Here at the-Coaching Blog-run by Gerard O’Donovan, our aim is to constantly bring value to those seeking to improve their lives. Therefore we have a policy of publishing articles and materials by guest authors whom we value and appreciate. Today’s guest author is Sue Stockdale (UK)

There is a famous saying by Henry Ford that ‘If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you always got’. It is worth paying attention to this idea as you gain more experience as a coach because we can become too reliant on using the same tools and techniques with our clients. You know what works, right?

However, I have a different philosophy that underpins my coaching practice, which encourages me to regularly step out of my comfort zone and try something new.  It is about being a great role model for my clients.  Who am I to encourage them to change? – if I don’t use a similar approach myself.

It was with this idea in mind that coaching in the outdoors was added to my coaching repertoire.  During the chemistry session with a new client I noticed that they were finding it difficult to sit still.  They seemed uncomfortable in a meeting room, even though in their day job they worked in a small office and were familiar with a typical corporate office environment. I decided to take a risk and suggest to them that we could meet elsewhere for our coaching sessions.  How about outdoors?

Photo by Ross Hughes on Unsplash

I was both surprised and pleased at their reaction because they readily agreed to this idea. And I also reflected that it had taken courage for me to ask the question. From then on, all our coaching sessions took the guise of a 1-hour coaching walk along the canal towpath.

It was a great success. The clients’ issue was focused around helping him to connect to his purpose and identity, and the impact of the open space made a real difference to the quality of his thinking. He could see things from a more objective perspective and it somehow connected him to the world in a way that would have been quite different in a more sterile office environment. And since then I have used this approach with other clients for particular sessions that I believe a different perspective.

Here are some of the things I learned that can help you consider if coaching outdoors would be of value to some of your clients.

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 outdoors. 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 could 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 when walking 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 braver as well. Walks can take place in city parks, canal towpaths, or the lowland hills. It does not matter as long as it’s not too arduous terrain, that may take their concentration away from the topic to be discussed.

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 it’s part of the reason why you can be brave. It symbolically means you are exploring together and no-one has the answer. Also, normally 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 – similar to telephone coaching where the lack of eye contact can be beneficial at times.

Heightened Senses

In the outdoors, I found that my senses were heightened. Whether it’s to noise, wind, smells, or feelings I noticed that this really enabled me to use my intuitive sense more effectively. I also used visual cues to link the conversation to things we observed. A large tree with three branches represented three options, or a frozen lake was 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 with clothing for any weather they could cope. Sometimes all that a client needs to do is to look at their situation from a different viewpoint.

Practicalities – for Coaching in the Outdoors

  • Notice if your client is fidgety when sitting in a room. This might indicate they enjoy moving and it can help them think so you could suggest the next session is a walk.
  • Have your route worked out in advance and know how long it is likely to take. You might even want to identify a coffee shop en-route or at the end of the walk 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 focused on the coaching, so make sure you wear comfortable and appropriate attire.

About Sue Stockdale

Sue Stockdale is an AC-accredited Master Executive Coach and coaching supervisor.  Her clients include leaders in corporate, sport and not-for-profit organisations internationally.  She was the first UK woman to ski to the Magnetic North Pole and has represented Scotland in athletics. In 2014, Sue received a global coaching leadership award at the World Coaching Congress in Mumbai. As an author, Sue has written and co-authored eight books, including Cope with Change at Work, (Teach Yourself Books 2012); The Personality Workbook (Teach Yourself Books 2013); and Risk: All that Matters (Hodder & Stoughton 2015). @suestockdale on Twitter



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