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    15 Ways to Break the Law of the Instrument

    Hammer, 3D rendering isolated on white backgroundPsychologist Abraham Maslow once famously remarked: “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” That’s known as The Law of the Instrument – and many of us have one or two well-worn instruments, tools, and approaches that we use to help our colleagues, friends and family solve problems.

    I know this first-hand: A decade ago after I graduated from coaching school I realized that my version of The Law of the Instrument was, “When what you are is a coach, every problem looks coachable.” Since one of the most useful tools in the coaching toolkit is curiosity, I asked a lot of questions. I mean, a LOT of questions. It got to the point that I would ask my kids, “How was your day at school?” or “What would you like for dinner?” and would hear, in response, “Are you trying to coach me???”

    Point taken. Even though Albert Einstein himself said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning,” the people around me said, “Please give your questioning a rest.”

    Now, ten years and hundreds of clients later, I now have a wide range of instruments that I can use to be helpful, depending on whether someone wants direction, advice, support, empathy, instruction, problem-solving or yes, coaching. And it took a lot of work to cultivate a toolkit where I could feel equally comfortable pulling out any instrument and using it well.  But the most important development for me was not assuming that I knew what help my client, colleague, friend or kid wanted or needed, but offering them a robust list of helpful approaches from which they could choose. Chances are, you have one or two well-worn instruments that you use regularly (such as problem-solving or brainstorming) and it might be time for you to add some new ones to your toolkit.

    You might like the feel of a new instrument in your hand – and you might be able to help the people you work, volunteer and live with might have a breakthrough that wouldn’t have been possible with the tools you’ve been using.

    Ready to break the Law of the Instrument? Here is my list of 15 new ones to offer:

    1. Listen without judgment
    2. Ask open-ended questions
    3. Play “Devil’s Advocate”
    4. Brainstorm 50 new ideas
    5. Empathize
    6. Connect you to an expert in the field
    7. Teach you a skill
    8. Share my own experience/path
    9. Give a pep talk/cheerlead
    10. Help you prioritize
    11. Take notes while you download your thoughts
    12. Help you develop evaluation criteria
    13. Do it along side you
    14. Send you articles, videos and other resources
    15. Fix it for you

    What are some other instruments you use? Post below.

    Four Boundaries You Need to Set to Get Anything Accomplished

    During a year-end coaching call, I was thrilled to celebrate one particular client’s 2015 victories: a long-awaited promotion, carving out more quality time on weekends to spend with his family, and a new exercise habit.

    “Mazel tov!” I said to my client.

    “And how do you think you did on your goal of making time for planning in your new role?”

    He replied: “Yeah…that one didn’t happen.”

    “Any chance,” I offered with a smile, “you mean that you didn’t do what it takes to make it happen?”

    He smiled back, somewhat sheepishly. “Yes. I guess I mean that.”

    “And what do you want for 2016?” I asked.

    “To do what it takes rather than waiting for it to happen.” He responded.

    And so we began…

    boundariesOf course, as we all know, doing what it takes to set aside time for something that feels important (rather than urgent) is easier said than done. Somehow, I can always find the time to read the new Entertainment Weekly and binge-watch “Making a Murderer” and yet, finding the time I need to write my new book or get my office organized seems not to “happen”. Why? Because “hoping it will happen” won’t get it done. Making the time to do it AND setting four types of boundaries to honor that time will.

    In her research paper, “Positive Psychology and Work-Life Integration: The Mutually Satisfying Relationship”, The University of Pennsylvania’s Katharine E. Comtois suggests that we need to set the following boundaries in our work and lives in order to focus on what matters most:

    1. Temporal – Being clear about what you will do and won’t do, and when.
    2. Physical – Setting a specific place and space for certain tasks and activities.
    3. Behavioral – Acting consistently in ways that are designed to get you what you want.
    4. Communicative – Letting people know your priorities and expectations, and sharing how they can help or might hinder the process.

    In January 2015, I decided that I was no longer going to travel more than 25% of the time, which would effectively cut my travel schedule in half. It was something that I wanted, but wasn’t “happening”. Of course it wasn’t happening – I hadn’t set any boundaries to support it. With that aha! top of mind, here are the boundaries that I created:

    1. Temporal – I will be from home no more than 7 nights a month, period.
    2. Physical – Any activity that I could do virtually rather than in-person, I did (like webinars for teams and organizations when on-site facilitation wasn’t needed).
    3. Behavioral – I actively sought out work opportunities that kept me sleeping in my own bed, which lead to a great teaching gig at Wharton Business School.
    4. Communicative – I told my clients, “I’ve used up all of my business travel for March and April, but I can travel to you in May. Would that work for you?” (And if it didn’t, I was happy to refer someone else!)

    I couldn’t be prouder of how the boundaries I set – and continue to honor. I also found that setting these boundaries felt scary (what will happen to my business? Who will I be disappointing?) and living by them feels exceptionally safe and satisfying.

    Here are some questions to help you strategize how you can use boundaries to stay focused on shifting what you “hope” will happen to actually and practically making it happen:

    • How can you leverage other people to support you in honoring your boundaries?
    • What technology can you rely on to help you set and keep boundaries?
    • What decisions do you need to make that honor your values? (These can include decisions about what to do and what to stop doing).
    • What habits can you implement that make honoring your boundaries automatic?
    • Where can you create a physical boundary to separate the different roles you have?
    • How can you use tangible items (like different phones or email addresses) to separate your work, life, self and community domains?
    • What do you need to communicate to your stakeholders to establish boundary expectations?
    • What can you plan (like a massage or vacation) so that you can take a short-term break from managing boundaries?
    • Where will you allow for “fuzzy” boundaries?
    • How will you handle boundary violations when they occur (because they will)?

    Feel free to share any responses with me at I’d love to hear them!

    Are you committed to make Work-Life Integration a priority for 2016? Get a head start by downloading our insightful, informative and inspirational one-hour webinar here.

    New languages offer a new way of being


    “There’s this boy who recently moved to the United States from Latin America and he’s facing some challenges. I would like for you to meet his parents and offer some help”,  a good friend and preschool teacher told me the other day.
     “Tell me more…give me an example”, I replied. 
    “Well, we were speaking about bedtime and when I asked about his, he didn’t respond”, she told me concerned. I tried to explain to her why this boy might not know the significance of “bedtime”.
    “You see, in many Latin American countries, there is no such thing as a “bedtime” or “story time” or even “time out”. The boy might not really know what you are asking him, because he might just go to bed when he is tired, or whenever his parents believe the time is right”. I looked at her with a big smile, as I reflected on all the cultural differences I had to face when my family and I moved to the U.S. 15 years ago and learn a new language. Still, after 15 long years, cultural shocks are part of my daily routine. 
    Some of the things I had to adapt to were in many cases unexpected, and with them came new words which brought new meanings and overall, a new me. Here are just a few: 
              Being invited to supper at 5:00 p.m. Dinner is supposed to be at 9:00 p.m. or later…anything earlier is a “merienda” (snack time); or the word supper itself. I hadn’t heard the meaning to that word until moving to the U.S.
              Story time, time out, or bedtime… what do these things even mean? we didn’t have them in our family over there.
              Being told the time a party starts and the time a party ends. In the world I come from, that’s considered rude. Parties last until people feel like leaving…No set beginnings and no set endings. Just go with the flow
              Waving or nodding politely instead of kissing someone on the cheek when you greet them. In that world it is extremely rude, but in the U.S., it’s courteous! 
              Walking into a room and not being able to just interrupt any conversation with a hug, but waiting until I’m being noticed…
              Requesting from people not to bring birthday gifts and instead make a donation. I love giving and receiving  birthday gifts, why can’t I bring something?
              Teachers are not encouraged to hug their young students with passion or sometimes even sit them on their laps, while in my world that was a way of showing affection and expected from a teacher.
              Not opening gifts as soon as you get them on your birthday or opening all the gifts in front of everyone –  I was taught not to do any of those! you open the gift as soon as you get it in front of the person who gave it to you.
              Sending thank you notes – never!  Instead, giving a hug and thanking someone on the spot.
              Youth soccer leagues make everyone a winner no matter what the final score is. How are kids supposed to learn how to compete, if everyone always wins? 
              Not having your doctor available whenever you need them. Where I come from, the doctor can regularly come to your home! 
              Brunch on Sundays.
              … And the list can go on forever. My personal list grows as I learn of new things everyday. 
    So far, I’ve lived in seven different countries and I made each one my home.  My world is always expanding as I discover new words, those words are new customs and traditions. I’m still trying to invite my American friends to “pasear” with me which is common for me, but I can’t find the exact word in English, as people here don’t “pasear” (walk around for the pure sake of walking, visiting places just to visit.) While this is true in Spanish, English has no such thing. Instead, I must use a long sentence to express my desire to go on a walk and visit places just to visit. Likewise, I can’t find a Spanish translation for the words “accountability” or “fund-raising” unless, once again, I use a lengthy descriptive sentence. 
    Words and languages create cultures, and as you learn a new language, you unleash a new “way of being.” Often I see people who are multilingual showing different personalities depending the language they are speaking at the moment, as if each language carries a different personality  with it.
    While at the beginning I had no clue what a bedtime was, I have learned to incorporate it into my own life and even used it with my children sometimes. I’ve also learned how to eat dinner earlier and attend and even host Sunday brunches from time to time. There are things, however, that my American friends have learned not to expect from me, among them waiting to open my gifts or sending them a thank you note. On these occasions, my Israeli and Latin spontaneity are emphasized more than ever. 
    Bottom line:it’s crucial to understand where the other person is coming from in order to make sure we are really communicating. The words we speak reflect the realities we are parts of and each reality provides different meanings. “What time do you go to bed in general?” is a universal question, everyone sleeps. “What time is your bed-time” is cultural, not everyone goes to sleep at a pre-determined time. It’s something worth thinking about in order to cross boundaries when we talk to someone who comes from a different country or background.
    Learn a new language and your world is guaranteed to become boundless, as mine has become over the years. New words with new meanings become new habits, and that’s how you adapt and make every place home. It is like going to a new restaurant and trying a new dish. It’s a new flavour that you have discovered and has now become a new option you never knew before.

    “Deb has been a respected speaker and facilitator for a number of our JCC conferences over the past few years. While I've heard about her energy, hard work in preparing, and meaningful content, it took her recent keynote speech at our annual JCCs of North America Professional Conference to make me realize what an incredible asset she is. Watching her present a content-filled, energetic, and personalized session -- without using any notes -- was very impressive. Deb is a multi-talented, serious, and impactful presenter."

    – Allan Finkelstein, Past President and CEO, JCC Association of North America

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