talkhealth meets... Rob Kendall


Constructive and effective conversations are key to better mental health, relationships and personal development. 

Rob Kendall is an award-winning author, and his latest book Watch Your Language: Why Conversations Go Wrong and How to Fix Them uncovers the importance of effective conversation throughout your life. 

In this Q&A, Rob uncovers how his career shifted from art to conversation consultancy, the importance of listening, and more.

 

How have you come to specialise in effective conversation?

I grew up in a loving family, and my parents were nothing less than extraordinary. At the same time, they were a product of their generation, and we didn’t talk much about our deepest fears or our longings for the future. When I became an adult, I realised that communication is the lifeblood of our relationships and this began to shape my career path. 

How did you make the shift from the creative industry to your current career path?

My first career was as a professional artist, and the link between art and communication may not seem immediately obvious. However, I take the view that communication is a creative process - we literally invent our future one conversation at a time. Seen from this perspective, every interaction is filled with potential and possibility. My career path evolved over many years but the transition didn’t ever feel incongruous. 

How did your past experiences inform your knowledge of good conversation practice?

In my view, the key to developing our expertise in conversation is twofold. The first is to start observing conversations, instead of just participating in them. And the second is to have the attitude of a learner. In this way, every interaction can teach us something. I’ve learned from conversations that went spectacularly well, but I’ve learned even much more from the experiences that went spectacularly badly. The important thing is to extract the learning. 

What makes a good conversation?

A conversation is defined in the dictionary as ‘an exchange of news or information between two or more people'. The key word in this definition is ‘exchange’. Regardless of the context, a good conversation includes an appropriate balance of speaking and listening and leaves people feeling known, valued and heard. 

Do the strategies for good conversations change between conversations taking place at work and personally? How?

Strategies for effective conversation can be used in every domain of our lives, even though the context changes from one domain to the next. For example, learning how to prevent interactions from escalating into arguments, or learning to decode the subtext behind what someone is saying, is relevant to all of our relationships. My book Watch Your Language takes a whole-life approach. 

Why are conversation skills so important for people in positions of power? 

The more powerful your position, the more impact your words have. For the person in a position of power, an impromptu interaction may be forgotten by the end of the day. But, for the person on the receiving end of that interaction, it may leave an indelible imprint. We all have a responsibility to choose our words with care, and this is especially true if we wield considerable influence over the lives of others. 

What are your top three tips for effective conversation?

  1. Remember that listening can be more powerful than speaking. Keeping this in mind means we don’t need the perfect thing to say in any given moment. Conversations are effective when people feel that we’re trying to understand their world. 
  2. When conversations become heated, press the pause button. Stepping away, even for a minute or two, allows us to think about how we want to respond instead of falling victim to knee-jerk reactions. 
  3. Understand the warning lights that indicate a conversation is about to go wrong. I explore this in Watch Your Language, and it saves the angst of clearing up the mess after a conversation’s gone off the rails. 

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Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 1 March 2024
Next review: 1 March 2027