The power of walking and talking

Six months into our life in Portugal, my husband and I were out walking, chatting as we strode up and down the steep hill in our corner of Lisbon – we paused to reflect on how things are going.  It’s been a rollercoaster ride so far, as one would expect with a change of country.  Not knowing the language, how things work and a significant change in culture and pace has been at time stressful.  But it was most reassuring to realise that after the first six months, one thing is for sure – we never intend to move back to the crazy, cold, rainy, Brexit-obsessed life in London.

Recently, in order to create time with each other, and increase our physical activity, we decided to spend an hour every day walking in this great city.  It’s pretty hilly, so even at a moderate pace, it’s a decent low impact workout.  But more than that, when you’re walking, it gives you chance to talk.  It’s something many of us at home (and at work) don’t do enough of – because we are busy, or off to gym to wear headphones and sit on an exercise bike for an hour, or because the kids need picking up from after school club.  But talking is really important.  It allows people to exchange ideas, re-align, correct mis-understanding, give reassurance, set expectations.  I always try and do walking 1-2-1 meetings with my direct reports at work for the same reason.  Sitting in a meeting room, or sitting in your lounge with your significant other doesn’t seem to create quite the same vibe.

For me, there’s a number of reasons that walking and talking are so productive.  Firstly, you are not facing each other – walk and talk is not as confrontational as a face to face scenario.  It allows a little more frankness, without the discomfort of eye contact.  Secondly, part of your brain is focused on what’s ahead of you (avoiding cracking in the pavement or other people, for example.)  This more relaxed state seems to encourage greater openness in the conversation you have.  Finally, as you are walking, not just sitting, more oxygen is being pumped around the body, so a greater sense of energy is created.   I for one have had much better ideas whilst walking than sitting!

As my husband and I walked and talked, we realised that we’ve actually achieved a heck of a lot over six months – we’re probably still setting very high goals for ourselves, without pausing as reflecting on how much we’ve done so far.  It felt really good to reign in the “London mindset”, and instead let the “inner child” run free, imagining new and bold possibilities based on what we’d discovered so far about life in Portugal.

And it can and should be the same at work.  making physical time to move away from our desks and talk to colleagues who matter in our day to day jobs (peers, direct reports, our boss) can help create bonds, re-build bridges, express tricky challenges and share common aspirations.  It literally create a positive sense of wellbeing – the physical movement coupled with the sense of  engaging others, leading to a shared smile, a lightness in your step and an overall feeling of accomplishment.  It’s a really simple thing to do, but if you’re based in the same place as your colleagues, why wouldn’t you walk and talk?  Strap on a pedometer (there are plenty of apps for mobiles if you don’t have a physical device) and see how far you get, and how much stronger your work relationship can become from simply escaping the confines of the office to walk and talk!

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