Empathy in the Middle East

Empathy in the Middle East

Pia Ault, MS, licensed DEI Trainer shares the experience of her recent empathy workshop in Saudi Arabia.

A few months ago, I was invited to hold a workshop on Dynamic Emotional Integration® in Saudi Arabia, at a large government university (male only) for managers and directors. As men and boys are typically part of what we call the exile group – that is, a group who are believed not to have been taught to be empathic or show emotions (because of our society’s conditioning), this invitation was exceptionally interesting to me. Add to that the whole preconceived notion that Middle Eastern men are even more removed from empathy and emotions for cultural reasons …well, I wanted to experience first hand if I could teach this audience about empathy and emotions. So I bought myself an abaya and booked my trip!

Day 1 began with 15 minutes of Comfort Body – a very gentle and relaxed exercise that not only creates self awareness but also awareness about the space you find yourself in, with others. It did what it was intended to do: relax, calm, and create a safe space for these 15 men to learn, share, and experience their emotions. What I found most intriguing was that my own prejudgments and healthy anxiety were present up until I began connecting with each of the participants. I think I was most afraid that they would think they didn’t need emotions and that it would be a waste of their time; but those thoughts were all based on my own beliefs and anxiety around how I feel about men and emotions.

We could have used 3-4 days for the emotions exploration, but still managed to have wonderful discussions and practices around the 17 emotions in the 6-hour session. Everyone was vocal, everyone was sharing stories and personal experiences, and they all asked very deep questions. Shame, anger, guilt, fear, and sadness were some of the emotions that were discussed in detail. Could that be because of the reality these men live in: an expat life in a very conservative and restricted part of the world, where shaming (and fear based rules) are the norm; loneliness is a constant threat, as the men are often isolated from their families (some have their family on campus … others have family or spouse in their home country)? I don’t know, and I would not want to predict or judge. I did peel back the onion layers as much as I dared and as much as they allowed, to get to a more complete picture of how emotions are treated and welcomed in another culture.

Day 2 was spent exploring and learning the Art of Empathy and how the 6 essential skills can help make a difference in the workplace. All the men were engaged in the practices and experiential learning. They practiced Conscious Complaining and empathic listening one-to-one and had some eye opening “AHA” moments around how to engage and interact more with their peers. As we wrapped up I received a nice applause and an invite to return for more workshops. I take that as a good sign that this work can and does make a difference, even among groups who are perceived to be unreachable.


Pia Ault, MS is a Licensed Dynamic Emotional Integration® Trainer. She lives in Dubai, UAE, and offers DEI workshops and trainings throughout the Emirates. She has her master’s degree in Social Psychology, and is also a certified professional coach and Equine Assisted Coach Practitioner who works with families and individuals experiencing challenges in life, including Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Pia’s expertise in DEI includes working with anxiety, anger, and shame, and teaching empathic forms of communication to help people develop healthy and intentional empathy in their families and communities.

Contact Pia here