This One Change Can Have Many Benefits, Including Reduced Conflict

On Sunday afternoon, my son and I walked on the Chessie Trail near our home in Rockbridge County, Virginia. It was a crisp, sunny, perfect spring day.

We talked about many things, including his studying for the MCAT and his plans to apply to medical school.

Our time spent together walking and talking helps me to focus and concentrate on the conversation. I’m not distracted, which helps me fully engage and be more effective as a listener, sounding board, supporter, and cheerleader. (We also have an opportunity for meaningful conversations when he occasionally gives me a lift to the airport.) 

It occurred to me this morning that when my husband and I were dating, we spent a lot of time walking together and talking. We still do, and it’s been a boon to our relationship from infancy to its present maturity.

Research supports the benefits of walking and talking for individuals, couples, and groups. Engaging in these dual activities in nature helps reduce burnout and stress, supports better mental health, and augments feelings of general well-being. Mental health professionals are increasingly using these practices as an alternative to traditional in-office therapy. Walking and talking boosts our creativity and makes us more innovative and better problem solvers; some of the world’s most famous business executives employ “walking meetings” as a regular business strategy.

Perhaps, most important of all, walking and talking can reduce conflict. Human psychology is complex, but in simplest terms, walking side-by-side puts us on the same side of the table. We are looking at the same things and the same horizon; finding a mutual point of view is easier. In our personal and professional lives, reduced conflict offers so many benefits that it would be impossible to enumerate them here. Again, engaging in this activity outdoors is an important part of the equation

Give this a trial run with your family, friends, or team during a lunch meeting or while on an offsite; pair your people up for walk-and-talks. Provide a 15–20-minute timeframe for the activity. If you want to, you can give them something specific to discuss, the same subject for every pair, or maybe different topics. Or just give them an opportunity to talk. We have found it beneficial with our team, in our coaching, and off-site. Put people side-by-side rather than head-on; they are more relaxed, less defensive, and more open listeners. It stimulates relationship-building oxytocin; add the benefits of the serotonin-stimulating great outdoors and fresh air and you have a formula for individuals to connect, be heard, and feel seen.

Spring is arriving, even in the most winter weather-stressed corners of the northern hemisphere; in the south, the summer heat is giving way to more moderate temperatures. It’s a great time to get outside and see the bigger picture with someone you value as a companion or collaborator.

This week’s podcast is with Kute Blackson. We talk about the idea of surrender; he’s the author of The Magic of Surrender: Finding the Courage to Let Go. He doesn’t mean surrender in the sense of succumbing but being willing to be with what is.

He encourages us to stop thinking and talking about what we think should be the circumstances or what we wish they were. (I regularly speak about disruption Accelerant #4: Examine Your Expectations and how we need to watch when the word “should” creeps into our vocabulary.) Kute is a gifted storyteller; his life feels fantastical, and is fascinating.

As always, thanks for being here!

My best,

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