The Freudian Walk

The Freudian Walk is an activity that helps teach the art of active listening. It can be used during a conflict resolution process or simply as an ice-breaker.

Freudian Walk Active Listening

Objectives

  • To get people to practice ‘active listening’.
  • To have people conduct introspection and personal self-reflection on a particularly challenging issue.
  • To foster sharing of learning experiences and group self-reflection.

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Process

  1. The exercise comprises two parts. In the first part participants take a walk outside the room, preferably outside the building if the premises and the weather allows.
  2. The Facilitator divides the Participants into pairs that do not know each other and says…
    • You and your colleague are now going for a walk. One of you will be the ‘listener’ and cannot express any opinion or comment on what is being heard, except to acknowledge in silence, ask for clarification or paraphrase what is being said.
    • The other will be the ‘talker’ and will be talking about not only the facts of the subject but also the emotions and the feelings involved in the subject / theme.”
  3. The Facilitator presents the theme for the walk
    • It could be something related to the task the group is facing (in conflict resolution it could be to think from the perspective of the other side) or just something trivial for an ice-breaking exercise, e.g. worst professional/personal/parental moment, etc.
  4. Establish the time for the walk (ideally 30 minutes) and split the time between ‘listener’ and ‘talker’
    • The participant in ‘listener’ role is also in charge of time keeping, then after reaching half time they switch roles.
    • After the walk the participants reconvene in the group to share their experiences with the rest of the participants.
  5. Here are some questions the Facilitator could feed into the discussion…
    • What did you notice about this walk?
    • Was it better for you to ‘listen’ or to ‘talk’? (reflect on differences of behavioural styles)
    • Did you discover something new about yourself or did you learn something from this conversations (reflect in terms of the importance of listening in the group as a way to allow new learning to emerge).

Resources required

  • A willing group of people
  • Rule for splitting group in twos / dyads (the Facilitator should be prepared to take this exercise if the group is uneven)
  • A circle of chairs for the setup at the start and the reflection at the end
  • A method for annotating shared experiences in the group (optional)

Secret Sauce

  • Active listening is a critical skill for optimal group functioning, this exercise helps to set a this as a norm in the group.
  • When we focus on ‘listening to the other’ we tend to give less attention to our own thoughts and this creates in turn a better environment for the other to express themselves in more depth.
  • 30 – 45 minutes should be fine for a walk plus 15-20 minutes for sharing experiences but if you have larger groups you will need more time as the large group debriefing can take longer.
  • This exercise also assists the group to establish the norm of “active listening”, which is essential for conflict resolution situations.
  • As an ice-breaker exercise and depending on the topic of the conversations and the meeting conventions some people might be anxious to proceed to walk with a stranger. In that case acknowledge the concern and try to figure an alternative that would make the exercise safer for that person (changing the subject, just to listen, etc.)

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About the Author

Organizational psychologist, MSc Information Management, PhD in Management Science. Actively involved in designing and generating knowledge about Collaborative Work Systems (CWS) and Collaborative Working Environments (CWE) applied to a variety of industries and the public sector with groupVision.

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