This article is actually called “Experiencing Physical Warmth Promotes Interpersonal Warmth” but when I read the writeup of it in the Los Angeles Times, I knew that it would have significance in thinking about the Walking Meeting.
I wrote a How-To on the Walking Meeting on this blog in Jaunary, 2008, and have been practicing them for almost 4 years now, and I’ve noticed a lot of differences between these and the standard sit down and talk meetings.
In this article, the authors test the hypothesis that stimulating the part of the brain that happens to process both physical and psychological warmth (the insular cortex) results in greater feelings of interpersonal trust and comfort. They tested this out two ways. First, by having subjects hold hot or cold fluids on their way up to a sham personality evaluation. The second way was even more interesting – they asked subjects to hold a hot or cold pad for a sham product evaluation and then offered them a “selfish” gift (bottle of Snapple) or a “community” gift, a $1 gift certificate to an ice cream shop presented as a “treat a friend” option. Half of the subjects were told the opposite, that the Snapple was the “treat a friend” gift and the gift certificate was the “treat yourself gift.”
In both cases, subjects perceived people as warmer (in the first case) with the warm exposure, and were more “community” oriented based on the framing of the gift they received.
Tying this back to what I’ve noticed after 4 years, it is that there seems to be an activation of some kind that happens in these meetings when I participate in them. Part of it is community orientation – I enjoy pointing out parts of our community as we walk, as a reminder of who we are serving. Part of it is the implied vulnerability of bringing someone to a less-controlled space. Maybe part of it is the occasional hot beverage.
In my How-To I actually caution against beverage purchasing during walking meetings because of the expense and caloric load, so I will slightly amend that with the added information provided here.
In terms of getting people to do these with me, I have had my share of blank stares and confusion from people, mostly ones who I am meeting for the first time, but I continue to ask for this as an option, and about 92.5 % of the people I ask are happy to do it.
Look at your calendar and see what meetings are coming up. Convert at least one to a walking meeting this week, and report on it here.