Walking Backwards

One of the best ways to protect your knees, to strengthen weak hamstrings and to heal your feet is to walk backwards. By flipping our direction, we enlist our muscles, ligaments, tendons, and nerves in new ways: our hamstrings are suddenly in charge, our anterior tibialis plays the supporting role our calves normally play, our glutes take on more work, and our feet and fronts of our ankles have to find stability with a new set of inputs.

Other than a new form of physical therapy that you can do on the treadmill (our outside—be careful!) we can take some lessons from this flip in orientation.

Some of our most important work is done in teams, and these groupings are like our muscles. Every time a group comes together, we take our familiar roles: a person who speaks up more, and someone who likes to listen; a person who always wants to move things along, another who’s uncomfortable if every angle isn’t explored; an agenda-setter, and a bunch of agenda-takers.

A powerful choice we can make on our own is to switch our roles. If we’re a talker, we choose to listen. If we’re a “yes, but”-er, we become a “yes, and” -er, if just for a few hours. And so on.

Or you can take this a step further by explicitly setting new roles for your team for a meeting (or longer): consciously ask a new person to set the agenda; have the person who always sees the flaw or the risk play the role of pushing things a step further. Ask the big talkers to sit still and be quiet.

The first benefit of this is to identify everyone’s tendencies, as perceived by everyone else. You are then able to ask when playing your expected role helps the group, and when your influence is limited because “that’s what he always says.”

As important, doing this as a group builds new interpersonal muscles. A person who’s never set the agenda out loud says “this is what I think we need to talk about.” A talker has to stop thinking about the next thing he’s going to say and, instead, just listens. A person who always pushes the group forward has to verbalize the risks. And on and on.

All of this will serve as a valuable exercise in both empathy and group dynamics. It’s also a reminder that being a one-note team member minimizes your effectiveness, and it hamstrings (ha!) the groups that you’re part of.

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