Office Etiquette

This is a very important component in all working industries, yet some tend to take this lightly.

Let’s have a look at it from this example below.


Martin is a Human Resource Manager and has his own cabin. One day, his air conditioner stopped working and he had to sit in an empty desk outside his room, while waiting for the air conditioner to be fixed. That’s when he noticed certain etiquettes of his colleagues.

Colleague A always seemed to be playing with his pen by spinning it or clicking it. Colleague B always arrived late for meetings, be it held in-house or with potential clients. Colleague C loved to chew on the chewing gum and pop them frequently. Colleague D seemed to apologise for every single mistake she did, even for the smallest one like dropping her pencil on the floor.

He then wondered to himself, how it is possible for the rest of the staff to tolerate such distractions and continue to concentrate on their work for the best of the company’s productivity.So he held a meeting, and in his meeting, he mentioned these few pointers:


a)    Distractions. Any form of distraction (speech, movement, attire etc.) may tend to irritate any colleagues close by. Therefore you need to minimise the distractions.

b)    Manners. This needs practise. Punctuality, respect to others, courtesy and asking for permission. It’s just a matter of wanting to do it, or not.

c)    Apologising. Every human-being has an ego. It is not wrong to apologise once in a while. Apologise if you know you are clearly in the wrong. If in doubt, apologise anyways. It’s no biggie. But avoid apologising every once in a while for every small details as it may dilute its impact.


To be honest, in Martin’s situation it is not as difficult as it may sound. It differs from companies and individuals. Some companies do not emphasize such working etiquette as they trust their employees enough to have respect among themselves. Some companies believe working etiquette needs to be implemented as that is one of the ways to make the companies grow and to avoid any disputes amongst themselves.

There is many branches when it comes to this topic. What do you think? Have you any other pointers to suggest? Leave your comments in the section below.


Lessons From The Military

When talking about the military in Singapore, whether it is a source of woe, joy, or entertainment, there can be no doubt that it plays a large role in defining the way Singaporeans live, especially for the males (for obvious reasons). And we all know how controversial the military can be, with so many debates surrounding it. However, we will not be concerning ourselves with any of the controversy. Instead, we will be focussing on what lessons we can learn from it about team building.

Now, it may seem contradictory that we are going to be using an organisation which is by definition rigid in more ways than one to explore team building. However, if you think about it for a moment, what is the military but a large team of smaller teams? The military does offer gems of wisdom for those who look hard enough for them.

For instance, while the military is structurally rigid in its hierarchy, this kind of organisation in a team is not necessarily bad. Firstly, those lower down the hierarchy are able to focus on their specialised technical skills, i.e. working with machinery, without having to worry about other things such as recruitment or productivity, which those higher up the ladder have to think about continually. On the other hand, those higher up on the hierarchy do not have to concern themselves with technicalities, leaving them free to create plans, to oversee what is going on. In a way this leads to better teamwork as every constituent member comes to know his role exceedingly well, and knows how to contribute to the team in his own right.

Moreover, while a military sometimes demands nothing less than mindless cronyism, it can be a good thing to follow a leader without question. While seemingly counterproductive in a society where independent thought and creativity is cherished for the sake of innovation and growth, such behaviour does give space and room for self-reflection, for rumination and philosophising, for one to develop his creativity, all by virtue of the fact that one does not have to think at all about his actions and their consequences.

Furthermore, the thing about the military is that it puts people from different backgrounds — racial, educational, socio-economic, etcetera — together. Having to work together with one another, it promotes inter-cultural team building, since these people wind up habitually interacting with one another. Thus giving a person a greater understanding of other cultures whilst learning how to respect these cultures, it brings benefits to not just the organisation, but also society, by developing a climate of mutual acceptance.

Not that this piece is meant to promote the military, but that it is meant to show how we can learn about team building from it, which can be summarised as follows:

  1. Each member has something contribute according to his specialisation, which should always be taken into consideration when assigning tasks.
  2. Team members need space for reflection, and sometimes the best way to achieve it is to prevent him from developing worries and concerns over his actions.
  3. Having homogeneity in a team may be a good thing, but diversity is even better.

What other gems have you gleaned from your experiences with the military? Leave your comments in the section below.


Never Give All the Heart, For He Gave All His Heart and Lost.

“To long a sacrifice can make a stone of a heart” — W.B. Yeats

Whether we do it willingly or otherwise, it is the unfortunate truth that we often have to make sacrifices for the company we work for. Such sacrifices can take the form of time, such as having to work on a non-working day such as on a public holiday; or they can be monetary, such as having to purchase meals for the team when pulling all-nighters. However, although such sacrifices are inevitable and will have to be made by an employee at some point of his life in an organisation, it should be noted that there are times when the demands of the company are simply too unacceptable to the individual, and if made, are done so grudgingly. Thus, in this article, we will be discussing how to negotiate the demands our companies make of us, and how to better be able to handle them.

Now, to begin, there are three kinds of employees where sacrifices are concerned:

  1. The yes-man who agrees all the time.
  2. The no-man who continually refuses.
  3. The man who falls somewhere between the two above.

Majority of people will fall under the third category. In fact, it is better to fall under there than the other two. After all, the one who cannot refuse exposes himself to long term risks- say yes but fail to deliver, and you are deemed incompetent. Succeed, and you are going to be overworked. On the other hand, the person who refuses to make sacrifices becomes labelled as self-centred, untrustworthy, unreliable, and before long will either stagnate since he will no longer be given opportunities, or face retrenchment. Thus, it is better to find a balance between these two in a way that maximises one’s opportunities.

To achieve this balance, here are some tips:

  1. State clearly from the start where your boundaries lie. During the pre-employment interview, it is always important to raise any concerns you may have. This includes setting boundaries as to the sacrifices you are willing to make. For instance, have commitments outside of work such as after hour classes, say so. Your employer will appreciate that you raise such concerns before you start working for them. Imagine. If you do not mention such boundaries beforehand, and a time comes when the company requires you to work during these hours, they will be shocked to hear of your inability to commit, and have every right to demand the sacrifice of you since they were ignorant of it before. This not only creates trust issues, but also has the potential to make the working environment an unhappier place for those affected.
  1. Weigh the pros and cons before making a sacrifice. Straightforward enough. If we take into consideration what the implications of making a sacrifice are, we are able to determine whether or not that sacrifice should be made. In the event that we feel insufficiently informed, then make enquiries, seek out further clarifications beforehand.

In the event that the company’s demands are deemed to overstep the boundary between being socially acceptable and tyrannical, then it is best to refuse to make the sacrifice. However, it should be done tactfully, in a way that no one is left feeling offended or bitter. In fact, you may even want to explain your reasons for refusing to make the sacrifice, so that the company is able to understand your side of the argument.

What do you think? Have you any other pointers to give? Leave your comments in the section below.




Teamwork: It Gets Personal

While it is possible to become more socially confident individually by various means, for instance by practising in front a mirror, so on and so forth, in today’s article, we will be exploring social confidence as a team affair. Why? Because teams form a social support system for members in the professional setting:

We often choose not to conflate personal with professional, because of the opinion that these two should remain mutually exclusive. However, to what extent is it possible to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to a teammate in distress, and leave him to settle his personal problems by himself? Frankly, even if we not want to get involved, we will inadvertently get drawn in, because his behaviour will have an effect on the team.

Thus, the question which begs to be asked: why later and not now? Intervention tends to take place only when other members feel that the team’s dynamics are being affected. However, if intervention is inevitable, why not initiate it from the start in order to avoid any adverse effects from occurring?

In a way, a team thus has a social and moral obligation to look out for and take care of its constituent members. This translates into a large potential in terms of boosting the team’s motivation at work, as well as its resilience in the face of hardship — a well-bonded team is more likely to weather through difficulties than a team where individuals act individually without heeding others.

But why call it an ‘obligation’? Would it not be better if the members simply decide to look out for one another out of the goodness of their hearts? In our opinion, indeed a team should operate based on mutual care and concern, and not on individual interests. However, by making it an obligation to offer help to those who need it, it becomes easier to break down the walls which exist between people, and facilitate the formation of bonds, emotional bonds which initiate the care and concern that we want to have in the workplace.

So what exactly does this have to do with social confidence? By now it should be well established that an ideal team acts as a social safety net for its constituent members, providing encouragement, comfort, consolation, and joy. Therefore, in terms of social confidence, a good team helps its members by pull its members out of their cocoons, by creating a positive climate which promotes openness where people can voice their opinions, argue their cases, and release their inhibitions, all without being put down or judged.

But in order to tap into this potential, it is first necessary for the members of a team to come together and decide that they will do whatever they can to make the experience working in the team a fruitful and memorable one. Is your team up to the challenge?


Motives: A Game of Truth and Deception

“There are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts.”— Charles Dickens

Gossip, backstabbing, schemes and plots. The workplace can be a vicious place, especially for one not well-versed in the art of office politics. Even for those familiar with the art, letting one’s guard down, albeit temporarily, can have devastating effects. Therefore, while it is not particularly ideal, it is sometimes best to approach others with caution, in order to prevent ourselves from being hurt.

That said, while it is important to be on the lookout for others who might want to do you harm, it is — perhaps regrettable — that this caution sometimes mutates into paranoia, and we come to lose our ability to trust others entirely. Thus, in this instalment, we will be exploring ways to be cautious around others, but retain our trust for others.

Firstly, it is wise to keep an ‘innocent till proven guilty’ view on all issues. It makes our lives as well as those of others very difficult when we condemn people as being guilty whom we have just met or know little about. By maintaining an ‘innocent till proven guilty’ view on issues, even while we have our suspicions about others, we do not allow ourselves to succumb to our suspicions, resulting in a better all-around climate for work. After all, the converse is a battlefield where blame grenades are thrown from one end to another.

Once we have inculcated this mindset of not peremptorily meting out judgement on others, we can proceed to reflect on what others do or have done in the workplace. Actions, after all, are louder than words, and it is through actions that we can gauge a person’s true nature. However, it is not enough to merely observe others’ actions. It is necessary to analyse the reasons behind their behaviour. Behaviour is, after all, a choice.

Thus, as an example, witnessing a person who is perpetually nice to others, while gives us an initial feeling of being appreciated, can be a call for concern, for there are two possibilities: one, the person is genuinely a nice person. Two, he could be pretending to be nice so that he can get what he wants out of others – being nice is the easiest way to make others feel obligated to you. So to analyse the reasons behind his actions, we can look at what else he does or says. For instance, does he use what he has done as leverage against others, by saying things such as “I did X for you. Can’t you do Y for me?” does he exhibit negative body language such as firing looks of irritation at his counterparts whenever they refuse to accede to his requests? If the answers to these questions are both ‘yes’, then this person’s intentions are hardly as pure as they may seem on a day-to-day basis.

By analysing others’ actions as a premise to their intentions, we are able to get an idea of what lies beneath the surface of what we see. However, such analyses are often based on many assumptions, and may lead to conflict if we misread a person’s conduct. Thus, it is of utmost importance that when we undertake to understand a person’s true nature, that we ensure that we stay rooted in reality, rooted to what is plausible, and do not get blown away by fanciful ideas and fantasies about a person’s truth.


Carpe Diem, Quam Minimum Credula Postero

“All we are not stares back at what we are.” ― W.H. Auden

Our reflections are reflections of ourselves. They depict the story of our lives, our choices, our regrets. And it is seeing what stares back at us in the morning when brushing our teeth, whenever we look into a mirror, and seeing what we look like in the mirror, that we notice our flaws, our failed ambitions, everything about us that makes us ask: “who am I, and what have I done?” But the point of this piece is not to make anyone feel depressed. The aim of this article is to encourage a lifestyle where every moment is lived to its fullest, where we live without nursing grudges, without having to rectify regrets.

To begin, it is first necessary to recognise that life is a journey through tumult and tempest, through numerous ups and downs over which we have no control, and that it encompasses many beginnings but just as many ends.

So the only thing that we have power over in this chaos is ultimately ourselves and what we do. Thus, we need to know how to make ourselves make sure that whenever we join or leave a team, we do so leaving those left behind better off than before we were there. To do this, we need to make sure that we do several things:

First, we need to grapple with our sense of time. More often than not, we think that there will be enough time to do something. Thus, we tend to take time for granted, and procrastination ensues. We need to realise that time is limited — after all, there are only 24 hours in a day, and most of that time is spent sleeping. By coming to terms with the fact that time is a limited resource, we come to appreciate our time better, and have less of an impetus to waste it in engaging in pointless activities such as playing video games.

Once we realise that time is a commodity that we need to muster, the next step is to live each day to the next in a way that is meaningful. By meaningful, we mean that one should do what he thinks will leave a positive, lasting impact on his team and community. Not to say that there is something wrong in slaving over a desk or some other mundane job that does not stimulate one’s senses as much as he would like, but that even in such mundane endeavours, it is possible to find meaning, and make changes in others’ lives for the advancement of the team and society.

By finding meaning in our lives, we come to grow to accept our lives as they are, as we live them, and we let go of our regrets, we forget the wrongs others have done to us, and we are able to lead a much more fulfilling life, such that our reflections do not weigh us down as much. So what are you still doing here? Venture forth, and live today like it will be your last!



Co-operation: Achieving One’s Dreams

“I have spread my dreams under your feet. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” ― W.B. Yeats

Everyone has ambitions, everyone has dreams. Some make it a point to show others what they want while others adamantly keep their desires hidden, out of the way and secret to others. But that does not mean that those of the latter group of people should be ignored. How can the ambitions of the latter group be made known, be addressed? You may want to read an earlier article where we addressed something similar, about bringing out the potential of quiet team members, for in this article we will not be focussing on the latter group, but on dreams and ambitions as a whole, and how we should approach those of others.

We often want others to consider our ambitions, our dreams. But how often do we think about others’? If theirs are in direct conflict with ours, is it not instinctual for us to want to put it down, to stop it in its tracks? Unfortunately, this is not an approach that we should use, for it only propagates animosity. Instead, what we should do is to approach that person. Talk to him, and discuss ways such that neither of you have to sacrifice your ambitions. If it requires compromise, try to make it. It is much better than ruining his plans entirely, or he ruining yours.

Of course, there may be concerns that the other person may not be trustworthy, and may backstab you even if you make compromises so that he and you can both get what you desire. These doubts are completely natural, and cannot be avoided. However, that does not mean that the other person’s dreams and ambitions should be completely disregarded for your own, nor should you draft a legally binding contract to keep him to his word.

Instead, what ought to be done is to allay such fears, by ensuring that he trusts you. This is because most of the time, backstabbing occurs due to a lack of trust. Thus, you need to find ways to assure him that you are trustworthy. Do not do things that can be misconstrued as efforts to thwart his ambitions. Likewise, you must accord him a level of trust which shows that you do not doubt what he does, even if it sometimes seems as though he is going against the agreement with each other.

If he still decides to use you as a stepping stone to fulfil his ambitions, it does not mean that revenge should be taken. For whatever he did to wrong you will eventually come back to haunt him. So to end off with just a final thought: why crush others’ dreams, even if yours has been? Mutual support, mutual understanding — these things go much farther than mutual competition in the quest to achieve your dreams and ambitions.


Surmounting Your Best: Work in a Team

“It is a pity that doing one’s best does not always answer.”— Charlotte Brontë

Indeed, it is quite the pity when we invest ourselves entirely in a project, expecting to see like returns because of the effort we put in, but receive the reverse of the results that we want, to our dismay. Unfortunately, this will happen time and again throughout our lives. As they say, nothing goes according to plan. What then can we do to minimise our encounters with such situations?

First and foremost, we have to realise that working alone can only take us so far. This is because as a person, we are by ourselves limited in how much we know, in our skills and abilities. After all, knowledge is infinite, and there is no way that we can know everything about the world, everything about people, everything. By realising this, especially to those of us who are particularly averse towards working with others, it becomes easier to accept others, for their views and for themselves, which can be a potential game-changer.

Next, we have to learn how to avoid prevent able failure stemming from within ourselves. To the extent that we are the limiting factor to the success of a project, then no matter how much effort we put in, there is only so much that will show.

Granted, this may make it seem as though the individual is then insignificant. However, this fails to recognise the contributions that an individual can make in a team.  A person is by definition unique, and by having the opinions of different people in a project, by welcoming their input, it is possible to obtain new angles from which the project can be seen, bringing into view possible pitfalls which would have remained hidden otherwise, which can then be prevented or avoided. After all, people join a team, each equipped with a different set of skills and specialisations. This point aptly encapsulates the importance of working in teams: each person has unique contributions that only he is able to make. Thus, while the team is important, its constituents are equally important, if not more so.

Ultimately, it all boils down to the realisation that there is a clear difference between willingness and working smart. The former undoubtedly is important as it translates into motivation which stimulates a person to invest himself in a project, and ‘do his best’. However, it can only take a team so far, and eventually becomes more of a hindrance than anything, which is where being able to work smart, being able to adapt, comes into play, for it allows one to surpass the boundaries set by the former. Doing one’s best may not answer, but when we work together with others, what is our best in comparison to the collective effort by all?


Building Teams Through Difference

“Talent perceives differences, Genius unity.”— W.B. Yeats

Let’s not care so much about talent and genius — what they are is immaterial for our purposes, and in fact may hinder the development of this discussion. Instead, let us focus on the concept of difference and unity, and how there is unity to be found in difference. Sound paradoxical? Stay with me. You’ll understand what I mean in bit.

Let’s begin with a quick anecdote (very contextualised, so if you’re not from Singapore, I apologise, and you may just want to skip this paragraph). Just the other day, I was walking around the Serangoon area, Serangoon Gardens to be specific. I forget the reason behind why I was there. But the thing is, I found out that it is possible for one to walk from Serangoon Gardens to Serangoon North in less than 10 minutes. It seemed quite baffling initially, especially since I normally would have taken a bus to travel from one area to the next, and would consider them quite a distance apart, since it’s 10 to 15 minutes by bus, which would seem to imply that walking would require a substantially longer time to cover that same distance. And this obviously was not the case.

So what is the point I am trying to make here? Well, firstly, perhaps it is due to the convenience offered by transportation, by cars, buses, trains, that we have lost our ability to recognise how a plot of land, while seemingly divided by buildings, by fences, by whatever other kind of impediment thinkable, is still a united entity, and there are ways to overcome these obstacles, for instance by travelling through an obscure alleyway (thankfully Singapore is relatively safe in this aspect).

Secondly, people are in a way similar. There are people who we never seem to be able to ‘click’ with, regardless of how hard we try, how much effort we put into the relationship. However, that does not mean that these differences have to be crippling to a team. If anything, these differences are likely to augment team discussion, and provide greater depth to whatever plans may be had. Think Belbin. He found that people have different roles they are suited for in a team, and that having a combination of all the different roles is what ultimately determines the success of the team.

In a similar manner, meeting people who we cannot see eye to eye with and interacting with them is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, all it takes is a little bit of patience and an open mind, to accept their point of view, or at least think about it if we cannot comprehend it. More often than not, we will find that their points are valid in their own right, and may even give us new ideas, new thoughts, which spur us creatively.

So whenever you find yourself in a pickle, especially where it involves you and another person, with whom you cannot choose to agree but to disagree, instead of thinking war, think unity, in diversity.

Second Chance

Why We Should All Give Second Chances.

Time passes, people change. We all know it. However, how often do we act on this premise? When faced with a person whom we know has done us a wrong turn in the past, or we feel has displayed incompetence in his job, our first reaction is a tendency towards these past events (which obviously have little to no bearing in present circumstances) and to judge him based on these past events, without any regard for the present, or the good that he has done, which is immensely unfair. Thus, to the crux of this essay: the importance of giving second chances.

People who have had a bad track record may indeed be a cause for concern in the workplace. What if he messes up again? Will he somehow manage to undo all our efforts going into a project? What if…and the list goes on. And it may be the case that the person will cause the team difficulties if let on board. However, if never given the chance to even try, how is one to know for sure that such a person would be problematic in the team? If anything, the ‘innocent till proven guilty’ policy should be applied in such a situation, and the person in question should be given the benefit of the doubt.

Granted, it should be acknowledged that the psychological barriers are difficult to break when it comes to such decisions that can make or break a team, as letting a potential catastrophe onto the team. This is especially so for the risk averse. Thus, while it is not possible to fully welcome the person into the team from the get-go, perhaps a compromise can be made. For instance, put that person on probation, perhaps for a week or so, to test his capabilities. You never know, but he may surprise you, and exceed your expectation by a mile.

Which brings us on to the next point: that people ultimately are multifaceted and have various strengths and weaknesses. Past failures could ultimately have been due to his being in an environment unfavourable to his strengths which may have even focussed on his weaknesses, thus hindering his development and success. Reasons for failure ultimately do not solely lie with the individual, and can entail a host of external factors.

So it may be possible that it is only if a person truly has no strengths which align with the team that he should not be let on it. However, even then such a statement indicates a lack of understanding of that person. This is because that person, with strengths that perhaps no one else in the team has, may have vital resources, may provide a new perspective to the team, which would allow the team to elevate itself from its current position, and allow it to develop further. Moreover, weaknesses can ultimately be made up for by other people on that team who have complementing strengths.

Thus, give others a second chance. Even though they may have made a fiasco of their first, one should never be inclined to believe that it is predetermines all future possibilities.