Walking is good. A walk helps regenerate the brain, relieves pain, stresses and improves memory. In fact, some great philosophers of the past knew about the creative power of walking and some, like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Henry David Thoreau, asserted that walking helped them develop their thoughts. Charles Darwin even said, “I’m walking to think”, and probably during one of these walks he conceived his famous theory of evolution.
But the psychological benefits of a walk are not limited to cognitive and creative stimulation. Columbia University researchers have also found that walking helps to resolve interpersonal conflicts and promotes reconciliation after discussing with someone.
How can a walk help resolve interpersonal conflicts?
1. Different points of view
When discussing with someone and creating a conflict, we often experience a kind of shrinking vision, it is as if we stop having a 180 degree perspective to develop a much narrower tunnel view. At the same time, our creative ability to find solutions is diminished as we cling to our point of view by developing a convergent and rigid thinking.
However, these psychologists have found that walking alongside the person with whom we have a conflict, instead of just sitting down next to him, can help us find common points and reach an agreement.
The secret lies in the fact that a walk helps us to take different points of view and see the situation from different angles, thus both sides will be more likely to abandon their rigid position and find a common ground. In addition, walking stimulates divergent thinking, which is the basis of creativity and mental openness, and is crucial to finding more creative solutions that can satisfy both.
2. Continuous change of the landscape
Walking during the discussion has another unexpected advantage given by the constant change of the landscape. In fact, trading courses underline the importance of creating discussion spaces in conflict situations where people involved feel free to implement new behaviors and develop different perspectives.
In fact, if we think about it, we realize that many of the conflicts in the couple, in the family or at work, develop almost always in the same environments, monotonous and repetitive environments where there is rarely a chance to change scenarios.
That is why it is no accident that it has been found that in the workplace where people move freely, the relationship between workers improves and the sense of territoriality is reduced. These work configurations also promote information sharing, creativity, and more relaxed interpersonal relationships. Undoubtedly, the scenario changes encourage us to leave our position to take a more open perspective.
3. Synchronize the steps
Another of the unexpected benefits of walking with another person to resolve a conflict is to avoid face to face, which sometimes can help keep us in opposition, hindering the communication.
To this we add another advantage: walking together we tend to unconsciously synchronize our footsteps with those of the person accompanying us, it is what in psychology is called “interactive synchronization” which is also seen in children who synchronize their movements and their mood so that it is easier for them to play together. This phenomenon does not disappear in adulthood; in fact, it intensifies when there is an affective relationship with our interlocutor or when he attracts our attention.
The interesting thing is that the tendency to coordinate movements also facilitates the emotional connection, so it acts as a kind of “social glue” that serves as a basis for reaching solutions and agreements.
Now you know it: if you have a long-standing conflict with a person, invite him to walk while addressing the problem. It’s not a miraculous solution, but it can help you solve things.
Webb, C. E.; Rossignac-Milon, M. & Higgins, E.T. (2017) Stepping forward together: Could walking facilitate interpersonal conflict resolution? Am Psychol; 72(4): 374-385.