Picture this: You and your romantic partner are struggling, struggling to communicate, struggling with thoughts and feelings, you are in stalemate, stuck things just won't move. Your attempts to sit down and talk things out have gone nowhere. How about you suggest taking a walk together?
As you stroll along side by side, you feel some of the tension begin to fall away. Without even thinking about it, the two of you begin to match each other's stride. As you start talking through your issues, your thoughts suddenly seem to be more in step as well.
Just a few hours ago, your efforts to end the conflict were at a standstill. Now, you’re finally moving toward a resolution.
This scenario has played out many times in my walk and talk sessions. In my experience: When you’re walking with someone, you just feel like your forward momentum is not purely physical, but also psychological, emotional and also spiritual when it's supported in nature. You begin to feel more connected to yourself, your environment and feel safe and then can connect to your partner.
Moving forward together.
In nature the descriptive language we use for mental states can be revealing, metaphor is abundant in how nature operates. In the case of a stubborn conflict, it’s often likened to a barrier to movement. We talk about “feeling stuck,” “not budging,” and “being at a standstill." Conversely, the resolution of conflict is often likened to forward movement. We talk about “moving on, “putting it behind us,” and “getting past” a disagreement.
Evidence suggests that these common expressions give rise to an important insight: When you’re mired in conflict with someone, going for a walk together may help the two of you get unstuck and make progress toward resolving your differences.
Walking shoulder to shoulder.
One advantage of going for a walk — as opposed to, say, sitting across a table from one another — is that you’re standing side by side. You’re facing the world together, and I think this position helps put people in a cooperative mindset. On the coast path there can be obstacles and challenges that you help each other through, facing limitations and fears.
Interestingly, that observation has also worked its way into our language. There are phrases like “shoulder to shoulder” as “united together to achieve a shared goal.” By comparison, face-to-face negotiation often takes on a much more confrontational tone, and langue of “toe-to-toe” as “slugging it out at or as if at close range.”
Feeling in step.
Studies show that people walking side by side naturally tend to synchronise their movements. When we are relaxed and in alignment we mirror each others movements and this crates a space of alikeness and safety.
Much research indicates that this kind of bodily synchrony can lead to more emotional or cognitive synchrony,” Specifically, coordinating movements with someone else may promote feeling more connected and motivated to help, as well as liking the other person more. These feelings, in turn, set the stage for greater cooperation.
Now we’re getting somewhere.
Walking has been linked to divergent thinking — creative thinking that solves a problem by generating multiple solutions and coming up with novel ideas. In one study, volunteers performed creative tasks while either standing in place, walking in a set pattern, or walking freely. Walking promoted divergent thinking better than standing still — and free walking was more effective than following a predetermined path.
Divergent thinking may help you and your walking partner come up with fresh ideas for resolving your conflict. At the same time, walking also helps increase positive feelings and decrease stress — two more ways it creates a mindset that’s conducive to getting along.
Tips for walking and talking.
Take the first step by asking the other person to join you for a walk. If your invitation is accepted, you’re already making progress. The person has agreed to do something together that’s outside the conflict,” Webb says. This reinvokes the sense that you’re still a team.” Pick a location where the two of you can walk in nature, if possible. You’ll have more privacy and less distraction. Plus, there’s evidence that simply being out in nature encourages a more positive interaction. Keep the pace slow enough to allow for easy conversation. You can get your cardio workout another time. Webb says, “If you were running, you might be out of breath and physically exhausted. If you were dancing, you might need to concentrate on the next move. Walking is a really practical thing to do when you want to talk things out.” Don’t hesitate to walk in companionable silence, however, if that seems more comfortable. Many benefits of walking aren’t necessarily about the exchange of language, but also about getting back in sync with one another, so just walking along side by side can be really beneficial.
Having a therapist who can guide the terrain in the environment and location as well as the internal mappings is hopefully like having the best satellite navigation system you can.
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