Walking meetings and coaching outdoors


Published by Dave Palfreyman on 3 Jan 2021

We do it all the time don't we, pick a nice quiet room to meet in, hopefully with no distractions or interruptions. Unfortunately, low stimulus environments are just that… low on stimuli and not conducive to creative thinking. Is there an alternative?

There is something to be said for coaching in the great outdoors. Noisy crowded streets where it’s difficult to have a conversation may not be the best option, but if you can find a place where you can talk freely and be heard then why not? Is there a park or a square close by you can walk to or a gentle circular walk you can do?

The air is fresh – well fresher – it’s not recycled or conditioned to within an inch of its life, neither is it musty or stale. Those new smells you notice stimulate thoughts and memories which in turn activate parts of the brain and can lead to new thoughts and ideas.

Research from the British Medical Council tells us that we take on board more oxygen when we are stood than when we sit. You don’t need to be a scientist to know that physical movement gets our muscles moving, increases our metabolic rate and pumps more blood and oxygen around the body, and more importantly to the brain, and it improves our overall well being. Being outdoors offers more visual and olfactory (smelling) stimuli that trigger memories, thoughts and options. This works equally for the coach or manager as it does for the client. A study from Stanford University highlighted a huge 60% increase of creative ideas on average when walking. This is called divergent thinking and great for being solution focused. They did suggest a note of caution however, where we need convergent thinking process, i.e. where you are trying to negotiate a single agreement, they often took longer to reach when walking.

Steve Jobs – the Apple guy – loved to hold walking meetings with his staff or a potential new business partner and with good reason, the University of Hong Kong identified that when walking together, we quickly fall in sync with each other which increases the building of bonds and improved rapport with others – have you ever noticed how quickly you found yourself falling in to step with the person walking beside you? All these physiological feelings that happen at an unconscious level are feeding into the psychological feeling of movement and can suggest a sense of direction and progress towards the intended outcome.

So what are you waiting for? Coaches and managers – be more like Jobs and consider taking your client for a walk. But maybe not when it’s raining… obvs!

References:

Katz, S., Arish, N., Rokach, A. et al. The effect of body position on pulmonary function: a systematic review. BMC Pulm Med 18, 159 (2018)

Oppezzo, M., & Schwartz, D. L. (2014). Give your ideas some legs: The positive effect of walking on creative thinking. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 40(4), 1142–1152 Stanford University press.

Cheng M, Kato M, Saunders JA, Tseng C-h (2020) Paired walkers with better first impression synchronize better. PLoS ONE 15(2): e0227880. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0227880

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