Pia Ault is a licensed DEI Trainer living in Dubai. She was a member of the very first cohort of DEI licensees at Empathy Academy and became licensed in 2016. Since then she’s been a pioneer of this work in the Middle East. Her friendly, caring nature combines with her direct and determined personality to create trainings that are well-received by audiences who are used to a very different status quo.
Q&A with Pia Ault
What brought you to this work?
I was introduced to Karla’s book, The Language of Emotions, as part of the curriculum of my equine assisted learning and coaching program. I was intrigued and kept on reading and when Karla offered the online DEI course I jumped on it and was part of cohort 1. So much of my coaching journey and DEI journey was originally to become more self aware and then you gradually shift to helping others I believe.
Is Dubai home for you?
Dubai has been home now for 11 years, but Denmark is where I grew up, through high school, and then I went to university in the US. We’ve lived in US, Denmark, UK, and now the Middle East.
What are some of the highlights of the work you’ve done with DEI?
Definitely the group work at the retreats; nothing beats being together in an intimate group while learning together and safely exploring. As I have taken the work forward locally, a two-day workshop for men in Saudi Arabia, on emotions and empathy, was very eye-opening as they shared their cultural challenges and we openly discussed shame, which for many in the Middle East is an emotion they find it hard to regulate.
How does your equine coaching education play into your current work?
I try to incorporate DEI into all my coaching, both when I work with and without the horses. When I work with clients and horses, it is interesting how the horses mirror and highlight the emotions the client experiences. This provides ample opportunity to talk about what emotions come up and what messages they bring – using the horse behavior or reaction as a further metaphor to discuss deeper.
I know you love animals – do you have a favorite?
I love all animals and I have three cats, two dogs, and a horse – all rescues, except for my French Bulldog Slim, who is my absolute best friend. But they are all special in their own way.
What are your most recent projects?
Last month I was fortunate to be able to present the DEI material to two different groups in the Middle East; I held a short workshop for a large global consulting firm (40 engineers, solution architects, and managing directors of technology consulting). The second experience was a 2-part webinar, to coaching trainees in Saudi Arabia.
What did you do for the workshop?
The workshop was part of a wider HR initiative that focuses on “Changing Habits” and “Giving Feedback” – and I did the main theme around “Empathy in the Workplace.” I used Karla’s material around empathy and why it is so important to regulate emotions in the workplace and also express gratitude and appreciation (feedback) in teams – between manager and subordinates, and when they meet clients. As an ice breaker I got everyone out of their seats and asked each person to find three people they had never met or connected with, perhaps new employees or someone who has been on client site for years and who hadn’t met other team members. The instructions were to introduce themselves to the other person and include two things: “What are you most proud of?” and “one thing nobody knows about me”.
Those seem like great questions – how did the group respond?
Once they got going, we could not get them to shut up and sit down…the whole room buzzed! When they finally settled down, I debriefed and asked who would share the most surprising thing learnt about someone else…we had several “could have been” stories: a race car driver, a cricket player, a builder, and a Rubik’s Cube addict. People saw another side of their colleagues and it was so exciting to see that they connected in dialogue to build relationships and trust.
You also mentioned doing webinars?
A coach peer of mine has recently started his own coach training program and he has 6 students in his pilot, in Saudi Arabia. He asked me if I would hold a couple webinars for them around emotions and empathy. I did a 90-minute webinar on Language of Emotions and a 90-minute webinar on Art of Empathy and then I encouraged each student to read the books and also proceed with DEI programs and courses as they saw fit for their own development. It was meant to be a high level awareness webinar so they can “meet their clients where they are” and learn how to better identify what is theirs and what is the client’s “stuff”, as well as understand how to regulate up and down when needed.
Were the webinars well-received?
I got 10 out of 10 on both webinars from the students, so I’m very proud – and they all commented on how passionate I was about the topic. When you have a framework and research around a topic that is so well explained, as Karla has done with DEI – it’s easy to get behind it and spread the knowledge.
Pia’s Teaching Philosophy: Emotions are a rich source of information, self-awareness, and awareness of others. The emotions are full of intelligence and energy! I love to help people develop their emotional awareness and empathy so that they can access the brilliance that lives inside them in every moment.
What’s up ahead for you?
The workshop was a huge success so I am doing a similar workshop at another office in Riyadh later this month. I continue to be on the faculty of the coach training program in Saudi Arabia and I also plan to start horse assisted empowerment workshops for women, now that we enter winter here and it is possible to work with the horses outside without melting. I always incorporate the DEI work in those workshops.
How has DEI most impacted your own life?
I’ve actually been able to understand my own anxiety better, and have been able to come off the medication I was on for several years. I credit that to the program, course, and awareness I have been involved in these past 3 years, and the continued evolving of the program and experience-growth we as trainers and consultants are doing.
Where do you see yourself in regard to this work in the future?
I’d like to dig deeper and focus more on one or two specific emotions – probably anxiety, because this culture and region is ripe with this, as it is a transient environment with expats who never know when and where they will find themselves next.
Pia Ault, MS is a licensed DEI 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.