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A sculpture of Zhu Ge Liang诸葛亮 at the Gardens by the Bay, Singapore.

Zhuge Liang is iconised in the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, as a wise chief strategist of Liu Bei. The military strategy book “36 strategems”, contains many of his “cunning” military strategies in using minimal resources.

How Zhu GeLiang 诸葛亮 came to work for Liu Bei was dramatised in a story “3 visits to the humble straw abode” 三顾茅庐”. Zhu was a recluse who rose above petty politics. Legend goes that he could read weather conditions and wind direction, an important skill considering that wind direction can affect the flight of warships and arrows.

Liu Bei and his 2 sworn brothers Zhang Fei and Guan Yu decided to visit Zhu Ge Liang at his home in 卧龙岗 wolonggang or hidden dragan ridge。 When they travelled to his home, they saw a small boy sweeping the door who told them that Zhu was not at home.

On their second visit, they saw a youth studying and upon enquiring found that Zhu was away. Liu Bei left a letter for Zhu explaining the purpose of his visit.

On their third visit, the three men were told that Zhu was at home but sleeping. Zhang Fei, the general, wanted to wake Zhu up. But Liu Bei decided to wait. By nightfall, Zhu finally woke up.

Touched by their sincerity, Zhu agreed to work for Liu Bei.

In Chinese culture, there is no mention of the persuasive words or vision by Liu Bei that moved Zhu Ge Liang.

China, and Japan belonged to what is known as High Context Cultures (高背景文化). Here the setting, status and non verbal behaviour matter more than actual words spoken. Men of Liu Bei, Zhang Fei and Guan Yu’s stature could easily have sent Ambassadors to persuade Zhu. But Liu Bei himself came to visit Zhu. Relationship and trust are important factors.

In low context cultures, words convey facts and information and are more important in communication.

High and Low context cultures is a theory proposed by anthropologist Edward Hall.

However, is the distinction so clear between high and low context cultures? Story-tellers would imply that even in low context cultures, tone of voice and “pauses” convey meaning. Pauses – are important in conveying or emphasing a word. More is not necessarily better.

Sarcastic tone of voice vs appreciative tone.

声调变化 Change in tone can convey sincerity.

Punctuation can change the meaning of a word.

“A woman without her man is nothing”

(1) “A woman, without her man, is nothing.”

Or

(2) “A woman: without her, man is nothing.”

Indirect cultures
According to Managing across cultures by Charlene Solomon and Michael Schell, in indirect cultures, the background context is very important. It isn’t what people talk about that is important but how it is said.

People tend to be indirect. Listeners are expected to interpret statements to infer what the speaker is saying.

Speaking eloquently but indirectly is a prized art. In some societies, the idea of saving face is an essential part of information exchange. In indirect cultures, direct statements may be seen as rude.

In direct cultures or low context, people look for content not what surrounds the content. They expect all the information they need is contained in the words they use. People are direct and expect to be taken at their word.

Clarity of communicating in words is paramount. Simplicity is admired and language may be punctuated (with vulgarity) for effect.

Unlike indirect societies where saving face is essential, here saving face is not important. sometimes openly challenging someone you disagree is admired.

In a globalised world where cultures meet , our differences in perception in communication can cause misunderstandings. Lets give each other the benefit of the doubt.

Do you have similar instances in your culture where non verbal convey more than the verbal?

磨刀不误砍柴工 
mó dāo bú wù kǎn chái gōng

Grinding an axe will not hold up [delay] the work of cutting firewood. Spending time preparing your axe may quicken the speed of your work.

Story goes that two men were chopping wood. One started ahead. The second man just continued grinding his axe. The first man, very conceited, was anxious to find out who fell more trees ? It was the second man.

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Photo of Ainu carving by master wood carver Takeki Fujito in Tsuruga Wings Lake Akan, Hokkaido, Japan

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Desk of Japanese Carver Kengo at Lake Akan Ainu village

Half way through chopping, the first man’s axe had become dull and blunt and it took him more effort and time to fall one tree.

工 欲 善 其 事,必 先 利其器
gōng yù shàn qí shì,bì xiān lì qí qì

“工欲善其事,必先利其器”
孔子告诉子贡,工艺的人,要想把工作完成,应该先把工具准备好。

What then for someone who manages the state?

居是邦也
Jū shì bāng yě

事其大夫之贤者,友其士之仁者
Shì qí dàfū zhī xián zhě, yǒu qí shì zhī rénzhě

孔子说:“工匠要做好工作,必须先磨快工具。住在一个国家,要侍奉大夫中的贤人,与士人中的仁人交朋友。” 

那么为仁是用什么工具呢?住在这个国家,想对国家有所贡献,必须结交上流社会有道德的人才,乃至政坛上的大员,政府的中坚;和这个国家社会上各种贤达的人,都要交成朋友。有了良好的关系,然后才能得到有所贡献的机会,完成仁的目的。
Source: Baidu with words in italics added by me

(The Baidu translation gives the impression that Confucius advised one should network with the rich, influential and powerful. But Confuscius emphasised seeking out the benevolent ones because his disciple Zigong’s question was on benevolence (仁).

When asked by his disciple how one should prepare to manage his country benevolently, Confucius noted in the “Analects” that just as a workman has to prepare his tools, an official preparing to govern a country benevolently must prepare his tools too.

Confucius advised that (humans being social creatures), one should seek out and befriend good and respectable talent in all levels of society.

How does a knowledge worker polish his tools?

Today, Confucius would have advised us, knowledge worker, what is the tool of your trade? Have you been spending time polishing it before cutting your tree.

Translation and reinterpretation by me.

http://wap.5156edu.com/xhy/

Chinese is a very rich language filled with idiomatic sayings.

歇后语xiehouyu are two part sayings. The first part is a riddle, puzzle or reference to story or history and the second part, sometimes not expressed, is the meaning.

I shall list a few all associated with kitchen utensils.

热锅里的蚂蚁
rè guō shàng de mǎ yǐ     –
形容心里焦急,坐立不安

anxious, like ants on a hot wok

打翻的五味瓶
Dǎ fān de wǔwèi píng –
心里有 酸 甜 苦 辣 咸 的滋味 

很难受 不舒服的感觉
Knock over the 5 flavours bottle – mixed feelings, mostly unpleasant
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大理石压咸菜缸
Dàlǐshí yā xiáncài gāng –
大才小用
Use marble vessel to ferment preserved vegetable – waste of talent or wrong use of talent

炒菜的勺子
Chǎocài de sháozi –
尝尽了酸甜苦辣
The spoon used for cooking has tasted all flavours – and all life’s experiences, the happy, sad, bitter and painful.

This is a joke recently told to me by a senior management leader, about the need to check our assumptions.

No harm or malice intended towards the professions mentioned below:

An engineer, a physicist, and an accountant were interviewed for position of Chief Executive officer of a large corporation.

The engineer was interviewed first. He was asked a long list of questions, finally: “How much is two plus two?” The engineer excused himself, made a series of calculations and returned to the boardroom, declaring, “Four.”

The physicist was interviewed next. He was asked the same questions for consistency. Before answering the last question, he excused himself, went to the library, and did a great deal of research. After comsulting the United States Bureau of Standards, he also announced, “Four.”

The accountant was interviewed last, and was asked the same questions. At the end of his interview, before answering the last question, he drew the blinds in the room. Closed the door, and asked the interviewer, “How much do you want it to be?”

Our world view is often shaped by the culture we are from, national culture, organisation culture and even our professional culture.

Do your old assumptions still work in dealing with a new world ?
How do you know that the person you’re dealing with; works on the same assumptions or similar standards ?

How would you navigate in the “white rapid” world of work? How do you prepare yourself?

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Photo taken at the Tongarino rapids in North Island, New Zealand.

Presence, bringing your boldest self to your biggest challenges” by Amy Cuddy

Do you feel happy because you smile or do you smile because you’re happy?

According to Havard Business School Professor Amy Cuddy, who had a very successful 2012 TED Talk and now a book to further explore some game changing research insights, the body shapes the mind.

I highly recommend both reading the book as well as watching the TED Talk. In the TED talk she showed visuals emphasising some of the power moves realistically.

In one of her first experiments, she recruited 200 subjects online and prompted them to imagine themselves holding either a high-power or low-power pose for 2 minutes. Then she instructed them to picture strangers walking in and out of the room as they were holding the pose and form impressions of these strangers.

Among the people who’d imagined themselves holding high power poses, 70 percent used words such as:

Open and strong
Grounded and confident

Those who imagined themselves in low power poses had a much less pleasant experience: 72% used words as

Awkward and tense
Scared and lonely
Very very uncomfortable

Here, Professor Cuddy makes a case for feeling powerful.

Feeling powerless impairs thoughts
Powerlessness makes us self-absorbed

Power can protect us
Power can connect us
Power can incite action

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These are my fingers.

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I find these low power poses very familiar. Guilty as charged. Will stop myself from doing this.

As for the high power poses, while I can accept how they may improve a person’s confidence, how do you think it’ll be accepted by others in the room?

I showed this page to a few Asian working adults and the high power poses didn’t go down too well in our social context.

If you come to Asia, and put your feet on the table, never mind that we no longer believe in table gods, but it’s very threatening and disrespectful. Very rarely do you find bosses putting their feet on the table.

I once saw a photo of President Obama putting his elegant long legs on the table ofthe Oval Office in the presence of some aides and realised that in the US, this must be totally acceptable.

This is a great book with many interesting insights especially in contexts where bullying, gender differences and even during interviews where non-spoken gestures affect what is communicated.

Next time you feel powerless or anxious before an interview or an exam, do a power pose in your room or at least in your mind. Imagine yourself in a power pose.

Starfish up! Mind your posture throughout the day!

What you observe creates your reality.

Those of us who drive know the danger of blind spots and the need for side mirrors.

According to Shawn Achor of “Before Happiness“, a reality at work based on only one vantage point is limited and full of blind spots and that prevents forward movement.

Achor suggests that the perspective is in the details. He cites Dr Irwin Braverman, a professor at Yale School of Medicine and Linda Friedlaender, the curator at the Yale Centre for British Art who came up with an exercise that helped doctors improve a skill that actually could save lives.

In the midst of training, students were taken to an art museum to see the world in multiple dimensions.

The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the students who took this class exhibited a 10% improvement in their ability to detect important medical details.

“Once they are able to see this wider rave of details, they were better able to leverage their IQ and EQ and all their other cognitive abilities to knit these details together and see previously missed connections.

Those details were the vantage points that broadened their perspective and made them more successful in their work. ”

Achor notes that in medicine , as in all professions, it is easy to get stuck seeing things from only one vantage point and approach problems with a broader and deeper perspective.

He gave the example of a doctor who observes the lips of a patient and noticed something all other doctors missed and saved the patient’s life.

Seeing reality from different angles can allow us to open our eyes to a broader range of opportunities and connect more deeply with our team and family.

Please also catch Shawn Achor’s very humorous TED talk.

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Broken pot becomes a work of art. At the 2016 Singapore Garden Festival.

Seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world.

Marxist art critic John Berger’s “Ways of seeing” peels through the layers of meaning in these oil paintings arguing that paintings project the painter’s (or patron’s) assumptions of beauty, truth, civilisation, taste, class and gender.

Take this painting of the”Ambassadors” I saw at the National Gallery, London last year.

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Who are these people being painted ? How do they look at the painter or at us (spectator/owner)?
What were the relations of such men with the rest of the world?

“Centuries later, we can interpret the objects on the shelves according to our perspectives. The scientific instruments on the top shelf were for navigation. This was the time when the ocean trade routes were being opened up for the slave trade and to siphon riches from other continents into Europe and later supply the capital for the take-off of the Industrial Revolution. “. A class of people, convinced that the world was there to furnish it’s comfort.

Man and nature. And Gainsborough’s Mr and Mrs Andrews as proud landowners. Why did Mr and Mrs Andrews commission a portrait of themselves with recognizable landscape of their own land as background.

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Source: https://mydailyartdisplay.wordpress.com/2011/05/02/mr-and-mrs-andrews-by-thomas-gainsborough/

Consider the category of nudes in paintings. In them all remains the implication that the subject (a woman) is aware of being seen by a spectator. Is it merely a celebration of the human form? Or a depiction of the painter’s experience, turning desire into fantasy.

Women are depicted in quite a different way from men – not because the feminine is different from the masculine – but because the “ideal” spectator is always assumed to be male and the image of the woman is designed to flatter him.

The claim of the theme is made empty by the way the subject is painted, writes Berger. He compares 3 different paintings of Mary Magdalene of the Bible in different levels of undress. Mary Magdalene was depicted in the bible for her love of Jesus and transformation of her life by her repentance. The way her pictures are painted contradicts the essence of her story. (A naked Mary Magdalene certainly does not evoke images of religious piety in the spectator regardless of how the painter chooses to name it.)

Next time you look at a painting or a advertisement, look at the devises (Berger):
The gesture of models and mythological figures
The poses taken up to denote stereotypes of women: serene mother (madonna), sex-object (Venus, nymph surprised)
Materials particularly used to indicate luxury: furs etc
Equation of drinking and success
Gestures and embraces of lovers, arranged frontally for the benefit of the spectator.