Some of the most rewarding conversations I’ve had have taken place while walking. The exchanges seemed to flow more easily, as if our steps were setting the pace for our speech. But there may be a simpler reason why walks appeal to people: Research shows that it can be less stressful talking to someone when you’re walking side by side, with minimal eye contact, than talking face-to-face.
“When we walk alongside someone, a conversation becomes a side game” where each person “looks ahead but is connected by the exchange,” says Esther Perel, couples therapist, author and host of the podcast “Where Should We Begin?” (“Where should we start?”, in Portuguese).
To help you make the most of your walk conversations, I sought advice from Perel and Priya Parker, author of “The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters”. that it matters, in Portuguese).
consider a theme
Think about the type of conversation you want in advance, advises Parker. If you’re feeling creative, you might even want to give it a title, she said. Parker suggested four options:
Relaxed walk. Pick a neighborhood or park you’ve never explored and “walk together and talk about things that don’t normally come up in everyday life,” Parker suggests.
Path of memories. On this walk, talk about important memories that the other person may not know about.
Trouble walk. You and your partner can take the opportunity to share something you’ve been struggling with, “and just listen to each other, not giving advice, just listening carefully,” says Parker.
Walk and talk. No need to structure your conversations, just meet up to move around instead of sitting in a bar, restaurant or someone’s house. “We walked and talked about anything and everything,” says Parker.
Prepare some opening questions
Walking invites quiet conversation, as we are generally more relaxed and open to digression, says Parker. “And it’s really hard to be checking your phone incessantly when you’re walking with someone,” she says. “You will trip”.
There’s no pressure to ask deep questions – simply spending time together on an outing, away from screens and obligations, builds bonds. But starting questions can make a hike more fun.
Perel, an expert at getting people to open up, offers some reliable ones for engaging people in more provocative discussions:
- What’s a promise you wish you hadn’t broken?
- The trip I took that changed my life was…
- The thing that keeps me up at night is…
- If my younger self could see me today, he would say…
- My most unexpected friendship is with…
One of Parker’s favorite ways to start a conversation is to ask, “Have you ever had any enemies? Why do you think they bothered you so much?”
“It usually leads to passionate, quite funny conversation,” says Parker, adding that “it’s a little transgressive, a little mischievous.”
open-hearted for conversation
When we’re walking with someone else, Parker says, social norms around silence and conversation tend to change.
“It’s normal to take a break, which is a form of intimacy,” he points out. “Some of the best and most random conversations often take place after long periods of silence.”
And if you need a hiking buddy, consider joining a group.