Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Last One... ALREADY??

Well, this is the last week of the semester; lo and behold, this is in fact the last week of my NUS academic career. Reviewing the understanding of the value of effective communications which I had before the semester and after the semester, I might say that there is not much change to it. Same as before, I think that effective communication skills are crucial in our daily life. It is not only used in the workplace, but rather, it is also critical in maintaining a good relationship with all those around you: parents, friends, loved ones.

This module has provided a platform for intense practice of this particularly useful skill. Communication skills were practiced in small group discussions during classes, in classroom settings where each individual was encouraged to voice out our opinion. In particular (and it is something very new to me, being the cyber “mountain turtle” which I tend to be), communication skills were practiced through blogging and commenting on each other’s blog. The addition of the new media component certainly has added an interesting touch to this module. Of course, and how can I forget, the group project for this module has not only sharpened our critical thinking and writing, but through working in a group, has certainly also forced all members to utilize the skills taught in class. Firstly we had to try to communicate effectively with each other using the 7Cs via emails and writings. Secondly, it was to learn to compromise and accept that each individual is different, and by working in a team is to try to synergize each individual’s strong points and produce a piece of work which at the end of the day, each member of the team can proudly say that, “This is our joint effort! Well done!” Thirdly, the presentation at the end of the project has also forced us to put on the hat of a “salesman”. Essentially, we had to think of ways to put across our ideas in the paper effectively and concisely, without boring the hell out of the audience.

All the above has honed my communication skills. Although I think the value which I placed on effective communication skills has not altered, I would like to think that after the whole semester’s worth of continuous practice and sharpening, in gaming terms, my communication skills (as well as all fellow ES2007s tutorial mates’ comms skills) have “leveled up”!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

All about Kenny

I am Kenny, a 4th year Mechanical Engineering major, specializing in Offshore Oil and Gas Technology. Academically, my main interests are in the area of materials technologies and the development offshore oil and gas equipment. For my final year project, I have successfully designed and fabricated a hydrophone (an underwater acoustic device used for oil and gas deposits exploration). Due to the interest which I have in engineering, in my academic pursuits, I was awarded 2 Dean’s List awards as well as the South East Asia Exploration Society (SEAPEX) Best Presentation Award.

To have a more hands-on experience in the Offshore Oil and Gas industry, I applied for and spent a 3-month varsity vacation at Keppel Offshore and Marine (KOM), one of the world’s leading offshore and marine companies. The time spent there has given me a peek into the life of an offshore oil and gas engineer. Perhaps it is the various technical challenges which the job of a Keppel engineer offers, or perhaps it is the prospect that as a project manager, I might one day be able to manage a multi-million ship/rig building project; I applied for the KOM scholarship. After 4 rounds of interview, I am thankful that they found me to be worth my salt, and awarded me with the scholarship.
Outside the academic arena, I have a keen interest in the current affairs, particularly in the areas of government and politics. In this fast-paced globalizing world, I believe that it is important for one to be able to think quicker, deeper, broader and further. Thus, it is necessary for one to be consistently enriched with the various views and news around the world. I spend my leisure time reading books and the various columns found in The Straits Times. The consistent intellectual stimulations from the above sources have allowed me to think more critically.

Aside from recreational basketball and soccer sessions, I have a keen interest in the performing arts. Being the president of the SAJC Chinese Society, I had the privilege of working with a very talented and dedicated team of club members. The play which I scripted, directed and acted in was awarded the third prize in the National Schools Drama Competition. It was also a very rewarding experience being the emcee of the 2001 National Schools Songwriting Competition organized by SPH. All these have given me the confidence to lead and taught me the importance of teamwork. More importantly, having only joined a drama club at the JC level, the experiences have helped me uncover a certain talent in me which I never know existed before (I was in NCC during my sec sch days).

To end off, I would like to quote from a ST “Think” column (it is a weekly ST column which has its columnist circulated amongst the directors of various think tanks/research institutes in Singapore, do read it if you have the time, it’s kinda good) which I read recently, and has since left a deep impression on me,

“Do what you can today, for you may never know whether there is tomorrow.”

I intend to seize the day and live life to the fullest. One should be thankful for what one has now, give back to the society whenever possible; for seriously, one does not know if there is a tomorrow. I would want to lead a meaningful life, in good times and bad.

Carpe Diem.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Case of the Stone Lions

Was surfing around for a topic for this week’s open topic, found the following case interesting and decided that it shall be the blogging topic for this week.
Let’s just call it “The Case of the Stone Lions”. Why is that so? Please read on…
In December 2004, Japan’s largest car maker Toyota published an advertisement in over 30 magazines in China, for its new Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV), the Toyota Prado.
As can be seen from the above picture, the Toyota model “Prado” has been named “霸道”, a common practice for carmakers to change their English model names into Chinese for the China market . “霸道” in Chinese means hegemonic, rule by force, domineering. At first glance, one cannot fault them for naming the model “霸道”. As explained by Julie Du, account manager with Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, which made the ads explained, “These ads were intended to reflect Prado’s imposing presence when driving in the city”.

What went wrong were the 2 stone lions circled in red, as can be seen from the above picture. In the eyes of Chinese readers, the stone lions which traditionally represent Chinese sign of power were seen cowed into submission, with one raising its paw in salute to the Prado parked in front, with the other one stooping its head. What made the advertisement’s reception worse is that the stone lions were reflected by some Chinese readers as resembling those flanking Marco Polo Bridge, the site near Beijing of the opening battle in Japan’s 1937 invasion of China.
Many Chinese readers interpreted the stone lions to represent China, with Toyota trying to proclaim its “Toyota Tyranny” over the Chinese people. Creative internet forum users even went further to doctor the pictures, such as the one shown below. (霸道, 不得不拿下! Translates to “Prado (hegemony), must be taken down!”)

After countless complaints and feedbacks from Chinese citizens to Toyota, stating that the dignity and feelings of the Chinese people have been insulted, Toyota was forced to retract and formally apologise for the advertisement.

The Toyota fiasco highlights the tricky cultural and historical pitfalls that afflict marketing for even the savviest foreign companies in China. On one hand, the ad industry increasingly agrees that despite rampant nationalism, patriotism does not build brands. But Toyota and others recently have discovered they still cannot ignore how strongly politics shapes Chinese consumer sentiment. Perhaps in some cases, lessons were learnt more painfully than the others’.

Although it is found that the lure of patriotism does not win customers (Nike still sells much better than home-grown sports brand Li-Ning), offending national pride is one sure-fire to lose them. For one to do business in a foreign country, getting creative in its print advertisements/commercials might be a winning way to attract new customers, however if one does it with a profound lack of local knowledge or inter-cultural sensitivity, the consequences might be costly and irreparable.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Evaluating Intercultural Behavior

This particular incident was recounted to me by a Thai tutor, of my Human Resource Management class.

In a Toyota car manufacturing plant in Thailand, an engineer from USA was just posted to the plant as a manufacturing engineer. One of his first tasks was to lead the Thai technicians under him to accomplish part of the manufacturing operations. After giving a briefing to the local technicians, he asked,

“So do all of you understand your tasks on hand? Any clarifications needed?”

He looked around; smiles were hanging on all local technicians’ faces. He asked one more time, the same reaction. “Great!” he thought, it seemed like he was getting along well with his new team, and communication seemed to be perfect.

Sadly, when the American engineer next checked with the team again, all the work which was accomplished by the team was not what he wanted. Essentially, all the technicians had not really understood what he said, but out of courtesy, they did not question his instructions during the previous meeting with him.

Well, what can we learn from this saga? Personally, I think it was a case of a foreigner lacking in understanding of local culture. Thailand, being a “Land of Smiles”, is a place where people try to be courteous to everyone, especially to foreigners. This could potentially be a double-edged sword. In American cultural context, it might be the case that when there is no questioning, and coupled with a smile on the face, it is a sign of “Roger that boss, I got you loud and clear”. Questioning in American culture might be just a normal gesture which means no form of disrespect.

On the other hand, in Thailand, it might be considered rude to question one’s superior, especially a new foreigner boss. The unsuspecting American engineer, not foreseeing this possibility, and based on his own cultural assumption, went on to interpret that as a sign of understanding.
It might not be possible to thoroughly understand all the various countries’ cultures.

Nonetheless, it is only prudent to keep in mind that differences in cultures will spell differences in communication norms and practices. It will pay to be extra cautious about potential communication loopholes in a new workplace with a different culture.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Reply to a Service Requst....

Dear Mr. Lee,

Thank you for writing in to tell us the problems you faced with the use of your new machine.
At KSE engineering, we pride ourselves as a provider of good after sales services. As such we will try to arrange a service appointment asap.

However, as you did not state in your previous email to us what are the dates and times which our service engineers can go to your company to do servicing, the arrangement for servicing on your machine can only commence after you have do that.

Thank you.

Ms Sherlyn Loh
Customer Service Officer

The above appended letter is a business correspondence letter between 2 companies. KSE engineering, was writing in response to an earlier email from another company (written by Mr. Lee) which was asking for technical assistance for the purchase of a new machine from KSE engineering.

The writer of the letter started off brightly by adopting a You-attitude (refer text book page 45), as the thanking sentence had the focus on the customer who wrote in about the new machine. The letter was also concise in conveying the message which the writer intended.

However, the writer could be a little more apologetic towards the customer since they had encountered problems with the machine not long after their purchase. Furthermore, as the writer progressed to explain the problem they faced in arranging a service appointment for the customer, the tone employed (by focusing the blame on the customer’s last email) seemed to be a tad impolite. From the customer’s point of view, it must be none too pleasing since the new machine was spoilt, having to write in more than one time to arrange for a service appointment definitely would irritate the customer even more.

As such, it might be more appropriate if the writer could write in a more positive tone and to improve clarity and concreteness, offer other alternative help options to the customer. An example might be to offer several available service time slots and dates for the customer to choose from. By doing this, besides showing that KSE really had the customer’s satisfaction in mind, it might also convey the message that they are truly apologetic over the problems which the customer faced.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Conflict Situation: How do we resolve it?

A, B, C, and D are NUS students who are taking a particular module together. All of them hailed from different faculties, they didn’t know each other beforehand. By coincidence, they were grouped together for a project which weighed 40% of the continual assessment component of the module.

A is the leader of the group.

B is a committed student who is gunning for an “A” grade for this module; sadly, he is found lacking in certain EQ components, most notable of all, he has a “calculative” character.

C is a conscientious worker who views the completion of the tasks set for him as his topmost priority. However, he is taciturn and reserved.

D is taking this module out of necessity, and has told much earlier to the group that he will only do “this much” as he has intended to exercise the S/U option for the module.

The lecturer of the module is a research-mad professor, not very student centric and apparently prefers to leave all the “troublesome” matters, such as tiffs within project groups to the students themselves to resolve.

Over the course of the project, it became increasingly clear that B had a bone to pick with D. B had this pre-set notion that D is in the group for a free ride, so B spent most of his time “ensuring” that D was doing his fair share of work (such that it is similar to everyone else in the group). Due to this additional “task” which B assumed, the quality of the work produced by B went far below his best.

The work D produced was slipshod at best, and most of the time D was late in submitting his part of the project. Worse still, when he realized B’s attitude towards him, he took on a defensive stance. Things became worse as subsequently B spent a significant amount of time “scrutinizing” D’s work, and D on the other hand spent a lot of time defending the quality of the work that he had produced. Quarrels ensued and all these resulted in inefficiency.

Time is running out for the group as the deadline loomed.

Based on the above situation, what should Team leader A do to resolve the conflict situation and get the group going again?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Blog Post #1: The Importance of Effective Communication.

Simply put, effective communication means the successful conveying of an intended message/idea from one party to another. This seems clear-cut enough, and many might argue that as the age-old adage “Practice makes perfect” goes; given that we have been communicating since our infancy, with the amount of practices involved, we should be master communicators by now. However, many things seem to be easier said than done. In my humble opinion, the art of communication is definitely one of those skills which are relatively easy to learn, but hard to master. Yes, indeed it might be the case that we have been practising communication skills since young, BUT the important thing is, are we doing it the right way?

Case in point:

Have you ever been in a situation that after blurting out a seemingly innocuous comment, the response from the listening party is just not what you expected? OR have you tried to pass on information to team mates in your project group, but after some time has passed, learnt that what had been interpreted by them were simply not what you meant.

Well if the answer is yes for the above situations, then I am pretty sure that ineffective communications have taken place. In less serious cases, crucial time and efforts are wasted, but in less fortunate ones, ineffective communication skills can cause relationships between friends/colleagues to sour. Mastering effective communication is indeed important.

In my case, the main driving force behind me wanting to learn effective communication skills is due to the nature of my work. (Work will start end July this year in my case, and I will return to my sponsoring company. Like what they say in the movies, it is PAYBACK time.) In the course of my work as an engineer in the shipbuilding industry, effective communication skills are of utmost importance.

Why is that so? Let me elaborate. Being one of the underlings who has just stepped into the industry (yes, degree or no degree, honours or no honours, if one has no experience, a graduate engineer is still an underling); I would have a 3-way communication “network” to maintain. Firstly, communication has to be established between me the underling, and those work mates who are most unfortunately tasked to me to complete the work assigned (i.e. I’m their team leader). Most often than not, they hail from different countries, commonly India, Bangladesh, China amongst various others. Secondly, as if things aren’t interesting enough, throw in the ship owners to the concoction, whom in this context are the clients of the shipyard (i.e. telling them to s*d off is plainly not an option). From time to time, we must report to them on the progress of their ships. Trust me, they aren’t the most charming of people around, especially so if we are running behind the build schedule which they have set us. It certainly doesn’t help much when they could be Russians, Japanese, Indians, Americans, Martians (ok, I’m exaggerating for the last part, BUT you get my point). If communicating with people of the same culture is complex enough, then imagine doing it with people who neither share your culture/language nor social makeup. And oh, did I say that there is a 3-way communication “network”? Well, the third one is communications between yours truly (the underling, try not to forget that), and the superiors in the yard (which of last count stands at a meager number of 947 (senior engineers+ managers+ anyone who thinks trampling all over a fresh graduate is their idea of fun), thank you). Get the picture now?

As challenging as it might sound, on a more optimistic note, I think it is with challenges like these which will help fresh graduates like me grow. Thus choosing to learn about effective communication skills right before commencement seems like a logical choice to me. Hopefully with the skills learnt, the transition from a studying life to a full-fledged working life will be a much smoother process.