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Meet our Gym Members: Benny Levi

Last month you met Cody Cogan, one of The Communication Gym’s members who has committed to regular communication practice.

Our member spotlight today is Benny Levi, MD, PhD, Professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Humanities at the Penn State College of Medicine and Founding Director of Penn State’s Center for the Protection of Children. He is a philosopher and practicing primary care pediatrician whose scholarship interests include both conceptual and applied aspects of respecting patient autonomy, medical decision making, and “reasonable suspicion.”

He is also an aspiring blues guitarist.

Read on to learn about Benny’s experience with The Communication Gym.

1. When and how did you become a part of The Communication Gym?

I was recommended to Dale about a dozen years ago as someone who could help me be more effective at what I do. I was known as a good communicator, but I felt there were things holding me back from taking full advantage of the skills and opportunities I had. Back then, I participated in some open gym sessions, followed by private coaching with Dale. Over the years, I stayed in touch with him because he’s such a good guy. But over the past couple of years, I’ve brought Dale in to work with my academic team at the Penn State College of Medicine. Dale has helped us a lot by providing individualized coaching to various team members, as well as group sessions to develop more effective team dynamics. To be clear, we were a very successful team before we engaged with Dale, but he has really pushed us out of our comfort zone, and disrupted some ingrained patterns that were inhibiting our potential, and thereby our ability to grow and develop.

2. What challenge(s) were you facing before you became a member at The Gym?

All those years ago, I recognized that I was giving away my power when I was in meetings with people I didn’t know well. It turns out that was because I was assuming (mistakenly) that other people would recognize and appreciate the underlying relationships connecting the various points I made. Dale helped me appreciate this disconnect. He also helped me discover that by focusing on my role (in any given setting) I became much better at anticipating what was needed from me. When I identified that role –teacher, listener, constructive critic, father at soccer practice, or leader– I was not only better prepared to carry out that role, I was also better able to modulate my style of communication so I could be more effective. My natural style can be pretty informal. One of the things I came to appreciate is that in certain circumstances, I need to take on a more formal approach in order to effectively leverage the power and knowledge I bring to the table.

3. What have you learned about yourself and others?

I think a good example involves process. Generally speaking, I am not much of a process kind of guy. If a couch needs to be moved somewhere, I don’t much care why it needs to be moved, or how we feel about it. I just want to know where it needs to go, and then figure out how best to get it there. Dale helped me better appreciate the needs of my colleagues, who are much more process-oriented, and do a better job respecting those needs even though I don’t share them. With my larger team, Dale’s coaching prompted discussions that weren’t always the most comfortable, but definitely were productive and beneficial. These discussions also modeled for the team the value of constructive conflict –which I am very comfortable with, but not everybody is.

4. How has The Gym helped you, both professionally and personally?