The first time I met her, I was struck by her energy and boldness; her ambition and enthusiasm; her physical presence. She was direct and clear. She knew precisely what she wanted from coaching. She was organised and focussed. We met in a slightly grim, windowless, stuffy room in her Public Sector workplace and we more-than filled it. It could barely contain us. Halfway through the session, we had flip paper laid out across the table and she was showing me the inside of her head using big pen strokes and fast words.
I was grinning from ear to ear at times … She demanded to be heard and seen. She was quick and certain, pacey and knowledgeable. She was already doing a lot of reflective work. I noticed I was finding it easy to listen, encourage, agree… but I was there to coach… Repeat to self: don’t collude, but don’t crush. Agree and still question. Disagree and hold to the counter-view. Don’t get sucked in to the presenting narrative….what’s the different story that could be told?
And so I started to look for the different story. Under the certainty and lovely noise, where the pauses and silences emerged. Where the lack-of certainty might lie. What was underneath….?
In the aftermath of the first session, I felt kind of ecstatically knackered – the sense you get when you have been engaged full-on in some sort of creative process…. Sort of done, but in a really good way…. I remember sitting on the Tube heading to my next destination just a little bit spaced out…..
As I reflected on what was going on – there was something niggling me about doing the work in that small, confined room. She needed space – a LOT of space. I needed that to work with her too. And so, after some reflection, emailing and a phonecall, we agreed to try walking as part of our coaching process. I was curious about what a shift to a bigger landscape might do for the conversation and the coaching process – she was curious about the health benefits of getting out and walking.
The first time, we walked out from her place of work, steady paced and I was fearful that without my trusted notebook to note down the “what are we working on today” stuff, I would lose a thread or a topic or something…. It never happened. Over the next 4 sessions (not over Winter months, so we didn’t get any rain.. more about that anon) we walked out from an agreed fixed point (mostly Kings Cross .. once Piccadilly Circus) and we worked together.
So here’s some stuff about walking and coaching that I/ we noticed
Getting out of the room was useful. It unlocked and unblocked issues and ideas in ways I can’t fully explain. The motion and the lack-of-binding walls helped big things seem smaller and somehow more in proportion. There was inspiration to be found in the changing landscape, at times.
Speaking out into the air was freeing… and sometime scary: not having to look at another’s face and put your interpretation of what they think/ believe took away some inhibition and occasionally added some anxiety. Sometimes she needed to look at me, she felt. We sort of worked out this was for reassurance sometimes… when the unsayable came out – when she was at her boldest – she needed to see I was alongside her still.
The sense of “beside” needs a little attention, at times – “Walking alongside” could assume I was alongside her thinking – it wasn’t always so. I could be walking alongside her and still feel baffled or doubtful or delighted. I found walking meant it was sometimes easier for me to voice disquiet or a counter-view to something she was attached to. We weren’t intensely face-to-face. Discord could fall in to a bigger space. Her inherent “niceness” that so often shone through at work, could be muddied up a bit here.
Our pace varied. Sometimes we noticed we were walking slowly – carefully considering this or that. Other times, it picked up. We kept pace with each other. The physical rhythm was important, somehow… and yet rarely consciously expressed – it sort of just happened and we would notice it later.
Her ability to remember the conversation correlated with points in the walk. She remembered saying Y as we waited for at the traffic lights leaving Kings Cross. She could say to me: “when we were just a bit away from Upper Street, I said: X “ and I knew where, exactly, she meant – both verbally and geographically. If we had spent 2 hours in a teeny-tiny room, or a café or somewhere fixed, this wouldn’t have happened. We both remembered the route and the conversation as it happened along it… and at some point we would begin the walk back to where we started… and somehow in as we returned, she began to gather up her thoughts and plan some actions.
We walked in silence, at times – as she got lost in her thoughts and wandered the routes her mind took her to, I walked quietly beside her. It was generally a companionable silence. Not one weighted with expectation that I sometimes experience in a room – sitting waiting is different from walking and waiting, somehow. It’s a different quality.
We practiced with physical elements of her leadership – standing straighter, Walking with confidence, breathing more slowly, speaking at different paces, how it felt to be balanced or off-balance. In the context of walking, these elements were more easily, naturally perhaps, combined with the work. Again, if we were static, we would have had to move from sitting to standing to practice some of physical elements… and whilst sit-to-stand is not a big move… it’s somehow a big move, if you are used to the conversation being mostly without physical movement.
The weather mattered..and didn’t matter. In the hotter days, we did need to walk with water or coffee at times (the sessions were 2 hours long). We never walked in the rain – We could have of course. I have a notion the drumming of rain on an umbrella might be quite nice – or might bring in a element of physical discomfort that distracted. The practicalities of both our jobs meant we needed to be elsewhere after we saw each other. Soggy working didn’t appeal to either of us. Anyway, in the event of inclement weather, Plan B would have been to walk through a museum or art gallery….it would have been different again.
We got results: I can’t say we got better results than if we had staying in the room, but I can say that the process was certainly more rewarding and physically better. The outcomes and the actions she chose & implemented were things that stuck.
The note-taking issue: I am curious about if I should have built in time for note-taking at the end. I took my own notes, usually 24 hours or so onward. She did too, but we didn’t close off the session with something more tangible. As I often use drawing, doodle, diagrams with my coachees – encouraging them to express or show me/themselves stuff in non-words… and we didn’t have that slightly more permanent record of the discussion and action, relying more on sensation and experience…
Walking and coaching worked. It demanded different things from “usual” coaching conversations, but on the whole I’d recommend it.
Shout-out to people I’ve had conversations about walking & coaching with of late:
Jayne Harrison, Hilary Gallo & Euan Semple.
Shout out to Richard Martin for his Walking- Inspired Blog, Pace
artwork shout to SRNR
I’m a Organisational Consultant, Coach, Facilitator, Speaker, Blogger & Dialogue Guide. Working with people & organisations to improve conversations, relationships & learning – Doing stuff with love.
Find me on Twitter @fuchsia_blue
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