Take it outside: Talk it out and walk it out

two paths mergingI stepped onto the sidewalk with my two mediation clients. It was a beautiful, sunny day in Boston, about 70 degrees, with a very light breeze. It felt great to be outdoors. They thought so, too.

I pointed down the block. “Let’s head in the general direction of Chinatown,” I said as we began to walk. Then I added, with a devilish tone, “And there’s no turning around until something in the conflict really shifts for the two of you.”

They eyed me. “Do you mean that?” one asked. I shrugged. “Maybe so. Better get to work!” Off we went.

We tend to think of negotiation and conflict resolution as sedentary activities that take place around around a table or in clusters of comfortable chairs. We even use the phrases, “coming to the table” and “the negotiation table.”

But some of my best moments as a mediator have been when I’ve been able to get my clients outside and moving. When my husband and I have a difficulty to sort out, we often do it on a hike with the dogs or heading off to the rail trail for a stroll. When my head is muddled, there’s nothing like a run to clear my brain. As I’ve written before, I see nature as a place to find our creativity again.

I’m not alone. Organizations regularly take management teams on retreat to think through thorny problems — and those retreats are often in inspiring, natural locales. Research suggests that rooms with high ceilings help creative thinking. I like to think of the sky as the ultimate high ceiling.

And there’s something about walking along, side by side, facing the future together instead of facing each other in combat, that seems to change a conversation.

Which is exactly what those Boston mediation clients did. They didn’t magically resolve everything on our one-hour walk, but the progress they made set up a highly productive return to the conference room. Said one of them with a smile as we wrapped things up that day, “Thank goodness we made progress on that walk. Otherwise we’d be in Brookline by now!”

Next time you’ve got a dicey negotiation or difficult conversation, take it outside. Don’t just talk it out, walk it out.

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  1. says

    Love this, Tammy. A perfect post, in response to how much time many of us (self included) spend on our behinds. I’ve recently read a couple other things by people who talk about the benefits they’ve experienced via standing up to work; e.g., at a computer screen, and am thinking I need to do a bit of that, too. Working standing up (which you and your clients were doing) speaks to me of our original design, as moving creatures, using our whole body.

    • Tammy Lenski says

      Great point, Ben. It’s funny you raise this. About two months ago I started standing up while working on the computer for at least 30 minutes for every hour I’m sitting down. At first it was kind of uncomfortable, but now I’m loving it! Do you work standing up at all when you’re not with clients?

      • says

        Once in a blue moon I do, Tammy. And funny enough I like the feeling of it, too. I’m encouraged to hear that you do it… that’s great incentive for me to get my (standing up) act in gear. :)

  2. says

    Tammy thank you for sharing this story. On occassian I have taken my Seattle Mediation clients for walks. The fresh air and physical change of moving from inside to outdoors can have a transformative and positive effect on clients. Thanks for sharing!

  3. says

    Loved your story. I heard a talk by someone who used movement and dance at times in their conflict resolution, but that was only inside the room. What a creative idea to add to my conflict resolution toolkit! Thanks, Tammy!

    • Tammy Lenski says

      Hey, Lorraine, great to hear from you! You’re most welcome and I hope life is good in CA.

  4. says

    I just heard an NPR Fresh Air interview with the author, Johan Lehrer, of “Imagine”. http://www.amazon.com/Imagine-Creativity-Works-Jonah-Lehrer/dp/0547386079/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1335901294&sr=1-1
    He says walking helps creativity and to unblock your stuck moments. I couldn’t agree more. Taking long walks has relaxed me, helped me to brainstorm ideas and to make some major life decisions. I’ve never tried to mediate while on a walk, but it’s not too late.