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Step Outside: Walking and Talking Coaching

Posted by Anna-Marie Watson, PCC | October 9, 2019 | Comments (1)

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” —Confucius

The advantages of heading outdoors and being immersed in nature, combined with physical movement, is increasingly attracting attention as scientific research from a range of disciplines, which promote the benefits (see table 1), is publicized through mainstream and social media platforms. The opportunity for coaches to integrate these fundamental elements of nature and movement into their coaching practice offers a range of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual positive attributes for their clients.

anne-marie watson table 1

Table 1: Evidence-based research from these disciplines support the benefits of time in nature and physical movement.

 

Practical Considerations

The practical considerations behind how to plan and prepare for working with coaching clients outdoors can be covered working through the WALKTALK acronym:

Walking Works Wonders

An Open Mind

Location, Location, Location

Keep Plan B in Mind

Test It Out

Add Element Creativity

Look into Health Safety

Keep It Fun

 

Walking Works Wonders

Scientific research is continuing to prove centuries worth of human collective knowledge and experience. From experience, the majority of my coaching clients who are willing to step outdoors already intuitively understand the wonders of walking and talking coaching conversations.

“My clients have repeatedly described they feel more at ease while walking next to me, the coach, versus sitting opposite in a consultation room, which can feel intimidating. There is more of a sense of equality while walking next to each other. Also, they say allowing silence to be there is easier while walking versus sitting opposite the coach in a room,” says coach Karen Liebenguth of Green Space Life Coaching.

An Open Mind

There’s a duality to this element: firstly, embracing an open mind to explore a new coaching methodology, and secondly, experiencing feelings of openness, which seem to naturally emerge from being outdoors combined with movement.

“The feeling of openness, rather than intensity, leads to a more open, honest and focused session with fewer distractions,” says Naomi Korolanyi who is one of my clients and and HR Director at The National Composites Centre, a public/private sector engineering organization.

Location, Location, Location

The “where” can make or break an outdoors coaching session as the choice of location can positively enhance or disrupt the entire experience. Think about accessibility, route, terrain and other users.

Walking and talking coach Melanie Faulks, of Agdela Coaching and Fresh Air Fridays, explains, “Choose a location(s) where you feel comfortable, at ease and inspires you personally. Ideally venue(s) with different route and length options too but this isn’t always do-able. Buy an OS map. Look on local council and wildlife/nature/environment related charity websites for your local green areas—sometimes you discover outdoor options you didn’t know existed!”

Keep Plan B in Mind

Ultimately the decision to cancel, change location or reschedule is a judgment call. In your role as coach, part of your responsibility is managing the risk of taking coaching conversations outdoors to ensure both you, your client and other members of the general public are safe.

In the words Cat Treblico, of Reach the Peak Coaching and another fellow walking and talking coach, “The Scottish weather can [be a challenge] but I adapt my plans, and often use the weather as a metaphor for whatever is going on. In three years of coaching, I haven’t yet had to cancel a session.”

Test It Out

Before taking the plunge and subjecting your clients to a completely new coaching idea, it’s worth testing out the concept in advance with your peers. “Find a collaborator and try it,” says Mike White, of Mike White Coaching.

Add Element Creativity

Creativity naturally emerges from being outdoors and the coaching techniques discussed below are examples which can be integrated into walking and talking coaching (see table below).

“[My clients] say that they feel more creative about solutions to their issues, have breakthroughs more easily while being in nature and surrounded by wide open space,” according to Liebenguth.

 

anne-marie watson walking and talking table

Table 2: Different creative coaching techniques which can be included in walking and talking coaching sessions

 

Look into Health Safety

Heading outdoors invites an additional element of physical, mental and emotional risk into the process beyond the safety of four walls, for both yourself, as the coach, and your client. Ensure you’ve reviewed outdoor qualifications, first aid, insurance and legal implications which will vary from country to country.

Keep It Fluid

The key to walking and talking coaching is to organically interweave existing coaching methodologies, theories and styles. The extent to which the outdoor space and/or embodied practice is openly acknowledged can range from nature unconsciously forming the backdrop to actively inviting nature to co-create the coaching process. As Albert Einstein said, “Look deep into nature; and then you will understand everything better.”

 

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Anna-Marie Watson, PCC, will be exploring this topic more in-depth at ICF Converge 2019, which is taking place October 23-26 in Prague, Czech Republic. Join her session “Step Outside: Taking Coaching Conversations Outdoors” in the Practice content group on Thursday, October 24 at 3:00 p.m. (local time). By attending this session, you can earn 0.5 RD in Continuing Coach Education units.

anna-marie watson headshot 2019

Anna-Marie Watson, PCC

Anna-Marie Watson, PCC, is a performance coach and coach supervisor with a serious passion for the outdoors who loves to accompany her clients on walking and talking coaching conversations. In addition to a post-graduate certificate in Applied Coaching from the University of Derby and a master’s degree in teaching from the University of Sydney, she is Analytic-Network and mBraining accredited as well as eDISC and iWAM certified. She co-leads the ICF Executive and Leadership Community of Practice. Former British Army Officer, she has worked in challenging environments from snowy Arctic tundra to hot and sandy deserts. She has been at the forefront of leadership development for over 18 years, supporting high-performing individuals and teams across four continents. Anna-Marie is on a mission to encourage other coaches to work within the outdoor space. Learn more at Reach for More Coaching.

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts featured on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the International Coach Federation (ICF). The publication of a guest post on the ICF Blog does not equate to an ICF endorsement or guarantee of the products or services provided by the author.

Comments (1)

  1. Thank you for sharing such an interesting article, particularly the table of coaching techniques. I find a systemic approach works fantastically well outdoors as well as Clean Space and extended metaphor and am experiencing an increase in the wishes of clients to take their explorations outdoors. As an outdoor coach myself, I’d love to hear more and to connect around this topic. Best wishes, Claire

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