Do you enjoy working with your non-dominant hand? Eating with it? Writing? Playing? Doing household chores?
Or does it feel uncomfortable? In fact, can you remember the last time you tried to do some of your everyday activities with it?
I am right-handed and I don’t really enjoy using my left-hand, like most right-handers I know. Growing up, I would avoid eating with my left, dribbling a basketball and most certainly avoided doing household chores with it.
You must be wondering what any of this has to do with coaching or with coaches! It does and let me explain with a recent incident that allowed me to reflect on what the notion of what “left-handedness” meant to me as a coach.
A few weeks ago, I was scheduled to clean my bathroom-but with a handicap. I had a deep cut on my right palm that made contact with detergents painful. Therefore, I had no choice but to work with my left hand. I began without giving it too much of a thought, but noticed a few things right away. I was terribly clumsy with things like turning on and off the tap or spraying the detergent. Not just clumsy, but awfully slow. My annoyance with this showed up as I started scrubbing the tiles with a scouring brush. So, I started scrubbing faster and with more force. As I tried to scrub the hard corners, I ended up bruising my knuckles. I suddenly realized that this was not working and stopped halfway through, thinking this was pointless. I walked out of a half-soaped bathroom to take a break, which allowed me to pause the irritation I felt with myself, and to wonder why such a simple task was seemingly so complex!
When I got back to work, my whole energy seemed different – I was more cautious, slow and possibly more mindful of not banging my hand anywhere. The brushstrokes were shorter, more intentional and used less force. But more importantly, I was being more kind and encouraging to myself, giving myself (and my arm) the space required to complete the task. That day, I took twice the time to clean but was richer with embodied learnings about myself and how we learn new things.
In the weeks that followed, I continued to practice this new left-handed skill. While I admit it was not easy or fun, it allowed me to reflect on the process of change and personal growth. Introspection is invaluable for me as a coach who partners with others on their growth journeys. I believe the real outcome of coaching is not what happens in the session, but what happens outside of it as the client translates their session learnings and “aha” moments into behaviors and actions. This is also the most challenging part. Doing things a new way and adapting to change isn’t easy.
Sometimes, even the most committed of clients who agree on actions during the coaching conversation will sometimes come back with minimal or no progress. This is also a common challenge that, in my experience, coaches bring up during mentor coaching sessions – that clients don’t make much progress between sessions, which can be frustrating because it feels like they are back to square one! To overcome this challenge, I would offer an invitation to look at this aspect of client change akin to trying to do something with one’s left – or non-dominant – hand.
Often times when embarking upon a new action or behavior change, the initial failure leads to the client (and sometimes the coach) pushing themselves harder, in a demanding, aggressive, non-empathetic way. Just like I did while trying to clean with my left hand. When we appreciate this similarity, we can go beyond attributing it to the client’s lack of commitment or as a reflection of the coaching itself.
Instead, what if we could support the client in inviting themselves to embrace change with kindness, empathy, space and love? Celebrate the small successes instead of harshly critiquing the failures. Being non-judgmental and accepting of the gap between what they had committed to and what they actually achieve and understanding that this gap is only natural in the early days of change.
The process of client growth and action is quite similar to working with one’s non-dominant hand. With this perspective in mind, coaches can reflect with the client on how they can successfully translate coaching insights into outcomes, all the while demonstrating unconditional positivity, empathy and support to the client, celebrating progress and success. This falls In line with at least two of the ICF Core Competencies, in particular “Facilitates Client Growth” and “Cultivates Trust and Safety.“
I invite you to reflect on your coaching experiences and how you partner with your clients to achieve successful coaching outcomes. Not just on the session goals, the work that’s done in their lives. Most coaching program failure are not because of lack of client commitment, but because the client is unable to translate their insights into actions, consistently and sustainably. And this is where working with one’s non-dominant hand is helpful.