A Five Step Guide to Having “The Talk”

Vern requires a different Talk.

Last night I had “The Talk” with someone about biking and walking. Like other Capital T Talks, to be most effective this one needs to be handled with delicacy, tact, a positive attitude, and without shame. Here is my five step guide to having a successful Talk about Biking and Walking.

The Talk usually starts when someone expresses curiosity or amazement that I did not drive to our destination. Sometimes they say things like, “How did you get here?” or “You biked? How far?” or “Did you have the same trouble finding a parking spot as I did?” This is the invitation, but proceed with caution! They might just be making small talk and not interested in a smug recitation of your awesomeness.

Step 1: Answer their questions. Start by answering their questions. Be as matter of fact as possible and use concrete examples. Make sure to provide information they probably did not know.

“I bike to work most days. It is seven miles and there is free indoor bike parking.”

“I walked four blocks from the bus stop. Route 2 runs by here every ten minutes and goes downtown.”

“I bike to this coffee shop on Saturday mornings. There is a trail only a block away which is very convenient.”

Step 2: Empathize. After answering their question, many people respond with of why they cannot bike or walk. “I would like to bike, but I have to get my kids from day care.” “I don’t know if I could do that in the rain.” “I would love to walk here, but I’m worried about my safety after dark.”

Sometimes (and more often than I guess) people say that it never occurred to them that they could walk. These are often the best responses because they are now aware of something they had not been and have not come up with a list of barriers.

Avoid shaming people or making them feel stupid for not knowing something. You may know every bus route in town, but they may have never taken a bus and do not know who to pay a fare. You may know the best bike route, but remember what it was like to learn where all the trails are. I avoid the word “easy.” It may be easy for me, but not for someone else. You may mean to make it sound accessible, but it can come off as judgmental. (I remember my grad school stats professor saying linear regression was so easy, why couldn’t I get it. I cried.)

The hard part is coupling your response with more information without sounding self-righteous or judgmental. But, more information keeps The Talk going and whets their appetite.

“Yeah, I hear you, getting kids from their destinations can be tricky. We were lucky to find a day care close to home.”

“Weather, right? If it’s not raining, it’s hot. If it’s not hot, it’s windy. I keep an emergency umbrella in my office just for that reason.”

“Yeah, walking at night can be scary. I really like taking Lyndale Avenue because it’s well-lit and there’s a lot of people around.”

Step 3: Offer the One Mile Circle. Most people, including myself, did not wake up one day and ditch the car. It was a gradual transition. I started walking to a coffee shop near my house. Then I got a bike and starting biking to a coffee shop a little further away and to the video rental place. Soon I realized I could bike to work. That took about a year. I have found that people think biking and walking is an all or nothing proposition – that they must do it every day or not at all. That’s why the One Mile Circle is a great transition tool.

The One Mile Circle is drawing a circle with a one-mile radius around your home or work. Then look at all the destinations within that circle. One day a week replace one car trip with walking or biking. Look at all the places someone could go within this circle! Meat! Cheese! Tires! Trinkets! Food!

Cheese! Meat! Nepalese food! Trinkets! So many destinations.

The brilliance of the One Mile Circle is several fold. First, once someone tries it they are more likely to do it again. Walk to Kowalski’s for a pie once – you might walk up there for apples next week. The best way to get someone to walk or bike is not to lecture; it’s to let them see how enjoyable it can be. Second, it’s flexible. One day is busy, do it the next. Make it twice a week or widen the circle a bit. There is lots of room to grow. Finally, it’s doable. It does not feel overwhelming. It is concrete. It’s just one day a week.

After describing the One Mile Circle, empathize again by acknowledging their barrier and a solution.

“Maybe you can’t get around day care, but try walking to the community center on Saturday morning instead of driving.”

“I don’t like walking in the rain either, but if it’s raining one day do your walk another day.”

“Yeah, feeling safe at night is important. Maybe try walking to the pharmacy on your lunch break when it’s day light and there are a lot of people around.”

Finally, encourage them to pick a destination they would like to walk or bike to.

“Yeah, you live not so far from that great deli. Maybe try biking up there to get some salami?”

“Didn’t you say your daughter takes piano nearby. Could you walk there together this week?”

Tattoos! Donuts! Coffee! Bikes! Lots of places in this circle.

Step 4: Something You Like. At this point it can be a nice touch to add something you like about biking or walking. Keep it simple and short.

“I really like biking in the morning because I am energized when I get to work.”

“I enjoy walking to school with my daughter because we have time to talk without interruptions.”

“I feel good when I bike because it’s good for the planet and I feel like I am doing something, rather than waiting on politicians.”

Step 5: Check-in and Encourage. Check back with them in a week or two and ask how it went. This provides accountability (in a nice way) and encouragement. A bonus is you may be able to help problem-solve if they ran into trouble.

“Hey! Nice to see you – did you find a day to walk to the deli?”

“How did your walk with your daughter go?”

That’s it! If you are nervous, make sure and practice on a partner or friend. Everyone loves role-playing!

It works in the suburbs, too! This Rosemount resident could bike or walk lotsa places.


Dana DeMaster

About Dana DeMaster

Dana DeMaster, MPP, is a program evaluator and researcher for human services programs who lives and bikes in Saint Paul. When she’s not analyzing data, she can be found rabble-rousing for neighborhood bike improvements in Saint Paul, playing Legos with her two children, or sewing practical things. You can find some of her other writing on the Grease Rag and Wrench blog.