We’re stood overlooking the River Thames opposite the Houses of Parliament; the murky water churns below as the first rays of sun creep over the London skyline.
I stand shoulder to shoulder with my client on Waterloo Bridge, wrapped snugly against the cold clutching freshly brewed coffee as the wind whips around.
Time almost stands still, but for the grey clouds racing overhead as we explore the mental curiosity with quiet wonder.
The coaching space sets the scene of every conversation and helps shape the complex web of conscious and unconscious interactions. This backdrop exerts unspoken influence and reaches across the coaching process, partnership, skills and outcomes. Ultimately, it can make or break the ability to build rapport, generate trust, access our unconscious gut intuition, frame perceptive questions or remain ever-present in the moment.
I’ve always been fascinated by our physical environment and more significantly outside spaces. I remember spending endless French lessons staring out of the classroom window watching branches blowing in the breeze waiting for the bell so I could escape the four walls and confines of school.
Space “A continuous area or expanse which is free, available, or unoccupied”
This appeal deepened further as I explored the concepts of space and place, set against human inter and intra relationships studying Geography BSc at The University of Manchester. The foundational “Introducing Human Geographies 1” first year module presented the opportunity to “explore the varied relationships between people, place and space and to examine the approaches geographers have used to examine these relationships” (University of Manchester, 2017). In the coaching world, the physical coaching space or environment is a fundamental consideration every coach has to contemplate in preparing for coaching sessions.
Typical coach training programmes inevitably regurgitate our predictable and accepted cultural work norms with the incorporation of sedentary conversations indoors. Practice sessions are generally conducted perched in hotel lobbies or huddled in training venue corners that consequently set the precedent for new coaches. At every opportunity during my coach training in 2010, I would escape into the fresh air to stretch the legs, encourage blood circulation and, as a bonafide introvert, snatch a chance to gather my thoughts.
Fast forward several years of staking out hotel lobbies, offices and cafes and the great outdoors has gradually crept into my coaching practice to the extent it forms the majority of my performance coaching client work. However, it’s only upon reflection and harnessing the benefit of hindsight that I am able to see how long it took me to fully embrace the outdoors and how it’s such a blatant fit for my coaching conversations.
“Forgive yourself for not having the foresight to know what now seems so obvious in hindsight”
It’s not rocket science that you “feel” better after a brisk walk after being cooped up all day. Walking and talking isn’t a new concept illustrated by the fact Aristotle (384-322BCE) based his school of Greek philosophy on the term “Peripatetic”. This is a transliteration of the ancient Greek word περιπατητικός peripatêtikos, which means "of walking" or "given to walking about” (Drosdek, 2007). Ultimately, walking and talking is a revival of our innate human physiological need to construct optimal conditions for our embodied mind to achieve peak performance.
During hours of outdoor coaching conversations, I’ve observed four main common themes arise repeatedly:
The uninhibited flow of conversation free from the confines of four walls and associated organisational constraints (either real and/or perceived);
The creation of a deeper coaching relationships within a shorter time frame;
Heightened element of renewed vigour and/or energy; and
Easier adoption of innovative strategies moving forwards.
These factors link specifically to the International Coach Federation (ICF) core competency “Co-creating the Relationship”. This emphasises the creation of a “safe, supportive environment that produces ongoing mutual respect and trust” (International Coach Federation, 2012), which can be transferred to the literal outdoor coaching space that’s safe, open, creative and insightful.
Back to that frosty, clear morning on the Southbank; that environment ensured that I listened, posed questions, listened some more, reflected words back, probed deeper, listened deeper, challenged and remained fully present.
At lunchtime today treat yourself and indulge in an extended lunch break; anything longer than the average lunch break of 24 mins and 25 secs highlighted by the recent BBC Radio 4 Food Programme episode "Let's Do Lunch". Head outside and contemplate how you’ve styled your day to reach optimum performance.
If you’re a coach I’d love to gain an insight into your favourite and more unusual coaching places.
If you’re a coach trainer I’d be curious if you’re open to experiment with moving beyond four walls in delivering your courses.
Drozdek, A. (2007). Greek Philosophers as Theologians; The Divine Arche. Ashgate Publishing, Farnham, UK.
Gale, S. & Olsson, G. (1979). Philosophy in Geography, 387-427. Tuan, Y. Space and Place: Humanist Perspective. Accessed on 4 Feb 17 from: http://apcg.uoregon.edu/amarcus/geog620/Readings/Tuan_1979_space-place.pdf
International Coach Federation. (2012). Core Competencies. Accessed on 24 Feb 17. https://www.coachfederation.org/credential/landing.cfm?ItemNumber=2206&navItemNumber=576
Manchester University. (2017). Introducing Geographies 1. Accessed on 24 Feb 17 from: http://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/courses/2017/00575/bsc-geography/course-details/GEOG10251#course-unit-details
Salisbury, C (20 Feb 2017). Food Programme; Let’s Do Lunch. BBC Radio 4, London. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08fdhjv