These boots were made for talking

This week’s guest blog is by Helena Clayton.

This week a client, Tom, and I had a meeting. Given where we were working (a place with lovely grounds, close to the gorgeous St Leonard’s Forest in East Sussex), the mild weather and the fact that Tom had some walking boots in his car, I suggested we do something different and have our meeting while strolling in the forest.

We set off, my client somewhat nervous as he knew there were some tricky things we needed to chat through. How would that work without a table, paper and pen to jot down our pearls of wisdom? It was disconcerting for him to leave behind the comforting constraints of indoor work, but without them our meeting was transformed for the better.

I have come to trust in walking to help with having some great and sometimes difficult conversations. Walking alongside someone, rather than being eyeball-to-eyeball, I find I have courage to ask questions that I might otherwise bottle, maybe because I’m nervous about being too direct.

I’ve found the natural pace of walking – striding ahead one minute, the next pausing to navigate a muddy puddle or chat for a few minutes with a dog walker – supports a more natural conversational flow and reminds us that we are two human beings rather than two ‘Heads of Procurement’ (or whatever). Our conversation and walk progressed together, each improving and shaping the other.

At one point, Tom suggested we get off the path and bust through some scrub to go back a different way. Not only did we laugh about the fact that he seemed less worried about the environment now, we also had an interesting (and productive) conversation about how our joint project might benefit from going ‘off piste’.

A mountain, local park or even a seemingly ordinary town centre can be much more than a setting, it can be a defining force in your conversation: for us, the last of the autumn colours provided a glorious backdrop and we turned to each other again and again to say “wow.” We created shared memories that I know will stand our relationship in good stead for the future.

Neither of us knew whether we’d lost any pearls of wisdom without our pens and paper. What we did know was that we had a great meeting, and would be doing it again soon. Take a conversation for a walk, and who knows where you might find yourself?

Helena Clayton is Director of Executive & Leadership Development Programmes with Fresh Air Learning. A former director of an international management development consultancy, she is now a coach, facilitator and consultant to leaders and top teams across the public and private sectors. Her qualifications include an MA in Leadership and Learning and a Post Graduate Diploma in Consulting.