Why You Should Take a Walk With Someone to Stop an Argument

Why You Should Take a Walk With Someone to Stop an Argument
Photo: Dragon Images, Shutterstock

One of the byproducts of living in a highly politicized society is the abundance of arguments. Even if you’re not engaging in them yourself, we’re constantly surrounded by people who turn aspects of everyday life into a political statement or moral crusade, and feel compelled to tell you about it.

This steady stream of one-sided arguments both in real life and on social media can make the actual arguments that occur in our lives at work or at home more charged than they would be otherwise. People are tense, and may try to avoid being (or feeling) attacked by going on the offensive. But according to a growing body of research, physical movement — specifically, taking a walk with the person you’re arguing with — can be an effective strategy for ending an argument. Here’s what to know.

Why movement is useful in conflict resolution

In a February 2022 article on how physical movement can help in diplomatic negotiations-turned-arguments, Dr. Peter T. Coleman, a professor at Columbia University who studies intractable conflict and sustainable peace, explains why getting up and moving your body can help get your mind moving, as well.

But the strategy isn’t limited to conflicts arising in the context of international diplomacy: Coleman says they can also be applied in everyday disputes between colleagues, partners, family members, and others who don’t see eye-to-eye. He points to several studies — including this one, which he co-authored — with findings indicating that for humans, movement (he refers to it as “locomotion”) increased both people’s motivation and the likelihood of resolving interpersonal conflicts.

This makes sense when you consider Coleman’s definition of locomotion — “the need or desire to move from one state to another, like from being cold to being warm” — because negotiations have a similar goal. And when it comes to everyday conflicts and negotiations, he says taking a walk can make a big difference.

Take a walk to help you think clearly

Prior to an encounter with the person you’re arguing with, Coleman recommends taking a solo walk to help organise your thoughts. This strategy can also be helpful when you’re thinking through a challenging situation, he says, because getting up out of the physical space where you’re feeling mentally stuck and moving your body can prompt new ideas and feelings.

In fact, multiple studies have shown that activities like going for a walk, exercising, or gardening can help. According to Coleman, that’s because these types of movement can “help shift our mind out of deep ruts and at times liberate us from dysphoric rumination and other types of adverse emotional traps.”

Take a walk to end an argument

To end an argument and/or come to an agreement, findings from Coleman’s research indicate that physically moving in sync with other people enhances cooperation and the ability to achieve shared goals, in addition to increasing our compassion and willingness to help others. In fact, one 2017 study found that when a group of people walked in sync, they became more willing to make personal sacrifices that benefited the group.

So what does the ideal argument-ending walk look like? According to Coleman, when we consider what we’ve learned from various studies on locomotion and synchronisation, the optimal argument- and conflict-resolving walks involve people moving smoothly, walking side-by-side in nature (or at least somewhere with a bit of greenery).

   

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