Walking in Conversation – Talking Side-by-Side

I was out for a walk with a friend the other day; as we walked and talked my friend said something along the lines of:

“The conversation always flows much better when you are on a walk.”

I agreed wholeheartedly.

There’s a phrase that I use, which is a quote from someone but I don’t know who:

“Women talk face-to-face; men talk side-by-side.”

This isn’t a rule, but more of an axiom that I see playing out regularly. What better way to be side-by-side than to go for a walk.

I’ve led all sorts of walking groups, sometimes the groups are just men. When it’s an exclusively male group they will fall into line two-by-two and the conversation will be contained within the pairings for almost the entirety of the walk. There’s something in this arrangement that men find safe and helps the conversation to flow. I’ve also led groups that are exclusively women (except myself, of course) and they interact in a very different way, but still the conversation flows.

From time to time someone will ask me if they can have a chat about something, whenever this occurs I try to make our meeting include a walk. This is how the meeting normally goes, we meet at a cafe and have a drink during which time we’ll chat, but the conversation won’t go very deep. Once we have finished our drink we’ll start off walking, almost instantaneously the level of conversation will go deeper. The further we walk the deeper the conversation goes.

I’ve been in situations at work where things were getting tense in a meeting room. When I’ve had the opportunity I’ve arranged for a break in the proceedings and encouraged everyone to go out for a walk. The change in conversation as people walk and talk is remarkable. The change of posture dissipates the tension almost immediately, the fresh air lightens the mood considerably, and it all flows together to make for a much better outcome for everyone. There was a time a few years ago when walking meetings were the latest management “thing”. Walking meetings may not be a “thing” anymore, but that doesn’t stop them being a very valuable tool. If you’ve never tried it, you should.

Some of my fondest memories are of conversations that I have had whilst out for a walk with friends and family. There are more of these memories than there are of conversations over meals or sat in a coffee shop somewhere.

“The conversation always flows much better when you are on a walk.”


2 thoughts on “Walking in Conversation – Talking Side-by-Side”

  1. I also find conversations flows well while driving with a relaxed passenger, I think it must be something to do with some of your attention being directed elsewhere, which is counter-intuitive, but true. I wonder whether we have better conversations when walking over challenging ground or not, maybe we need to experiment!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Graham
    I agree with this quote at the bottom of your article.
    My mental health over the past few years has been helped enormously by going for regular walks at the coast with my Aunty Kay. She comes to visit every other week on a Wednesday usually. We have a cup of coffee and a chat at home. Then she drives me to Maryport or Allonby, where we sit in the car and eat egg sandwiches, watching the sea. The final part of our day is the walk, we don’t often go far, just a mile or two, but in the bracing wind of the Solway Coast that’s quite enough to get a good half hour chat in. We tog up in walking boots, hats and gloves, and set out along the Maryport Promenade or Allonby coastal path. When we started doing this ten years ago, I was just out of hospital, and every person we met seemed to me to be a threat, someone who would say nasty stuff about me as we passed. Over the years it has gradually got easier and now we say hello or pat the occasional dog without fear. We can bitch about other family members as much as we like, catch up with gossip, or just make plans to help out elderly relatives and friends. The weather at the coast is never the same twice. Often I take a few landscape photos to mark the occasion, the Solway is a beautiful area. Kay is very active for a seventy year old and pushes me to walk further and try harder. I have noticed that, further to your point about women talking face to face and men talking side by side, often women when talking will walk very close in conversation or attempt to hold an elbow when making a point – this drives me mad but it is a small price to pay. Kay is a keen birdwatcher and we look out for curlew, oystercatcher, shelduck, dunlin etc.
    Overall it is often the highlight of my week. I don’t get to walk with my wife Rachel as much as I would like, as we always seem to be busy or tired at weekends. So a midweek stroll with my Aunty brings a lot of joy into my life. I don’t know what I will do when she is too old to continue.

    Liked by 1 person

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