Monday, April 13, 2009

Kalene's final reflection

Looking back at my first blog post, I realised my blog post is really long...

In any case, my understanding of the value of effective communication skills has not changed since the beginning of this semester. I still believe in effective communication being 2-way and that it involves accurately conveying of intentions across to the other party both verbally, as well as non-verbally.

This module has taught me the pitfalls to avoid when communicating in the workplace, as well as my areas of improvement. Communication in the workplace encompasses written communication, verbal and non-verbal communication. It has also allowed me to have a better awareness of myself when completing the skill builder on discovering self.

I learnt how to write a proper cover letter, construct a great curriculum vitae and how to draft a good report including the right method of conducting survey as well as analysis of survey data. I learnt about the aspects of communication I should be aware of when communicating to people from different cultural background. I learnt about the intricacies of handshake and the proper order of initiating of handshakes during interview.

Over the past 3 months, I have worked on the continuous assessments, blogs and project. The continuous assessments were relevant to my job search and my application for greater opportunities like an overseas summer research programme. The blogs are insightful because I get to be exposed to constructive comments from many people who have interesting perspectives. I had quite a smooth time dealing with the project because I have wonderful group-mates who are conscientious and collaborative.

Overall, this module is informative and fun. I enjoyed myself thoroughly during each of the classes. I also want to thank Christine for being such an open tutor who does not mind being on equal standing as us (no teacher-student relationship because we are allowed to call you by your name). I wish everyone in the class...all the best in your future endeavours!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Kalene's Biodata (revised)

My name is Kalene. I am a Year 3 Life Science Major from National University of Singapore (NUS), concentrating in Biomedical Science. As a highly motivated learner, I take up many modules from a myriad of different fields including marketing, economics, communications and language. The exposure to different learning experiences has developed my flexibility and allowed me to adapt to changes quickly.

To get as much out of my tertiary education in NUS as possible, I applied for Student Exchange Programme to Boston University successfully. This exchange developed my independence and resilience. My time management skills were further honed as I played hard and studied hard. In my 4-month stint in Boston, I planned my travelling trips and had travelled extensively to several places. To name a few, I had been to Los Angeles, Toronto, New York and Ottawa. In addition, my outlook of the world has been broadened from my exposure to the different cultures and mindset of the Americans, as well as friends from other countries. As such, I have learned to communicate and interact with people from different cultural backgrounds.

Also, I sought for and obtained a 3-month internship with Genome Institute of Singapore during the summer break in Year 2008. From this experience, I learnt relevant practical skills that are applicable to the life science industry. In addition, it had not only developed my tenacity due to the failure-prone nature of research but had also given me a taste of research in real-life.

In addition to my interest in learning, I have been actively involved in volunteerism since junior college. This year, I am participating in VietnamJUMP 2009 which is an overseas humanitarian trip. From these volunteering activities, I have come to understand that no single individual’s efforts can make any activity a success. This understanding has further emphasised the importance of teamwork and team spirit.

Being an empathetic and compassionate individual, I went for Community First Aid course held by Red Cross Society. In addition, I sought for attachment to Changi General Hospital and successfully obtained a 1-week attachment to General Surgery Ward in Year 2006. The attachment had demonstrated the advantages of being able to speak more than one language. When speaking to people of other races or other dialects, being able to communicate with them in the language they are comfortable with certainly helps in developing greater rapport.

As such, my ability to speak three languages, namely English, Mandarin and Dialects, is certainly an advantage in a cosmopolitan country like Singapore. I have also taken up Bahasa Melayu so as to build greater rapport with my Malay counterparts.

Prior to my entry to NUS, I was actively involved in Temasek Junior College Chinese Orchestra. Being a Wind and Percussion Sectional Leader, I was responsible for ensuring my members play their pieces well and to get them to turn up for practices. This had developed my communication skills and leadership skills. I had to be tactful and yet bring across my point in a way that my members would interprete accurately. In SYF 2005, we were awarded Gold.

Due to my academic excellence and good CCA record in Temasek Junior College, I was awarded Edusave Awards for Achievement, Good Leadership and Services (EAGLES) in Year 2005. My experience in junior college had inculcated in me the steel determination and perseverance to overcome all odds to achieve my aim of faring well in the academic field, as well as in my CCA.

Work-wise, I had a 6-month stint in Phang & Co Advocates & Solicitors in Year 2006. As a secretarial assistant, I had to screen my boss’s phone calls, liaised with customers, handled administrative matters and was responsible for a few projects. This experience had honed my multi-tasking skills and further developed my communication skills.

As can be seen, I have gathered experiences of many different natures. I like to experiment, gain exposure to different natures of activities, step beyond my comfort zone and seek to continuously improve myself. Given my positive attitude towards learning and ability to work well in a team as well as individually, I am confident of contributing to the company.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Difficult Conversations

I'm interested in difficult conversations, which can be an aspect of interpersonal coammunications and organizational communications.

I define difficult conversations as anything that one finds it hard to talk about. For example, appraisal or attempt to resolve family conflict or thrash out problems in one's relationship or marriage. Currently as an undergraduate who's not working in any business organization, I'm more concerned about difficult conversations in interpersonal communications.

Conversations can get difficult because they are usually about your and their feelings, emotions as well as self-identity. For such sticky conversations to have a satisfactory end, the involved parties have to prepare themselves. For example, admit that they may have contributed to the problems and that it is fine to make mistakes so long as they learn from those mistakes. I find this rather unlikely in Singapore because Singaporeans generally have no room for mistakes and they hate to admit it. Even if Singapore is gradually opening up.

By such preparation, they will be more receptive and open to hearing the other party out. However, things can work out only when the involved parties are willing to trust one another and be honest. I find this an issue in Singapore. Singaporeans, like typical Asians, are less open about their feelings because they associate it as being emotional which is seen as being weak and wrong.

I think that to trust is to be willing to be vulnerable, and exposing some vulnerability can be a sign of good faith. This is because I believe humans are reciprocal beings. However, people are usually guarded and unwilling to be honest because of past experiences of being hurt or maybe even due to their cultural upbringing.

I find it a dilemma. On one hand, some degree of honesty is needed to come up with a joint solution that addresses the interests of the involved parties. On the other hand, it is understandable that people want to protect themselves after learning from their previous mistake(s).

In any case, communications is a dynamic process and there are many factors that influence the progress of communications. How do you think difficult conversations can be better handled and what do you think can be other possible factors that influence the progress of communications?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Evaluating Intercultural behaviour

The intercultural scenario I am discussing would be the interaction between a Chinese, Malay, Indian and Latino-American. The issues brought out were the concept of time and the use of right hand to eat.

The Malays and Indians do not use their left hands for anything because they believe the left hand is unclean. They insist on eating with their hands, instead of using cutlery, because they believe food eaten this way tastes much better. On the other hand, the Chinese cannot understand why they have to eat with their hands when there are cutlery available. It can even be considered unhygienic by the Chinese.

The difference in cultural values between the Latino-Americans and Singaporeans is the concept of time. Singaporeans usually value the importance of time and are usually on time. For the Latino-Americans, they are usually not on time and are not apologetic when they are late because it is their social norm.

As you can see, misunderstandings are bound to occur if there is no proper communications between people from different cultural backgrounds. The social norm in one country may be considered taboo in another country. If there is no proper communications, resentment will build up due to the lack of understanding. In view of this, it is necessary to voice out the differences in cultural values so there can be a cultural exchange which will lead to an increase in mutual understanding. Understanding does not necessarily mean agreeing. Understanding just means one knows where the other is coming from. As such, one must be tactful because there is no right or wrong.

For me, I think breakdown in communications is usually due to inaccurate assumptions. For example, humans usually commit the mistake of assuming everyone else must be like him/her. As such, they have a basic expectation of others because they use themselves as a benchmark. However, in reality, everyone is different. For effective communication to occur, the element of mutual discovery with no judgement should ideally be present.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Critique on a reply letter to a complaint email

I am not scanning the letter because the organization wants this to be kept under wraps. As such, I will just manually type out the letter and leave out some confidential details. This entry would be quite long, so bare with me.

"Dear Miss Tan,

I refer to your email dated ___ with regard to the medical management of your maternal grandmother, (Madam G) at ___. I appreciate the opportunity to communicate with you.

We have concluded our investigations and wish to share with you our findings. . . I am concerned to hear about your feedback regarding the quality of nursing care you observed. We have highlighted your observations to the respective ward managers and our Director of Nursing. We will also tighten up the supervision of enrolled nurses at the ward by staff nurses.

With regard to the consent for the blood transfusion, we acknowledge that there was a delay on our part. . . .When a blood transfusion was ordered for on ___ at 1500 hours, (J) was alerted by our staff nurse . . . (J) gave consent for the transfusion and instructed the staff nurse to obtain the patient's signature on the consent form. . . . At 1700 hours, the House Officer together with the staff nurse checked the blood that had arrived in accordance to the hospital's policy. At this time, an explanation was again given to the patient on the need for a blood transfusion. Unfortunately, the consent form was not signed before the transfusion commenced. It was around this time that other relatives arrived and requested for an explanation regarding the blood transfusion. Eventually, the consent form was signed by (S) at 1953 hours.

We sincerely apologise for this oversight. Our Director of Nursing has reinforced to the senior nurses the need for consent prior to the start of blood transfusion. In addition, such consent should be taken from the patient directly unless the patient does not have the mental capacity to give consent. The family member/spokesperson will be kept informed of the clinical progress of the patient. We hope that with these instructions, a similar lapse will not recur.

Once again, we thank you for giving us the opportunity to reply to your concerns and we remain committed to delivering excellent care and service to our patients at ___."

Now I gonna write a short (but I realize it's not that short after all) critique on the above letter according to the 7Cs of writing.

Courtesy -
This letter does enhance the organization's image and improve our relationship. They have very appropriate choice of words and sentence structure, in addition to beautifying the ugly conflict between my cousin and the doctors. If you have noticed, the focus is usually on them or on the issue itself.

Correctness -
This is written in formal English, which is appropriate given that they are representing their organization.

Conciseness -
Personally, this letter is too long for me. Granted that formal language usually uses more words to convey a point and that they want to be as detailed as possible so as to give as clear an explanation as possible, I lost interest in it after a while of reading. This makes me wonder if my entries so far, have been too long that my readers lost interest after a while of reading. Yet, they are forced to finish reading my entries because they are required to post comments!

Clarity -
This letter is very clear. They addressed all my concerns in my email to them (which I suspect is as long as their letter).

Coherence and Cohesion -
This letter runs very smoothly. I like their use of connectors like "In addition", "Eventually", etc.

Concreteness -
They were very specific. The names of people involved and the time at which critical events happened were listed. Maybe this is not seen by you because I omitted these details out due to confidentiality issues.

Completeness -
Very complete. Everything that I need to know, is stated. The events that unfolded were narrated in chronologial order and what went on in the management level were also stated.

Overall, I actually have nothing to pick on in this letter. Does anyone have any recommendations on how this letter can be improved on?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How was this conflict resolved?

I gonna write about a conflict between my ex-company and my client. Due to confidentiality issues, I shall not name the involved parties.

Few years back, I was working in a law firm specializing in enbloc sales. Being a personal assistant to a lawyer, my job scope included screening calls, attending meetings, handling clients and settling administration stuff. During the 6 months, I had a few encounters with enraged clients whom we are representing. I shall name one that is still fresh in my mind.

For a particular private estate, there was this old couple who had some legal issues with the selling of their flat. As my company was representing the sellers, we were obliged to help them settle the issues and we did. However, we had to go through some legal technicalities which required some time to settle. This did not go quite well with the old couple because they were worried that their legal issues would disrupt the enbloc sales (there are deadlines for each stage of the legal process). Hence, they kept calling us up everyday. However, we could not give them a good enough explanation for the delay in solving their issues because of confidentiality issues. We do not let our clients know the legal correspondence with the other legal parties. For example, a delay caused by some legal technicalities would be explained with a "there is quite some going to and fro with XX regarding this issue YY."

To add on to the lack of understanding between us and the old couple, there was no establishment of trust because my boss avoided their calls. My boss felt that answering their repeated calls everyday, was a waste of time. The old couple was really a handful but my boss's behaviour did put through to the old couple that my boss was just entertaining them and not really concerned about their interests. In addition, they could not get the reassurance they need because whatever I said had no credibility since I was not a lawyer. This enraged the old couple because they felt that as lawyers representing them, we should do our best to fight for their interests and be more proactive so as to speed things up. Also, the lawyers (not their personal assistant) should respond to their calls.

Whenever I took their calls, I tried to reassure them as best as I could while taking note that whatever I say could be a legal liability. I said the old couple was a handful because the wife would ramble on and on, explaining why there were so anxious (which we did not need to know) while the husband would scream to get his point across (partly because he is partially deaf). I was actually quite upset at his harsh tone and loud volume when I did not know he is partially deaf. In any case, the unnecessarily long conversation was too time-consuming.

Things improved after the old couple and my boss had a long talk. The old couple popped by our office to demand to talk to my boss without an appointment and my boss agreed to see them. I did not know what they communicated inside my boss's office, but the old couple was pleased after the session. The husband even apologised to me, explaining that he was screaming because he is partially deaf and his tone was harsh because he was angry at the slow moving of things, not at me. I felt good because I could feel the sincerity of his apology due to his facial expression and body language.

In hindsight, this conflict was resolved because of proper communication and establishment of trust. What do you think could have contributed to this conflict? When they were finally able to have a long talk with my boss without an appointment, they did not feel that my boss was entertaining them. Instead, they felt respected because a lawyer's time is money and yet my boss gave them the time they need to get the reassurance they need. It also led them to believe the sincerity of my boss in resolving their legal issues. I learned that acts (behaviour) can also unintentionally communicate or signal something to the recipients, other than one's body language. Also, I find that face-to-face communication is far more convincing than phone or email correspondence. If you have survived reading through my long post, what is your take on my last 2 sentences?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Importance of developing effective communication skills

Humans are social animals. It is impossible for us to live a day without any form of communication with fellow human beings. Communication is a basic tool that allows us to interact with and understand others.As such, developing effective communication skills is important to build mutual understanding, gain rapport, minimize conflicts and develop good interpersonal relationships.

I define effective communication skills as skills that enable one to use the right word with the right tone and behavioural cues, in the right sentence structure to convey meanings accurately in a way that is interpreted by the recipient correctly. In addition, effective communication skills require active listening so that one can respond to the recipient appropriately.

Be it in one's personal life or in the workplace, mutual understanding is important to develop good group dynamics and minimize office politics. Ideally, effective communication allows one to explain one's stand or views so that people are able to look at matters in one's perspectives and understand where one is coming from. In such a situation, group discussions would be facilitated in the workplace and in one's personal life, misunderstandings could be minimized.

I'm sure we have encountered situations in which, people find fault with our comments which were made innocently. We could have unknowingly rubbed another the wrong way with our tone or our inappropriate choice of words. Or, we could bridge the gap between two people by reacting appropriately to the other's behaviour. For example, I was talking to a potential supervisor for my Final Year Project about his interest in accepting honours students. However, he said honours students are a burden to him. I find his choice of word "burden" disturbing. On another hand, I have learnt that the phrases "I do understand where you are coming from." or "I can completely understand how you are feeling now." can help to build greater rapport with others.

In addition to verbal communication, behavioural communication like eye contact (not more than 75% of the time) and smiles can diffuse any tense or awkard situations. Eye contact should not be established 100% of the time one is communicating with another because it can be intimidating. However, one should note the cultures of the other party. If the other party is a Muslim, people of the opposite sex shouldn't have eye contact for more than one or two second. This is true for traditional and pious Muslims. The modern Muslims don't really abide by this cultural rule though. To show interest in another's conversation, one can bend your upper body slightly forward when one is sitting. If one is standing, face the front of one's body towards the talking party.

Communication involves 2-way traffic. When one is talking, the other should listen actively. The latter means, asking of questions or acknowledging what the other party is talking about. For example, person A is talking to person B about her issues at home. Person B can listen actively by dropping "Oh my, you are definitely having a rough time." or "Oh my gosh, such things can actually happen?" at the appropriate junction.

When there's mutual understanding and rapport, conflicts can be minimized and good interpersonal relationships can be cultivated in all aspects of one's life. In the workplace, there would be higher level of productivity and greater chance of promotion (good working relationship with colleagues is a factor of consideration). In turn, one's quality of living and even standard of living would be increased. So, tell me, is developing effective communication skills important?