'Left-Handed' Coaching - International Coaching Federation

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‘Left-Handed’ Coaching

Posted by Vijayalakshmi S, MCC | April 21, 2021 | Comments (5)

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  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 partDoing 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.  

Headshot of Coaching World contributor Vijayalakshmi.

Vijayalakshmi S, MCC

Vijayalakshmi S, MCC is an ICF-Credentialed Coach and mentor, an experienced management consultant and a certified systemic and team coach. Her coaching specialties include executive, leadership, wellness and conflict coaching, working with individuals, teams and businesses. She has a rich background in human resources and law and is an accredited mediator. Vijayalakshmi is a coaching evangelist and a believer in the power of collective and universal connections. She currently serves as President of the ICF Chennai Charter Chapter.

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts featured on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the International Coach Federation (ICF). The publication of a guest post on the ICF Blog does not equate to an ICF endorsement or guarantee of the products or services provided by the author.

Comments (5)

  1. PADMANABHAN S says:

    Very true of going into the uncomfort zone which we are not used to, the gap is not the will, most of the times, it’s the skill to handle change, and it needs training, as coaches, it’s appropriate for us to be with the client, kind and empathetic for him to learn the skill of managing change within.

  2. Ram s Ramanathan says:

    Great observation Viji . Dominance is perhaps part of the problem. Using the left activates the right brain, which in general is more holistic and compassionate. Coaching is a right brain activity not a cognitive left brain chore. Cheers

  3. Somayaji Manikantan says:

    Ambidextrous coaching for successful coaching outcomes is an inviting proposition. Overcoming habitual dominance of limbs as a way for supporting client growth is worth giving a try as any mindset change must be embodied to issue out in action. Persistence despite of setbacks and determination within oneself to succeed in a goal set is pertinent as well.

  4. bhaskarnatarajan@gmail.com says:

    Hi Vijayalakshmi

    Well articulated account of insight from daily life observations. I’ve pondered on this conundrum quite a lot in my coaching experience with clients who needs a ‘nudge’ – a.k.a – ‘a forceful push’ or ‘wake up call’ to ensure they are not stalling in their progress towards achieving goals. On one hand, as a coach one could choose to be empathatic & stay with the client’s pace (i.e championing them to move forward, even if it happens at a much slower pace than what the client is capable of) and on the other hand, the coach could decide to ‘Nudge’ the client, from time to time, to pick up more pace to the finish line as she has the ability to do so! The choice between these two approaches could be a function of ‘Coach’s experience & skill maturity’; trust level between the client and the coach; and more importantly the ‘interior conditions’ of the client.

    Neverthless, Coaching is both an art and science, each client is unique and there are more ways to reach the Summit!

    Thanks for sharing your insights! Keep them coming!

  5. Shrinivas says:

    what if we could support the client in inviting themselves to embrace change with kindness, empathy, space and love? – very powerful question for the coach ; between what’s right and what’s kind – kindness should be chosen. A very beautiful article Viji. The article also reflects how coaching when imbibed in day 2 day life gives pointers for reflections.

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