Hammer and Nail

“If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail”
Abraham Maslow

One day, a wise carpenter took on an apprentice, to whom he would teach the art of woodwork. On the first day, the carpenter decided to teach the eager boy about the basics of the craft and instructed him on the correct use of a hammer. The carpenter was surprised to hear a pounding noise coming from his workshop when he arrived to start work the following morning.  He opened the door to find his new apprentice hammering away at a piece of leather which would be used to cover a seat. The carpenter asked the boy to explain what he was doing. The apprentice hung his head, and explained that he had been trying to prepare the leather to gain favour with the carpenter.

Instead of getting angry, the carpenter saw that the boy could learn a valuable lesson. He sat down with the apprentice and explained that although a hammer is an essential tool, it was not always the most appropriate or effective one. He told the boy that in carpentry, as well as life, it pays to take time to assess a situation and decide on the best tool. The boy could have spent hours hammering at the leather with no result, however, had he taken time to think the job through before starting, he would have realized that scissors would have been much more suitable.

We can all learn from the apprentice’s lesson. When it comes to problem solving in our own lives, it can be tempting to take the same tried and tested approach to every problem that occurs. For some people, this might be an unhealthy behaviour, such as refusing to face up to an issue in the hope that it will go away. For others it might be to approach the problem head on, knowing that they have previously fixed problems by taking that attitude before. The issue that frequently occurs is that, while we can learn from previous experiences, it is all too easy to think that every situation is essentially the same – so we take the same route to resolve it. Before we pick up the hammer to nail down that problem, we can ask ourselves – would another tool handle this more effectively?

As a coach, you can prepare your client to deal with life’s twists and turns by:

  • Helping the client identify the range of tools that they can call upon when problem-solving.
  • Encouraging the client to take time to assess situations and decide on the most appropriate approach.
  • Aid the client to learn from past situations where taking a single-minded approach has had an unexpected result.

[Coaching Questions]

  • Do you need a hammer or a pair of scissors to do this?
  • How do you know this is the right tool for the job?
  • What are the alternatives?
  • In the past, how did you resolve a similar situation?
  • How can you apply it to another area of your life?
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