Walk and Talk Meetings

Walk and Talk is a different type of meeting. It takes place outside, between two people (or a series of two people by mixing pairs around at different points in the process), and is conducted while walking (as the name suggests).
While this may initially seem somewhat bizarre, the power of walking while talking provides a number of advantages that are not immediately obvious.

  • It enables silence to be comfortable, which means that there can be more pondering and less speaking
  • The steady movement stimulates discussion and thought
  • The change in environment means that it is easier to think differently, and not be bound by established patterns
  • There is something metaphorical in walking together, alongside each other, which subtly influences our subconscious
It is surprising how many apparently intractable blockages have been released through the Walk and Talk process.
The real power of Walk and Talk lies in the effectiveness of the listening process. Each participant on a Walk and Talk undertakes the role of both the Talker, and of the Listener, on separate occassions.
The listening process is outlined below.
The word ‘listening’ conveys the helpful idea that we are there at the service of the speaker, and that we are there simply to absorb rather than to debate or suggest. Our role is primarily to listen, and to reflect, and to empathise with the speaker by building up a complete understanding of their situation with regard to the issue they have introduced.
To the more activist of us, this might sound too passive, and yet our experience is that listening in the right way (being there wholeheartedly with the speaker) is very powerful: It encourages clarity of the problem, its context, its implications and its logic; It unearths blindspots, inconsistencies, narrowness, and thereby new opportunities; It provides recalibration and thereby increased confidence and pragmatism; It builds new resolve (and a degree of accountability for delivering on it).
Steps to listening
  • Start by simply listening to what the person being listened to wants to say and explain
  • Listen actively (encouraging nods & responses etc.) but try not to disrupt or interrupt the flow
  • Ask for clarification of things that you are not clear about, and which are threatening to confuse or derail the picture you are trying to develop in your own mind
  • Summarise if there is any danger of you getting lost, and (carefully and sensitively) reflect back things that strike you as strange or interesting or appear to be at odds with the picture
  • Be sympathetic and humble in both tone and style: “Sorry, I’m struggling to make sense of what you have just said?” is likely to be more helpful to the flow than a challenge like “That makes no sense!”
  • When the narrative falters, use questions that have arisen in your own mind to encourage it further, but do not be afraid of long silences, particularly after you have asked a question
  • Avoid making suggestions. Instead turn it into a question: ‘Have you considered…?’ Then before you ask it check whether the question could be asked more broadly/openly: ‘What have you …’
Developing the complete picture
As you listen, and gently ask appropriate questions, your own thinking processes and logic are likely to ensure that the most important avenues are explored, assumptions are tested, and gaps are identified so the best advice in encouraging the narrative is to (gently and sensitively) ‘follow your nose’.
However, this isn’t foolproof, and you may be left with a nagging doubt that you have missed something somewhere. If this is the case you might find the following helpful in identifying any potentially fruitful ground that you have ignored. It can be remembered by the acronym ‘PROBE’ (for some people an unfortunate phrase more reminiscent of inquisition).
It isn’t intended to be followed slavishly, but is there as an aide-memoir if the narrative gets bogged down or dries up (other than in reflective silence).
 Mnemonic  Rational / Left Brain  Emotional / Right Brain
Profile How they know they have a problem?
The importance and implications?
What it feels like; how it affects them?
What would success look/feel like?
Root Cause What lies at the root of their problem?
How they concluded this (evidence)?
What tensions exist for them?
Why they feel responsibility? (Values?)
Options What options they have considered?
How comprehensive are their sources?
How they feel about the options?
What would a ‘magical’ solution be?
Balance How they chose which options to take?
What are the implications of the choice?
What they feel like doing?
What they feel about doing it?
Evaluation How they will evaluate whether they have been successful? How they feel about it all (in summary), after thinking it through with you?

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