Wednesday, April 30, 2014

On Remembering the Holocaust: My two takeaway lessons

Dear Friends,

This past Monday was Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day. Here is an article I wrote four years ago, “Remembering the Holocaust: My two takeaway lessons.”

In this article, I focused on the importance of having a Divine based morality and realizing what it means to be a Jew.

You can access the article by clicking on the title.

Take care,


Monday, April 28, 2014

Iyar: Helping others and not causing them distress

Dear Friends,

This is a post about the Jewish month of Iyar, as it relates to The Chazak Plan: A 12 Month Journey to Spiritual Strength.

Rosh Chodesh Iyar is on April 30th and May 1st.

During this month occurs the period known as The Omer. During part of The Omer, we commemorate thousands of Rabbi Akiva’s students who died in a plague. The Talmud teaches that the plague occurred because the students did not treat each other with proper respect.

To strengthen ourselves in this key area of treating others well, each day during this month, check off on your checklist if you did an act of kindness that day. If you didn’t yet, ask yourself if there is someone you can call or email, who would appreciate that you reached out to them. At the very least, put some money in a box designated for charity. Don’t let a day go by without doing something for someone else. As the Sages teach, (Pirkei Avot 1:14), “…If I am [only] for myself, what am I?”

In addition, at the end of the day, review your day and consider if you may have caused someone distress, by what you said or did. If yes, commit to apologize to them as soon as possible.

The reading for this month is an action plan containing key points found throughout this book which will help us live a more fulfilling life. Anyone can benefit from this plan, regardless of their affiliation.

The plan starts off with a simple test to help you determine if you are on track to living a meaningful and fulfilling life. The plan will help you prepare for next month, when we celebrate receiving on Mount Sinai the Torah, God’s instruction manual for life. Choose one suggestion from the action plan and add it to your checklist.

Reading for the month:

How to Live a Fulfilling Life: An Action Plan

Take care and may God grant you success in the coming month,


Thursday, April 10, 2014

On Do What Worked for Our Ancestors in Egypt—4 Lessons from the Exodus

Dear Friends,

This week the OU published an article of mine. If you did not catch the blog post of this article, here is the link to it on the OU's website:

Do What Worked for Our Ancestors in Egypt—4 Lessons from the Exodus

Have a Shabbat Shalom and a Happy Passover (Chag kasher vesameach),


Sunday, April 6, 2014

On 6 Ways to Deal with Hypercritical People

Dear Friends,

This week Aish published an article of mine. It is an abridged and modified version of my post discussing how to deal with criticism from family members.

You can access the article by clicking on this link:

 If you have a Facebook account and like the article, please consider clicking on the "Like" link.

Thank you,


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

6 Ways to Deal with Critical Family Members

Many people have at least one critical family member. We may come away from our interactions with them feeling angry, hurt and upset. It does not have to be this way. Here are six strategies to help you effectively handle criticism.

(While we will focus on family members, you can use these strategies to deal with criticism from others as well.)

1. Don’t take it personally. Some people are overly critical; it is a flaw they have to work on. Remind yourself that it is their issue, not yours. Their frequent criticism does not reflect poorly on you, it reflects poorly on them, that they have not yet learned how to speak to people.

When you don’t take people’s criticism personally, you will be able to step back and be more objective. This will help you let criticism roll off your back; you may even be able to see the humor in the situation and think to yourself, “There they go again.” (But make sure not to roll your eyes.)

Generally, family members criticize us because they want the best for us. They are afraid we will make a mistake, suffer the consequences and not fulfill our potential. It is their way of expressing concern and love. Feel compassion for their fears, and try to see past their surface remarks to the underlying love. Often, when they criticize us, what they really mean to say is, “I believe in you. I know you can improve even more and fulfill your amazing potential.”

Frequently, the more critical the family member is, the more they lack contentment and happiness. Critical people often also drive away family members and former friends, living lonely and bitter lives. See if you can feel compassion for them and ask God to help them overcome this issue.

2. Be proactive. Relatives usually say the same criticism each time we see them; this is a good thing because then you can come prepared. Have a pat phrase ready that you can say in response to critical comments; use the broken record technique and repeat your pat phrase until they get the message. For example, a relative tells you, “You have to get a PhD because then you can leave your dead-end job and earn more money.” In response, you can say any of the following: “Good point. Thanks for your concern,” “Thanks for sharing that. I'll think about it,” or, “I hear your point. Let's talk about something else.” Have conversation topics you can switch to, e.g., what’s going on in their or your life, a future event you are both looking forward to, talking about their past, a happy memory you both share or family history.

3. Inoculate yourself with positive feedback. We all need positive comments – praise and expressions of appreciation. They help us handle negative feedback. If you are not receiving enough positive feedback, try the following four tips:

First, each day, give others positive feedback; compliments and expressions of appreciation are contagious.

Second, if someone is miserly in giving positive feedback, let them know that you would appreciate it if they would point out the things you do well. Tell them, “I value your positive feedback and compliments.”

Third, spend time with people who are complimentary. For example, visit friendly senior citizens; they generally are very appreciative of your company and will sing your praises.

Forth, do not depend on others for positive feedback – give it to yourself instead. Search for the good in you. Appreciate and be thankful for your positive qualities and talents; praise yourself for your achievements and for how far you’ve come.

4. Let go of wanting approval. Part of the reason we may cringe at criticism is because we want others to approve of us and we view their critical remark as a sign that we have lost their approval. We have to remind ourselves that just because someone finds fault in a specific behavior of ours does not mean they think poorly of us; it just means they think we can improve even more.

The sooner we admit that it is OK to make mistakes, the sooner we will be able to accept criticism without becoming defensive. Ironically, accepting criticism gracefully will make people think more highly of us, not less.

On a deeper level, we have to realize that we only need approval from God. As long as we do the right thing, it does not matter what others think of us; there will always be people who think we are wrong. As far as we are concerned, even the whole world can think we are crazy; they did about our Forefather Abraham, and we are here today because of what he stood for.

The next time you feel stung by an unjust criticism, ask yourself, “Am I hurt because I want them to think highly of me?” If yes, then tell yourself, “God approves of me and that’s enough.”

5. Look for the nugget of wisdom. If you found a filthy diamond ring on the street, would you pick it up? Similarly, do not dismiss valuable criticism just because it was given in an inappropriate manner. People spend large sums of money for the feedback of others; you just got some for free. Consider if there is anything of value in their comment that can benefit you.

When someone criticizes you, hear them out, thank them for their comment and ask questions if you're not sure what they mean. Then, either agree and take responsibility for the point that has value, or let them know that you will give their comment serious consideration; if needed, use a pat phrase as discussed above. Arguing with them rarely works and often only exacerbates the situation. At the same time, if they are criticizing you because of a misunderstanding, you may want to clarify the situation.

6. Confront the person.
If someone says something hurtful, call them on it. To avoid being judgmental, use “I” statements instead of “You” statements. For example, “I felt hurt when you said…” instead of, “You were insensitive when you said…” Let them know how you would like to be treated and which behaviors are unacceptable. When appropriate, share with them my article, “6 Ways to Kick the Criticism Habit.” People can change and improve their behavior, if they choose to.

If they don't stop their harmful behavior, walk away when they speak in a hurtful manner and distance yourself from the relationship as much as possible. If you are being subjected to verbal abuse (e.g. a pattern of constant criticism or criticism done in a degrading or hurtful manner), seek professional help; it is often difficult to deal with such a situation on your own. One book on this topic is The Verbally Abusive Relationship, Expanded Third Edition: How to recognize it and how to respond by Patricia Evans.

Handling criticism gracefully is a learned skill; you will improve overtime. To begin, make a list of critical family members and write down an action plan how you will deal with each one – different people require different approaches. When formulating your plan, keep in mind what worked for you in the past.

Remember, you can handle critical family members. With these tools in mind, prepare yourself before your interactions with them. In addition, ask God for the strength and wisdom to respond to their comments with finesse and grace.

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

How to Give Constructive Feedback without Sounding Critical

Ever notice that when we criticize people, they usually get defensive?

But if they get defensive, they will not benefit from what we have to tell them. So how can we help others improve without butting heads?

One way is to avoid telling them directly that they did the wrong thing. This approach works the majority of the time and I discuss how to do this in, “6 Ways to Kick the Criticism Habit.” But what do you do when that method is ineffective, or for pressing issues that need to be discussed as soon as possible?

In those situations, we have to sit down with the person and give constructive feedback.

6 steps to giving constructive feedback:

Before the conversation:

1. Be humble. Sometimes, we think we know better than others and that only we can set them straight. The truth is that our criticism may be unfounded, our solution ill-advised and God has many messengers to lead people back to the right path. Even if you give the best advice, the person may not follow it. Ask God to help you give proper advice and to give the recipient the strength to make needed changes.

Each of us is filled with flaws and have made many mistakes. We have to acknowledge that, and when we give feedback, to do so humbly; one flawed human being trying to help another. If applicable, when giving feedback, let the person know about an area in which you struggled and overcame.

2. Establish rapport. To be most effective, the person receiving the feedback needs to know that you like and care about them, that you are on their side and want to help them. One way of building rapport is by giving compliments and expressing appreciation, i.e., giving much more positive feedback than negative feedback. If you have lapsed in giving ample positive feedback, either hold off on your negative comments until you do so, or at least start off the conversation with positive feedback.

3. Avoid giving unsolicited feedback; ask first. Speak to the person privately, when you are both calm and in a gentle tone of voice, without edge, frustration or anger. Ask them if they are open to your feedback. You cannot force someone to change; people change only if they want to. If someone is not interested in feedback (or doesn’t think your concern is an issue), there is no point in proceeding; the attempt will only antagonize them and frustrate you. Sometimes though, we still have to let others know what is expected of them and the consequences of not meeting those expectations.

Often, people are willing to discuss the issue, just not when we bring it up; in that case, schedule a specific time for the discussion.


4. Keep it short and sweet. Most people will get the point right away and belaboring the issue will only annoy them. Give the context of what you are talking about and be specific and factual. After stating the facts, explain the effects of their actions from your perspective. To be nonjudgmental, use “I” statements instead of “You” statements. For example, “I was inconvenienced…” instead of, “You were inconsiderate…”

Speak respectfully and talk in a way that preserves their dignity; after all, you are speaking to one of God’s children. Keep the main focus on encouraging them to do better in the future; be specific how they can improve, explain the benefits and express your confidence in them to rise to the challenge.

5. Make it a joint effort. When giving your opinion or view of the situation, make it clear that this is the way you see things. Ask them what their view of the situation is; maybe there is a misunderstanding. It can be helpful to phrase the topic as “our issue” and not “your issue.” This shows that you’re on their side and want to work with them to overcome the difficulty. Get their input on the best way to address the issue; people are more likely to follow through on an idea they think of than one you suggest.

Depending on the situation, you may want to agree on a time to meet again to follow up. In the interim, do not bring up other concerns; people generally do best when they focus on improving one issue at a time.


6. Use positive reinforcement. It is demoralizing when a person tries to improve, only to be told it’s not good enough. Follow Dale Carnegie’s advice in How to Win Friends & Influence People, “Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be ‘hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.’” (He has a number of other helpful tips for giving constructive feedback, some of which I touched upon in this article.)

Giving empowering and effective feedback is a learned skill; you will improve overtime. When done right, you can change people’s lives, helping them overcome weaknesses and develop strengths. You help them transform into the people they were meant to be.

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