“Let’s take a walk!” Oh No! These were the four words you never wanted to hear from the Managing Director of the training business I worked in many years ago.
He had a reputation for doing things differently and a walk around the ‘Square’ was his opportunity to talk to people away from the ‘ears’ in the office. It was also well known that after some of these walks some staff members only returned to clear their desks!
Some walks consisted of one lap (about five minutes) but some could be considerably longer. I remember on one occasion, where he needed to tell me that I had not been selected as his new sales manager, the walk, or should I say ‘hike’ lasted nearly two hours!
So why talk and walk? Why not have these meetings in his office? It was comfy enough, sound proofed enough and he even had two settees and a coffee table. Well here’s the answer: If you need to have a difficult conversation with someone, sitting directly opposite them is not ideal. It can seem confrontational and increases tension but going for a walk helps to reduce the tension, as rather than face to face you are shoulder to shoulder. The fact that you are both walking in the same direction also has a positive psychological effect. I always felt the ‘walk’ was his way of avoiding eye contact with the other person, if that was for his benefit or theirs I’m not sure. I suspect it may have been a bit of both.
When I questioned him about his walking habits he explained that the main reason he did it was to avoid being disturbed. He had a reputation for being distracted and he was wise enough to appreciate this flaw. He wanted to give the other person his total attention and be absolutely sure had theirs. He also talked about the psychology of taking the person away from the office as being like taking a victim away from the scene of the trauma. It helped to “take the emotion out of the situation” he said.
I have heard that this idea of taking people for a walk for tough conversations may have been mentioned in one of Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ books but I’m not sure which one. If you know please do tell me.
On the whole he was a good boss, for me that means being a no-nonsense, straight talking kind of boss. He also had the capacity for great kindness and always allowed his employees to put their family first.
So next time you need to have a tough talk remember this blog and ditch the confines of the office in favour of a walk. I can see some down sides though; the British weather for one and if you work on the upper floor of a high rise block for another! Despite that give it a try and do let me know if/how it works for you.
Head of Training