Kym Dakin: Training groups to listen with the head, heart, and hands
Every month PelotonLabs founder Liz Trice interviews a Peloton member for the West End News. This month Liz caught up with Kym Dakin, a presentation coach and team experience designer.
You train people to work in situations where there is potential conflict, right?
Yes. For example, I did some very interesting work with the DEP. They were sending field staff to go meet with landowners who were in violation of environmental laws – this is a situation primed for hostility – and they wanted help in training staff so those conversations would go well.
For example, say a landowner wants to pave over a wetland portion of his property. The fieldworker’s job is to meet with the landowner, tell him or her what the laws are and the consequences, and why the landowner should comply – this is a difficult conversation to have go well!
The fieldworkers are very educated and data-saturated, and generally operate with the idea that more information will help, but the conversations were backfiring because information alone does not change a person’s mind. You have to listen and communicate with the head, heart, and hands.
I met with the field workers to understand their process and then designed a training. The fieldworkers were mostly listening for information about what happened in the past and were looking for ways to insert more information (that’s the head part) and solve problems in the future (that’s the hand part). But they were missing the heart listening: What’s the sound of their voice telling you? What’s the facial expression saying? What are they open to, or scared of? What do they care about?
The heart listening was essential to building alliances with landowners and creating positive outcomes. So, I developed a group training on what to listen for, and that training was extremely effective. We brought in a person to act as a grumpy landowner, and we would play out scenarios in front of the group, stop every time the conversation got into trouble, analyze the situation, and start again.
I do a lot of trainings and facilitations around conflict. A few years ago I created a game called ShiftPOV to help groups deal with conflict, and I recently started working with Craig Freshley’s model of Make Shift Coffeehouse, which is a way to host community conversation across political difference.
There are many topics that we hesitate to discuss outside of a group that we know agrees with us, but that reduces our capacity to relate to what is happening on the other side. The power of Make Shift Coffeehouse is to elicit stories about why people feel the way they do rather than elicit more facts that bolster their separate opinions. I went through the training and am facilitating two upcoming coffeehouses.
You also train doctors.
Yes, I work in the simulated patient program to train medical residents at Maine Med in more productive patient conversations. Residents learn to have better conversations with patients, but some residents find they struggle with the skills of effective communication, empathy, deep listening, reading behavior… and sometimes end up choosing research instead of medical practice, and that’s a valuable outcome, too.
And you train people in public speaking.
Yes, I’ve done a lot of work with women who are stepping into higher positions where they have to make speeches and presentations. I’ve worked as a speech and presentation coach for Lisa Pohlmann, the Executive Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. More recently I started working with teams of young women there, who are saturated with data as part of their jobs but have to communicate to members of the legislature. I work with the women individually, but also as a group so that they can support each other. It’s fun working with groups of women, because as they develop trust, they can really be there for each other, and call each other on their stuff, and can continue to support each other without me being there.
This sounds like the type of consulting expertise that would be difficult to market for!
(Laughs) Absolutely! It’s all word of mouth. I do a lot of networking and I listen for challenges that I can help with. I look for workplaces that are having trouble retaining talent, or has a team that used to be productive, but has hit a barrier and is struggling. I also look for women that have been newly recruited to positions of high visibility.
You can learn more about Kym Dakin and her work at
And more about Make Shift Coffeehouse at
PelotonLabs is a coworking space in the West End of Portland, Maine with a mission to connect and encourage people to manifest their visions without fear. Learn more at https://www.pelotonlabsportland.com/en.