Coaching is a process that can be undertaken in any location – from the office to the outdoors, or on the sports field. Recently I have used the outdoors as a way of helping clients to tackle issues in their coaching sessions that are related to connecting to their purpose and identity. Somehow the impact of the environment when coaching in the outdoors makes a real difference to their quality of thinking, and as a result, they see things quite differently.
As a coach, I am particularly interested in what makes it work well, and here is what I have learned:
Rapport is vital
You need to have built a strong level of rapport with your clients, before suggesting to them that the next coaching session will take place on a walk! They need to trust you and believe that this is likely to be beneficial as they may have a perception that “work type issues” should best be discussed within the confines of four walls. That means you will be challenging their views of what coaching is all about and how it should be conducted, so make sure you have good rapport first.
You can be brave in the outdoors
I found that out on a walk with a client, I was able to ask them some questions and challenge their thinking in a way that I would not necessarily have done in an office environment. Somehow the wide open space also gave me permission as the coach to be brave.
Side by Side
When you walk along together, you are side by side and exploring the issue from a common perspective. That is hugely powerful and perhaps its part of the reason why you can be brave (see previous point). It symbolically means you are exploring together and no-one has the answer. Also, the client and the coach are generally both looking ahead at the path, and not at one another, so there is less direct visual contact. I think this allows people to be freer – like telephone coaching where the lack of eye contact can be beneficial at times.
In the outdoors, your senses are heightened. Whether its to noise, wind, smells, or feelings I noticed that this really enabled me to use my intuitive senses more effectively. I also used visual cues to link the conversation to things we observed. A large tree with three broughs represented three options, or a frozen lake could be used as a metaphor to explore what might lie beneath a situation.
A new perspective
Every client I have taken on a coaching walk has enjoyed it to a great degree because it gave them a new perspective on the issue they were facing. It did not matter if it was freezing cold, sunny, calm or windy, as long as the client knew to be prepared for any weather they could cope. Sometimes all that an issue needs is looking at from a different viewpoint, so I encourage you either as a client or a coach to try out a coaching walk and see what happens.
Tips that can help you arrange a coaching walk with a client
- Notice if your client is fidgety when sitting in a room. This might indicate they enjoy moving and it helps them think so you could suggest the next session is a walk.
- Have your route worked out in advance and know how long its likely to take. You might even want to source a coffee shop en route or at the end so that you can enjoy a hot drink and write up your notes.
- Take a recording device (e.g.iPhone) as you can record key points or thoughts for your client as you walk.
- Be prepared for the weather not for glamour. You need to be comfortable and focused on the coaching, not making sure you look good, so wear comfortabale and warm attire.