By Suzanne Wilson
On January 15, our radio station aired an interview between our own Maria Martin and Rob Kanzer. If his name sounds familiar, it’s because you can hear Rob every Tuesday on the Talking Information Center. As with all of our amazing readers, Rob brings to us a life rich with experience and overflowing with wisdom.
Now 58 years old, Rob grew up in Weston, MA. He describes his childhood years as a mixture of the idyllic and the difficult: “Healthy, happy, carefree, with two professional, intelligent, loving parents. A neighborhood where there were a gang of kids, where we could play sports and run free.” At the same time, his mother had acute schizophrenia, a mental illness that often prevented her from being available to her children when they needed her. Because of her fragility, Rob learned early on to be a strong communicator and an intermediary between his younger brothers and their father. The fact that his dad was a workaholic ultimately made Rob into what he describes as virtually a surrogate parent, inculcating him with skills that he would later use in his personal and professional life.
Attending the excellent public schools in Weston furnished him with additional tools. The emphasis was on creativity, freedom of expression, excellence in sports and liberal arts. Upon graduating from high school, Rob attended the University of Hartford, majoring in human communication dynamics. “I had a chance to have my own radio program where I interviewed people, and I liked that,” Rob elaborated. “I was also the chairperson of the Video Committee, which meant I could go around campus interviewing people on video, again in this kind of personal style. Also, there was a television program where I got to host, interview, talk and listen. So that really, as an undergraduate, shaped me in very fine ways.” Following this enriching experience, Rob obtained a certification in mediation and dispute resolution from the University of Massachusetts.
While these diplomas and credentials were invaluable, they only represented the formal portion of Rob’s education. Equally crucial to his growth as a man and a professional was what he learned outside the classroom—in particular, in 1981 in a bookstore in Cambridge. Captivated by a flyer posted on a telephone pole advertising a seminar in nonviolent communication, Rob went to the weekend workshop. In truth, he found the class to be uncomfortable and difficult in many ways. He ended up thinking “I don’t know if I have the patience to deal with people who are treating me in a way that I think is disrespectful.” A mere few weeks later, however, he found himself using some of the very techniques he had learned at the seminar. Much to his surprise, these strategies helped to resolve a difficult conflict he was having with a housemate. Indeed, they made such a pivotal difference that he began sharing the skills he had learned in that bookstore. In fact, he launched a business as a result.
Some of his first clients were Vietnam veterans at an outreach center in Cambridge. He taught them the basics of compassionate communication, skills that could help them overcome the obstacles that challenged them after returning from their devastating experiences in Southeast Asia. Slowly but surely, Rob’s seminar business began to flower.
Then, life threw an unexpected surprise his way. Rob learned that he would soon be a father, with all of the financial realities that parenthood entails. After taking a cold, hard look at his situation, Rob realized that he would need to find a job that brought in a steady paycheck. That was when he began delivering newspapers. For weeks, he was ashamed that he, a well-educated and privileged young man from the suburbs, had resorted to a job that didn’t require even a college degree. But then he realized that he was one of the only workers who showed up on time, every day. “I learned . . . amazing lessons when I delivered newspapers which helped me develop a newspaper distribution company in a very short time. With what I had learned, I built my company . . . I had 15 drivers working for me delivering 40 newspapers to five thousand locations in 150 towns in and around Boston, with four managers and a giant warehouse. And I became financially independent. Who knew that I would learn this lesson, turning my shame into appreciation?”
These days, most of Rob’s professional time is spent running his thriving seminar and life coaching business. Whether working with a Fortune 500 company’s corporate team or a family in distress, the foundational principles remain the same: pay attention and listen; honor the individual or group by first getting to know them, with no assumptions. Then reflect back what they are saying to make sure you understand. Finally, model compassionate communication strategies so that students can incorporate them into their own toolkits.
Although it might sound complicated, Rob says that life and business coaching ultimately helps people answer just two questions: How do you feel? And What do you want? In order to guide students on this road, Rob encourages people to get into the habit of asking for help. In addition, he assists them in recognizing their own internal success mechanisms. At his or her best, a coach is a neutral person who works with someone to help create the game or life strategy they want to play.
Now, over three decades after starting on his unique career path, Rob has nothing but good things to say about the experience of being a life and business coach: “I feel absolutely inspired and in debt to all of the thousands of people that I have talked to and not only coached, but also learned from them on how to be more compassionate, how to put into language ways of solving problems that ultimately meet all of our human needs.”
When asked for a final thought he would like to impart to our listeners and readers, Rob’s ready reply rang with conviction: “The way to stay pumped up is to notice how you feel in your body when you feel good. . . The wisdom that you have in your body and in your heart can be like your own coach. It’s with you 100 percent of the time. Some people call this spirit, some call it God, some people call it the body of wisdom. All I do is help you remember to stay in that place.”
Listen to the interview here on YouTube: Click Here