DIFFERENCES in culture

“Are Europeans friendly?”

This is a usual question I had for friends who went to Europe for their vacation. While my personal experience with Finnish had been a pleasant one, I couldn’t help but ask that question as I hear too many stories about Europeans being unfriendly.

I guess I got my answer today, with an opportunity to chat with a German, T, who has been living in Singapore for the past 9 years.

“Germans are straight forward. In fact, I had a little culture shock when I went back to Germany recently. The waitress was telling us that we should leave the seats as we only spent $5 in the cafe and seats are reserved for those who spent at least $10,” T shared his little nugget of story with me.

“I guess I’m getting too used to Asian culture. It’s not that the waitress was unfriendly, I knew she was…” he added.

It was a moment of epiphany for me.

Strangely, it should be something I ought to know, especially as a learner of the Japanese language and someone who likes the Japanese culture.

A big aspect of Asian culture is face-saving and if we observe the Japanese culture, which in my opinion has exercised this “face-saving” culture to the greatest extent, the culture is even built into their language.

For instance, even though the word “No” exists in the Japanese language, it is seldom used as it is considered rude to reject a person. The proper way to reply would be “A little…”, coupled with a smallish body language of backing away with a gentle smile and an eye frown on their faces.

As for the person receiving the reply, he/she is expected to understand that it means a rejection and not push further if he/she could help it.

For the Germans, it was about being direct and getting the point across. Yes, even though they may throw in a bit of sarcasm in the midst maybe. As T puts it, two guys could be having a heated argument in work but once work is done, they can go into the same bar together and drink like brothers in the evening.

It’s just a difference in culture.

Probably it’s just that I’ve never met enough people who are more blunt and direct. After all, I’m guessing that Singaporeans are probably pretty German compared to our Asian counterparts.

cold calls

She called me three times the past few months, on the pretext that she knew a board gaming friend of mine (who I’m still unsure who he is at the moment). Tried asking her for the purpose of her call to no avail. Sensing something funny going on, I postponed her calls till one month later and three months later respectively.

And finally on the third call, she was like “I play board games too.”

Oh? In my mind I was like so are you trying to invite me to a board gaming event? Or have you also heard that I was trying to design a board game and you would like to invite me to a special event for board game designers?

“Actually I’m a financial advisor…”

Never mind the rest of her conversation, it was 1 hour after the call and my reaction was still like:

Rant

Can’t take it that I decided to take it out on Facebook

***

After taking it out on Facebook, I decided to do something which I don’t normally do. I called her back.

Frankly speaking, I do not know why I bothered.

I just felt that I should.

***

“Sorry, you cold called me just now?”

“Oh, I must have pressed the wrong button while I was flipping through my phone book just now.”

“No, I called you back. There’s no mistake. I’m calling you back because I would like to give you my feedback on why I rejected you. Except, I’m not sure if you would like to listen to it.”

“Oh, ok…”

Didn’t expect this to turn into a 20-minute chat.

It seems that this lady was not that new to financial advising. She was expecting to do a referral call but this particular one with me ended up as a cold call. I told her that she actually had a chance, if only she was upfront about the purpose of the call, there’s a chance I might listen more, instead of a tough rejection.

I really believe she could do cold calls. I’ve seen it working for many people whom I knew.

She was insistent that she’s making a referral call.

As it progressed, we chatted about other stuff, her profession and mine, she shared a bit of stuff about her husband also, trying to find a bit of common ground to chat about. And we parted amicably (I hope). Left her a link to LusiGroup. Offered to arrange a free pass to their preview if she wanted to find out more.

Strange to say, now it seems as though I am doing the cold call eh?

Anyway, still not sure why I did this though it did made my day interesting.

Afternote: As to whether it made my day, well… a friend of mine did commented: “(she) probably will brush it off and think it’s just one irritating person.”… Right…. Ouch!

Never Flagging in Adversity

I was not the easiest person to work with – full of skepticism and negativity. Most of my high school classmates would avoid me. I was in huge internal struggles. Depressed. Despair about life. It was so dark that I there was actually a blank in my memory of a few of those moments, which I knew there was extreme pain but I couldn’t remember the details of it…

IMG_20170505_062713

The Navy has been a very important part of my life journey. I am extremely fortunate to be working under a dedicated group of passionate officers who accepted me for who I was, who saw my flair and nurture my creativity, who mended the broken me together.

To begin with, I was part of the army who didn’t want to let me go. Yet, I’m always treated as part of the Navy family. My commanding officer did not have to do this out of his busy schedule because I’m really a nobody but he made two calls to the personnel department to ask to keep me with the Navy family.

I am no sailor, but the officers who were under him took very good care of me too. They offered me their friendship and taught me the traditions of the seas anyway, a lot going far back into the Age of Discovery. I fondly remembered the many nights working through projects with them. The many bowling sessions we gone for. The really generous affirmation they have given me about my work and my artistry.

I also saw through a dark moment – RSS Courageous. I remembered the skies poured its wrath at us, soaking every hair and every skin on that sombre day which the military funeral took place. All soaked and cold, our hearts strung in a common heavy beat as the procession drove passed us.

Through fair winds and against rough seas, this journey had built my courage and my confidence to live on and gave me a chance to redeem myself. It is for this reason, I always feel very much indebted to the Navy and will forever be grateful to be given a chance to be a part of this great family.

BIG PICTURE THINKING and POWER OF INFLUENCE: Observing Leadership in my Students

N was the result-and-task-oriented person, the head of the student club. J was the people-oriented person and a leader from the previous generation.

Both were just as passionate in serving and both were correct in their own rights.

It was two schools of thoughts, just like the one between a conservative and a liberal, one between a democracy and a communism.

They couldn’t convince one another. I see logic in both and I see shortfalls in both their execution. They just have to decide and move on.

N was probably stubborn in his own way, having the likes of a great entrepreneur in the making although not quite there yet. Authoritarian in his approach and expects everyone under him to perform as well as him. Decisiveness was his strength. Anger management and giving up to easily in getting buy-in from his team were where his shortfalls laid.

The Issue in Question

The issue in question was about dealing with additional student manpower for a school event. N was dogmatic that all student volunteers must be of quality. He was willing to interview the over 50 volunteers and will not hesitate to kick anyone out if they did not meet his standard. Harsh were his actions but there were certain validity to it.

J disagreed because no one kicks out volunteers and this is not “how the student club works”. Airy-fairy that reasoning might sound, but not without its truths.

Big Picture Thinking

In leadership training, people were often taught to have “the big picture in mind and not to be bogged down by details”. I often thought to myself what big picture thinking actually means. It was one of those terms, to me, that is so overused that it loses its meaning.

However, being put into the situation to calm both N and J down, for the first time, I was forced to do big picture thinking in a manner that I’m self-aware. One thing that I definitely know:

  • Kicking out student volunteers may allow them to run the event smoothly and make the event-goers happy. It will highly likely result in bad reputation for the student club if not done properly too. This will mean that future leaders of the club will find it difficult to recruit volunteers for all sorts of events.
  • Yet, keeping all student volunteers may sink the event into mayhem. That will also result in bad reputation for the student club and may cause a decrease in the number of event-goers next time.
  • Win-win: Keep as many as we can, train them and give them a memorable experience. Develop them and we have more capable volunteers with us in the future. They will help us make our event-goers feel at home. After all, we need all the help we can get.

A few big aspects about big picture thinking here. To me, big picture thinking (may include but is not limited to):

  • Is cross-generational and for the long term: How a decision can bring positive impacts and negative effects in the long term. Long-term should be defined as beyond the current generation/situation.
  • Takes ALL stakeholders emotions and concerns into consideration: In short, empathy. Yes, we need to take care of the needs of the “customers”. This must not be done at the expense of our own people.
  • Is a Win-Win: This often requires some creativity but when we place serving the people at the heart of solving our problem, I truly believe this will flow in automatically.

Power of Influence

Just as I and my colleague thought that we have settled their differences, the unthinkable happened the next week. J was so uncomfortable with N’s approach that she gathered the support from the rest of the student leaders to lead, plan and execute the event!

From the conversations with the rest of the student leaders, we can see that N’s authoritarian approached failed to gather any form of sympathy or support from them. The leaders were in fact happy that they were able to carry on with their work under J’s leadership. One thing, they felt that they were respected.

In history lessons, we always heard endless stories about how knights and advisors of the west to generals and eunuchs of the east usurped the throne from the king. Some of them wanted the power and others wanted a revolution.

Whichever the case, it is the power of influence that ruled.

Positional power can be easily lost without influence.

 

Arena Anthems

One of the most important lessons I learnt from Brené Brown’s “Daring Schools: The Four Pillars of Courage” was to set up a playlist known as the Arena Anthems.

It is a playlist of empowering songs that accompanies you when you want to summon your courage to enter the “Arena”.

I do not have such a playlist yet but I believe I better put what I’ve learnt into action.

I never felt so alone at work.

I never felt so lack of time before.

I never felt so involved in emotions, such that I do not know how to manage it.

I struggled with authenticity, the dilemma of being my pessimistic inconsiderate self, and, just holding back my confabulations and ego, being a bit more encouraging to others and a bit more compassionate towards myself but at the same time, not to overdo it until I’m not myself.

Just a bit more. I think I can tide through this like how I tide through other trials and tribulations.

Just a bit more motivation.

Just a bit more encouragement.

I’m entering the Arena.

And there’s no turning back.

Advanced Presentation Techniques for My Final Year Project Students (Part 2: Make the Final Slide a Powerful Conclusion)

Advanced Technique 2: Make the Final Slide a Powerful Conclusion

I always advocate that the final slide should not be called “Thank You” or “Question and Answer”. In fact, these two slides should not appear in the presentation as they do not present any information about the presentation that you are delivering.

If you want to thank the listeners, you can thank them verbally and sincerely.

If you want to invite the audience to ask questions, just say so.

Leave the final slide as a conclusion to leave a lasting impression of what you want to tell them.

~Flex Tio~

If that is the case, what sort of impression will I leave for the assessors if I were a student you might be asking? I will do this:

  1. Reiterate my contributions (aka summarise)
  2. Relate how my contributions impact my project objectives (aka synthesise)
  3. Resist my urge to provide new information (aka sans as in the Latin word “sans” which means without)

1 and 2 helps remind your assessors to give you marks. Help the assessors recall why you deserve that A, or B. It also helps to influence guide them in asking questions that are relevant to your contributions.

That’s one way to prepare for a Question and Answer session.

3 does exactly the opposite. It encourages the assessors not to ask further questions. This is especially so when you seem to have delivered the perfect presentation so far, only to be thwarted by a new piece of (usually controversial) information delivered at the end that does not gel with the rest of your presentation.

In short, we are trying to create a lasting impression that the assessors can remember well long after the assessment is over. We would like them to say “That student is very capable isn’t it? He/She can do this, this, this and that!”

Rising Early, Finding Excuses

I read in an article some time ago the benefits of rising early. One of the reasons given was that the time in the morning effectively belongs to yourself.

Considering that there’s limited things which I could do after I get home after work, for the fact that I’m just too tired to do anything more productive, I was really eager to give this “rising early” habit a try.

The final target was to wake up at 5am. After all, I am already waking up at 6.30am every other day, what’s so difficult about waking up that early? While I was schooling, waking up at 5.45am is a really common thing to do.

I set an immediate target to wake up at 6am consistently, including weekends, for the next two weeks by winding back my alarm by 2 minutes daily. I will also push myself to sleep earlier at about 10 pm.

And you know it is not going to turn out well.

My body just can’t get used to it! It seems that without the weekends to sleep in till 7.30, without those other days where I just wake up a little bit later and to hit the snooze button, two weeks was all it took to bring my immune system down.

Maybe, I’m growing old.

Maybe, I’m just not meant to wake up that early.

Maybe, I’m living in a place who’s government decide to use the wrong time! Singapore rightfully belongs in the +7 GMT time zone but chooses to align our time with KL, or East Malaysia, or Hong Kong, or Beijing (depending on what your interpretation is). In fact, I’m really already waking up at 5.30am solar time when I wake up at 6.30am! …

singapore-time-zone

A modified image from Wikipedia on the time zones used in South East Asia. The red arrow shows where Singapore is.

… Maybe, I’m just finding excuses.