecting the End of a Speaker’s Turn, Linguistic Society of America, 2005.

Holler et al., Turn-Taking in Human Communicative Interaction, Frontiers in Psychology, 2015.

How Well Do You Know What Motivates You?

Simple steps to fulfilling your potential

Over the last 20 years, I’ve asked thousands of people what motivates them and the reply – more often than not – is surprisingly vague. I find this curious because understanding motivations is a requirement for anyone who wants to be fulfilled and effective in their professional and personal life.

Take the example of Ravi who ran one of the most successful business units in his organization. His team’s sales figures were at a record high but he wanted to leave his job, and he couldn’t understand why. He thought he may be burnt out or depressed, but as we reviewed the times in his career when he’d been most passionate about his work, a different picture emerged. Ravi’s most fulfilling roles had always involved solving technical challenges and yet he was now expected to focus all his time and energy on managing others.

As we looked further, there was more. Ravi was well paid in his current role and grateful for the personal benefits this brought, but he didn’t find the money particularly satisfying. When he looked back through his working life, he realized that feeling appreciated was worth more to him than financial gain. I hardly needed to ask if he felt thanked by his boss – the answer was no. The picture became clearer still when Ravi identified that, whenever he wasn’t learning new skills, he’d always wanted to move on to a new job. And yet, in his current role, he could deliver his targets with his eyes closed.

We’re not all the same

So, in a matter of minutes, it became clear that three of Ravi’s top motivations were technical challenges, being thanked for his work and learning new skills, none of which were being met in his job. Somehow this hadn’t been fully evident to him, and his manager was certainly oblivious to it, because they’d never talked about it.

The first thing to recognize is that other people’s motivations may be very different to yours. Your top motivation may be the success of your team, while the person at the desk next to you thrives on independence. You may love variety and constant change, but your partner longs for stability and structure. You may be motivated by internal recognition – based on your personal assessment of whether you’ve done a good job – while your teenager desperately wants external recognition.

So how can you get a handle on motivations?

STEP 1: Figure out your own motivations

      • Think about the times when you’ve been highly motivated and the times when you’ve felt most demoralized. These will both point you to the same set of motivations. For example, in the jobs I’ve loved, I’ve experienced a sense of freedom. In the ones I hated, I felt trapped and suffocated, which is an absence of freedom. You can discover your motivations by reviewing the bad times as well as the good ones.
      • Now conduct a personal experiment. As you go through your week, notice what’s motivating and demotivating you. If you come home and say you’ve had a good day, why was it good? Just as important, what made your day bad? You may think it’s just because ‘stuff happened’ or ‘stuff didn’t happen’, but there’s usually a link to motivations.
      • Create a list of motivations and then rank them in order of priority. This is a subjective process. For example, here is my list of motivations when I’m at work:
      1. Having a sense of freedom
      2. Taking on impossible challenges
      3. Working in partnership with people I trust and respect
      4. Feeling that my contribution is making a difference
      5. Expressing my creative spirit
      6. Being fully in communication with others
      7. Feeling trusted, valued and acknowledged
      8. Having variety in my work
      9. Learning new skills that stretch me
      10. Being competitive and winning.

When my motivations are being met, I love every minute of my work. When they’re not, I get itchy feet or I become miserable. Now I understand what to look for. If I can’t see a big challenge, or don’t feel able to make a difference, I know I’ll be better off going elsewhere. If there isn’t room for my creative expression, I’ll feel constrained and frustrated.

      • Test your list as you go about your everyday life. While it may change slightly according to your life circumstances, many of our motivations remain remarkably stable over time.

STEP 2: Ask people about their motivations

      • If you manage a team, schedule time with each person and follow the same process of identifying when they’ve been motivated and demotivated; you’ll learn so much about them. If Ravi’s boss had taken the time to do this, he could have prevented a situation where Ravi walked out of the door with 30 years of experience.
      • You can do the same exercise as a parent. My teenage son has little interest in academic studies but loves social interaction, wants to feel stimulated by a subject, and enjoys variety. This gives a huge clue to how he learns best. When he has an exam, his revision is more motivating and productive when he conducts it as a conversation with a friend or family member, and when he switches regularly between topics. When we remember to set it up this way, he’s more motivated to study. This approach beats moralistic lectures and nagging complaints, which will only be met with grudging compliance or outright resistance.

STEP 3: Talk about motivations

      • It’s not enough to notice motivations: what’s important is to discuss them. If you manage people, make sure your one-to-one meetings aren’t just about goals and objectives. For example, if you know that one of your team members is highly motivated by career progression, make sure you periodically review the route-map to a promotion. And if you can’t see opportunities for them to progress soon, be aware that they may leave if a better offer comes up.
      • Rather than waiting for your manager to instigate a conversation about motivations, tell your manager what you need from them. They’re not mind readers, so you need to tell them how you operate at your best. The same is true in your relationships and with your family.

There won’t always be a perfect fit between your motivations and the situation you find yourself in, but if you understand how you operate at your best, and discuss this with the people around you, you have a better chance of creating the circumstances that match your motivations. What’s more, if you understand other people’s motivations, you can help them fly.

See here for the original article, first published on the Psychology Today website. 

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