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With the increasing interest in Asia and globalisation of the world economy, cracking the cultural code has become important.

Beyond handing namecards with both hands and bowing, what are some of the differences in East and West. Both Hofstede and Trompenaars are very insightful in outlining some challenges to watch out for.

I came across a very practical book on cracking the cultural code. However it involves observation. India is different from China from South Korea from Indonesia from Malaysia.

Where are some of your challenges?

1. Making small talk with colleagues
2. Asking a favour from a colleague
3. Promoting myself at networking events
4. Receiving compliment from colleagues
5. Telling a joke at lunch
6. Giving feedback to my boss
7. Giving a formal presentation at a meeting
8. Pitching my idea to investors
9. Interviewing for a job

In the section on “You can be a Cultural Detective”, Prof Molinsky suggests to use a series of diagnostic questions, using the 6 dimensions of the cultural code he coined.

1. Brevity and en pointe:
Do people tend to be succinct in what they say and get right to the point – often with as few words as possible?

Or do they use words more general, or ambiguous poetic language, hinting at what they mean without being too direct? Senior Chinese government officials tend to favour reference to Tang poems for instance.

There are regional differences in that regard.

2. Energy
When something positive has happened, do people express emotions openly through facial expressions, body language and tone of voice eg Mediterranean cultures. Or do they tend to hide or suppress the outward expression of positive emotions despite their feelings, example British stiff up lip.

3. Formality
Do people dress conservatively, make official appointments to speak with each other and use titles such as “Doctor” or “CEO” . Or do they dress casually, drop by casually for a chat or first name basis. Do not be deceived by outward appearances though. Sometimes people may want to be addressed by first name but they are very formal.

4. Assertiveness
Do people express views strongly and forcefully. Is conflict encouraged? Do people express different view points in meetings? Or do they express opinions in a cautious manner and public display of conflict or disagreement is frowned?

Here, there is a difference in hierarchy. Those at the top tend to be more forceful.

5. Self promotion
Do people tend to highlight or draw attention to their personal accomplishments or tend to minimise, underplay their achievements?

6. Personal disclosure
Do people keep conversations strictly about business or do they discuss details of their personal lives with colleagues at work? In Asian cultures, people do discuss details of family life.

How much to ask depends on the seniority. Do not be surprised if an older colleague were to ask how much you earn, and your age. Such invasion of privacy may be uncomfortable for an American, who although comfortable with small talk will consider such topics taboo. A German boss on the other extreme will unlikely ask questions about your family as this would be considered too personal.

Global Dexterity , how to adapt your behaviour across cultures without losing yourself in the process” by Andy Molinsky
395.52 MOL (NLB)

SMU Associate Professor Tan Hwee Hoon is investigating on how trust is influenced by culture. In a cross-culture longitudinal study, the research team is examining dimensions of trust depending on 1. Ability 2. Benevolence 3. Integrity.

In American culture, trust is highest when the imdividual is deemed to have high ability. Whereas in Asian culture, benevolence or whether a person has consistently shown that he/she watches your back is more important.

Stay tuned as she prepares to publish her report.

Hilarious look at cultural differences between East and West
https://www.boredpanda.com/comics-chinese-western-culture-comparison-tinyeyescomics/

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Source: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/cnainsider/the-man-who-brought-hope-inspirasian-9494998
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I chanced this write up at Brightside. #What $1 brings you#. A snicker bar in Japan, a bowl of chicken rice in Indonesia, a can of coca cola in a hawker centre in Singapore.

https://brightside.me/wonder-curiosities/what-1-dollar-will-buy-you-around-the-world-386510/

This year I am inspired to do more. My students in SMU inspire me. Many of them genuinely want a career in helping profession.

Watch Corine Tiah’s documentary on an Inspiration Asian Ken who trekked the hills to bring light to the villagers.

Incidentally, Corine is a journalist whose documentaries are about #people who bring hope to others#.

#Fragrance lingers on the hand that gives flowers#

#CNA#, #InspirAsian#, #$1#

My favourite sayings from Prof Koh’s interview:

1. “I was always optimistic. Even when I faced great challenges, I retained my optimism and positive mindset, kept my sense of humour, and always thought – there must be a way of solving problems.”

2. When he negotiates, he starts on the basis that “at the end of the day, we are human beings, so let’s be friends first, try to develop a relationship, some trust in each other. Don’t see each other as an adversary, but if we have a difficult problem, let’s look at the problem”.

3. CQ, or cultural intelligence, is crucial.
“We live in different cultural boxes, so when we work with either one of our neighbours, we must understand their cultural box and where they’re coming from and how they think and, if possible, conduct ourselves in a manner that would be acceptable or indeed even admired by them.

4. On negotiations in the UN. “I show him friendship and warmth. I try not to embarrass him and put him down”.

5. Even if I win every point, it means that my counterpart lost every point. So how can he go back home and sell the package if he lost every point?

6. “we must protect our core interests. But on non-core issues, we must concede so that you have a balanced outcome, one that is durable.”

Source: http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/lunch-with-sumiko-professor-tommy-koh-on-winning-friends-and-influencing-people

http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/lunch-with-sumiko-professor-tommy-koh-on-winning-friends-and-influencing-people

As a lecturer, I have realised that a “problem” kid/person may be going through personal issues at home. I am reluctant to whitewash the behaviour.

Similarly, an person may be so fixated with how unkind others have been to him/her that pointing out their behaviour may have worse consequences.

If the person is not under your authority, and the remark is not targeted at you, let it pass. (If bullying is involved, get someone of higher authority – like the School Administrator in the loop. Sometimes the bully can accuse you of bullying. )

Videos on Kindversations

How to be kind? Dave Kerpen offers some suggestions.

1. Never give out criticism in front of other people. It never works. (Only leads to shame and fear.)

2. Instead, set up a time for one on one private discussion with the person with whom you want to share feedback.

3. Offer up a “praise sandwich”: start with something you like about the person and/ or the job he’s doing, continue with the negative feedback, and close by affirming how much you value the person and how confident you are in him.

4. Make sure to offer positive solutions to the issues at hand and get alignment on the solution of choice.

5. Don’t dwell on the negative and look for future opportunities to publicly praise the positive about the person as soon and as much as you can.

Action
1. Make a list of five kind authentic things you can say about each person you encounter on a regular basis.
2. Practice doling out praise publicly and increase praise you give out each day. Remember it’s free and powerful.
3. When you have to deliver criticism do it privately and try doing it with a praise sandwich : praise , criticism and then deep praise.

Dave Kerpen, “The Art of People”

Tales of the Malay World currently exhibiting at the NLB Bldg on 10th floor has provided me an insight into this world I am living but not submerged.

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Last night I was at the curator’s tour and some learnings caught me by surprise. Singapore was not a sleepy fishing village when Raffles arrived. While not sophisticated as major world cities like Nanjing, it boasted a history from 14th Century.

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Alexander the Great allegedly passed through. He was known as Zulkernain.

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Raffles was inspired to pick up Malay on his boat trip from UK.

Raffles chose Singapore as a port because of the Malay book “Genealogy of Kings” <em>Sukalat al-Salatin that the Forbidden Hill housed remains of the 16th century Melaka Kings or Malay Annals Sejarah Melayu.

Raffles was a collector of many things, among them Malay manuscripts which allowed the British and Dutch better idea of the locals so as to conquer them.

Singapore was not a sleepy fishing village when the British came. The Malay annals led Raffles to Singapore.

Singapore was not founded in 1819 when Raffles came with the East India Company. Its role as a port was as early as 14th century. A significant port and settlement, known as Temasek, later renamed Singapura, existed on the island of Singapore in the 14th century. Vietnamese records indicate possible diplomatic relationship between Temasek and Vietnam in the 13th century, and Chinese documents describe settlements there in the 14th century.

It lapsed into insignificance for 200 hundred years when abandoned until the British came to establish a port without antagonizing the Dutch.

Location, location, location
Point to note that despite Singapore’s strategic location, it fell out of action for 200 yrs. The Dutch did not choose Singapore for their spice trade. The late Mover, the British chose 2nd best, Singapore. Strategic advantage is highly dependent on economic relevance. 1st Mover advantage is not necessarily winner takes all. (Unfortunately for Raffles, he died in debt.)

Importance of learning lingua franca of the day, which may not be English.

Diversity and global trade have been around for a long time.

People were more open to learning from one another. Rev Keasbury obtained the help of Muslim cleric Munshi Abdullah to translate the first Malay bible. He introduced Abdullah to the printing press to produce bibles. Initially the missionaries were in Singapore enroute to China. But as that stop was closed, their attention turned to Singapore.

While the Bible was translated into Malay, the audience could have been wider, as the varied trading community spoke Malay, the lingua franca, including the Chinese. Today’s Muslim and Christian community, it appeared to me, are more sharply alienated. It didnt seem that Abdullah converted to Christianity. Yet there was a meaningful working relationship between Keasbury and Abdullah.

Musicians look at notes and hear the music in their heads. I look at happiness data and hear the comforting sounds of lives well lived. The joy, the feeling of connectedness and the sense of purpose.
– Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute, Copenhagen

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I bought fairy lights to create cozy feel

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I like his second book much better “The Little Book of Lykke”– The Danish Search for the World’s Happiest People. I was nearly turned off by a little quote that everything runs smoothly in Denmark. Four years ago, one train did arrive 5 min late. The passengers each got a letter of apology from the prime minister and a designer chair of their choice as compensation. I am not running down Danes when I question that everything runs smoothly. Coming from Singapore where things generally run smoothly, .. yet not everything. Certainly not our public transport which we made the mistake of privatising at the advice of consultants. Japan though, their public transport is indeed the most effecient in the world, has one of the highest suicide rates in OECD countries. Books on why the Japanese live long lives do not address this dark side of Japan.

There are many beautiful stories in the book looking at countries like Brazil which is overcrowded yet is relatively happy, #22. Most Brazilians consider themselves kind and happy people who know how to have fun. Its true that the Brazilians I know are more helpful and smiling than the Danes I know. (Not the most scientific approach). But perhaps if we are moving towards a more gracious society, we have more to learn from Brazil. On second thoughts, 12hrs to Copenhagen is better than 48hrs flight to Rio.

Pursuit of happiness
Why this fixation on Happiness you may ask? The author lost his mother when she was 49years old, to depression. I live in a country that witnessed the biggest progression in a lifetime yet people are very unhappy. I know people above 70yrs old who experienced starvation under British colonial days, yet are very unhappy today despite relatively high standards of living and peace and children who visit them weekly and support them financially.

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My own take of the reason why Denmark and most of the Nordic countries have happiness is

The law of Jante
Conspicuous consumption is criticised. They dont like boastful people who flaunt their success. Decouple wealth and well-being. Read Michelle McGagh’s “The No Spend Year: How I Spent Less and Lived More“. Go for walks and free art exhibitions.

Value of Free Time
I like this book very much. I think that the reason why Denmark is the happiest nation among the OECD countries is because they value happiness as a way of life. They value free time and not embarrassed that they are taking time off work to exercise and be outdoors.

They take care of mental health seeking treatment when needed and not be embarrassed.

Be with people
But mind your own business. Do not worry about what others think of you or what others are doing to accumulate wealth. I doubt Danish mothers compare results of their children or other people’s children.

They are cozy and value mental resilience, connecting with others and not complaining.

Do not complain
Complaining is not the national sport. Give others a break. They dont need to live up to your expectations.

Complaining doesnt make you look smart or look self sacrificial. Suffering doesnt make you a martyr.

Be authentic and Mind your own business
Meik Wiking admits that Danes do not go around wearing masks. You cant tell that they are happy judging from their stony stares. They do not pretend or have a need to keep up with the Joneses.

A friend once told me how Japanese mothers get calls from teachers if they send their kids to school with plain and non-creative lunchboxes. Even lunchboxes are sources of comparison and not just means of healthy eating.

Relieve yourself from others’ expectations.
As the song goes, “haters gonna hate”. Complainers are going to complain. Especially when you live in a society where people have no qualms giving advice to others which they don’t heed themselves. People who dont mind their own business.

The English have a saying for this ” People who live in glass houses shouldnt throw stones”.

This second book Lykke is certainly a keeper. I cant wait to try out more suggestions from the book and watch the French film Amelie. I have started lighting candles especially at 6am when I wake up looking forward to my warm cup of Arabica coffee brewed in my 12yr old Philips machine.