Archive for the ‘Communication Skills.’ Category

A simple question could save someone’s life

Monday, October 16th, 2017

KOTA KINABALU: Genuinely asking “Are you OK?” to a distraught individual – is the first step out of four – in reaching out to a possible suicide victim.

The other three stops are active listening without cynicism or prejudice, encouragement to share their problems and weekly check-ups on their situation.

“This will greatly reduce suicidal thoughts in the depressed,” said Johan Amilan, the Deputy Chairperson of Befrienders Kota Kinabalu, during a talk “Changing the way we talk about suicide” at Bentarakata, an event space here in Damai, on Saturday afternoon.

According to him, one out of four people suffered a form of mental disorder related to depression, body image issues or anxiety, while in a single suicide recorded, 20 suicide attempts happened.

Based on a World Health Organization (WHO) statistic, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 29 year olds, globally.

In Malaysia, when categorized by ethnicity, the Chinese top the numbers of suicide cases followed by Indians, Malays, and others. Men outnumbered women three to one on the list according to Ministry of Health statistics.

Suicide is a crime and punishable by a years’ imprisonment and a fine under Section 309 of the Penal Code. Johan said that the Ministry of Health suicide statistics are highly understated and the punishment of a suicide survivor as counteractive.

“In Malaysia, the average age of suicide victims is 22 to 44. They might be that student who has just gotten into university, or a person you know who had just started a family.

“Sabah has seen an improvement from one to three government psychiatrist in recent years. WHO recommends a proportion of one psychiatrist to 100,000 people, but with 3.5 million individuals in the State, we are looking at a quietening 1.1 million per psychiatrist,” Johan said.

He added that suicide victims go through a meticulous process of planning their death, disproving belief that all suicide victims are mentally unsound. He gave an example of a suicide case involving a 12-year-old boy from Ranau who hanged himself by stringing shoelaces together back in 2012.


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Beauty of staying in touch

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

True communication is all about choosing your words with love and care.

MY wife reminded me recently that it’s that time of the year when I write my annual family newsletter to send to our friends across many continents.

She had already received some updates from various people, even though December is still some weeks away.

I think it’s a good tradition for keeping in touch with people whom we do not meet regularly, yet are dear enough to us that we want them to know how we are getting on.

Even in this age of constant updates via Facebook posts and WhatsApp, receiving a newsy letter in the mail is still a joy for me.

Sitting down to put our newsletter together compels me to review the year and the progress and status of each member of our family.

I find it helpful to take stock of the year ahead of the time when we traditionally formulate new year resolutions.

For one, there is still time to tie up loose ends and perhaps make good some promises made.

And secondly, November doesn’t have busyness of December with its extended festive season.

So there is more time for reflection.

So what will my newsletter say? Well, there have been happy moments this year as well as sad goodbyes, high points as well as low ones.

There were exciting new frontiers to explore for one member of the family, hurdles to overcome and challenges to face for another.

It has been a mixed bag and I am grateful for every experience.

I know that though not all journeys are pleasant ones, they are a means to make me complete.

by Soo Ewe Jin .

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10 Tips to Design Effective Presentations

Monday, October 27th, 2014

Creating effective slide decks that can engage the audience and pull them right in is a task that requires some serious training. This training comes in the form of practice in the key elements that make a better presentation. These elements are: the choice of images used in the slides, the amount of text used with these images, the font and type size of the text, the placement and arrangement of text vis-a-vis the images, and the transitions and effects used in the slides. These elements, if used properly, are enough to make your presentations slick and charming.

TED has recently published a great read in this direction. This is basically an article written by TED staff in which they provided detailed explanations on each of the elements I mentioned above. They also featured some useful tips to help you create engaging presentations. I just could not let this great read go by without sharing it with you here. Below is a round-up of the 10 major tips featured in this TED post, check out the original post for more details on each one of these tips.

  • Think about slides last
  • Create a consistent look and feel
  • Think about topic transitions
  • When it comes to text, remember that less is almost always more
  • Use photos that enhance learning
  • Go easy on the effects and transitions
  • Use masking to direct attention in images
  • Try panning large images
  • For video, don’t use auto play
  • Reproduce simple charts and graphs

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When a smile says a lot

Sunday, October 19th, 2014

Flashing a smile is perhaps the best way to break the ice or relieve stress, even if there are some social norms and practices that prevent us from doing so.

I HAD gotten so used to Dilla’s half-smile, half frown whenever we met up for a cup of tea that I was a little taken aback when she greeted me with a smile which stretched all the way across her face .

“Gee,” I said in surprise. “Has it been really that long since we last met?”

“Twwwwwwks,”Dilla replied through her smile-frozen face. “Ntsuuuhlng”

The smile was a little wobbly now but I could see that she was trying hard.

“There’s lipstick on your teeth,” I informed her and the smile collapsed as she began rummaging through her handbag.

“What a relief,” she said, taking out a compact mirror. She flipped it open and inspected the smudge on her tooth. Deftly she dabbed the mark with a tissue. “Ah that’s better then. All that effort for nothing I forgot it was only you”

Her familiar half-frown was back and I began to feel more comfortable. “What effort?” I asked.”You mean smiling?”

Dilla looked at me as if I had asked a no-brainer.

“Yes, what’s with the enormous grin you had plastered all over your face a minute ago. You won something you got a promotion some arrears they took away five teaching periods from your time table? Your Pengetua has gone away for a month-long holiday?”

“None of the above,” said Dilla. “If you really want to know, I am practicing the Smile Therapy. You know, smile, and the whole world smiles with you?

“Haven’t you heard of the many health benefits of smiling? Smiling to relieve stress, to improve the immune system, your mood and er..some other things too.”

It turned out that after reading an inspirational book that described the many wondrous benefits of smiling, Dilla had decided to give it a go and try smiling more, even at people she was not familiar with.


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A practical guide

Monday, July 28th, 2014

STUDENTS wanting to build character excellence can now find themselves a how-to guide in a new book written by a local author.

Asohan Satkunasingham’s extensive two-decade background in human resource management made him realise that companies are unable to optimise the talents of their people because of how they have been developed at school.

“In a world too focused on material development, other aspects of personal development have taken a back stage. My book is all about developing a student’s attitude and behaviour for character building,” he said at the launch recently.

Aptly titled A+B=C: Practical Guide for Students to Develop Attitude and Behaviour for Character Building, the book was written with the belief that cultivating positive character traits in students will better sustain the nation building process.

“Good or great leadership is all about character. And school plays a pivotal role in character building and the development of human resources.”

The key to character building starts with having a positive attitude, the author revealed.

“An attitude, whether positive or negative, will influence and determine your success. Droplets truly make an ocean. Your positive attitude are droplets for an amiable character in your own life ocean.”

Asohan said character building can only be effective if the student himself is willing to be developed.

“Real behavioural change can only occur when the desires arising from internal factors are greater than the desires arising from the external.

‘You must want to change before you can,” he said.

The book was launched by Deputy Education Minister Datuk Mary Yap.


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Must language be spoken to be heard?

Monday, July 28th, 2014

A new dictionary aims to raise awareness about the complexities of sign language and how it is used.

IMAGINE if you were told that your mother tongue is not a “real” language, but merely a shadow of one. This is what many deaf communities face when it comes to sign language.

According to the World Federation of the Deaf, some 70 million deaf people around the world say that sign language is their first language.

Despite this, the common misconception is that sign language is a crude imitation or ‘inferior’ to spoken languages such as English.

“Sign language is a visual language, which is actually equal to any spoken languages because this visual language has its own grammar, structure and meaning,” says advocate for the deaf, Anthony Chong.

“Many people misunderstand that sign language represents spoken language because hearing people (and even deaf people) see signs based on Bahasa Malaysia or English words.”

Chong, who is deaf himself, has a background in both linguistics as well as deaf studies.

Some think that sign language is just a collection of simple iconic gestures, and hence should be easy and universal. However, as sign language naturally developed within deaf communities and was not artificially handed down to them, different countries and even regions have their own distinct sign language.


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Basics of good storytelling

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

In the first of three articles tailored to help students create captivating storyboards for the Tale Spin 2014 contest, the Taylor’s University School of Communication programme director HARDIP SINGH REKHRAJ, sheds light on four elements — characters, conflict, plot and climax — which are essentials in spinning great tales.

WHY is Pharrell Williams’ song Happy so successful? Because of its catchy melody? Great beat (and clap)? Elegant lyrics?

“Yes” to all of those but also because the song reminds us to look for happiness in simple things, regardless of “bad news talking this and that”.

It also shows that stories are in fact everywhere. And so is happiness. Like courage, generosity or kind-heartedness, happiness is a universal theme.

People use these themes to illustrate the moral values (e.g. honesty) that shape their communities. It is the deeper message embodied in these themes and values that lies at the heart of every story – whether a four-minute song, a 300-page teen novel or a 90-minute feature film.

However, storytelling that uses a combination of words and images tends to be a challenge.

For one thing, to make readers or viewers pay attention, your story will need to integrate four elements: characters, conflicts, plot and climax. The ABC of good story-telling is CCPC.

Juggling and balancing the three C’s and P require considerable planning, creativity, time and teamwork.

For another, having a good story is only the beginning – it has to be told well, too, and in this contest, it has to be made visible, and this is where storyboarding comes in.

A character is usually a person, an imaginary creature or even an object.

Recent examples include Elsa, princess of Arendelle, in the movie Frozen, or the Grievers and Beetle Blades in James Dashner’s The Maze Runner, a story set in a scary, dystopian world. They all engage the reader or viewer meaningfully.

Conflict refers to a situation in which two or more characters are in opposition to each other, usually because their goals and needs are different.

An interesting example is Godzilla, who will fight alongside humans against a common threat while at the same time also destroying human life and property.

The plot consists of a sequence of believable events that will challenge the hero. The story events will force him/her to make choices.

These choices – often moral dilemmas – will lead to transformation.

Classic Hollywood films will take us through three acts, raising the stakes at every turn.

Climax is about the resolution of all the major conflicts that drive the plot.

The climax brings about absolute, irreversible change. The story has come to an acceptable and emotionally satisfying end. We are no longer wondering what is next.

by  Hardip Singh Rekharaj.

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Chinese fast picking up major languages

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

CAN you survive by only speaking English in China? A quick answer is : “No. But, things are changing fast, say foreign expatriates working in Beijing.

Mandarin is, of course, the lingua franca for the 1.35 billion people across China. But, as the huge Chinese economy further integrates with the rest of the world, more and more Chinese are picking up English and other major languages as their second language.

At one English-language centre at the upmarket China World Trade Centre in the heart of Beijing, many ordinary Chinese office workers form a queue to sign up for courses that run for up to two years.

In fact, the Italian-founded centre, Wall Street English (China), now has a network of more than 60 outlets in Beijing and 10 other Chinese cities since it spread its wings to China in 2000.

A company literature says it has trained staff from more than 300 local and international companies in China.

“Nobody speaks English when I was first transferred to Beijing 18 years ago,” said a Malaysian expat in Beijing.

“But now, they are pretty good. Many have picked up English, Bahasa Malaysia, German, Arabic and other main languages.

“I had a French boss visiting our Beijing office recently. He was surprised to hear one of the sales girls speaking French to him.”

I had lunch with some colleagues at a Turkish restaurant in Beijing yesterday.

While looking at the menu, I regretted that I didn’t complete my Mandarin lessons when I was much younger.

Beijing has changed a lot since the last time I was here several years ago. I find that there are more English speakers in Beijing.

Questions unanswered

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

THERE must have been at least a time in your teaching career when a student has come to you with a question you were not able to answer and there could have been a few reasons for this.

Perhaps you really didn’t know the answer or perhaps you did, but you wanted the students to figure it out themselves.

The third possibility is that there really was no answer for the question asked.

Whatever it is, a situation like this can be quite unnerving especially if you are a recently qualified teacher in your first posting, or if it is the first time you are teaching a particular subject.

All of a sudden you seem to be surrounded by a group of eager teenagers keen to discover your weakest spots.

If you feel at times that their innocent and keen expressions when they ask you questions — which although relevant to your subject are way beyond the syllabus — may not be totally innocent, your hunch may be right.

My friend Dilla believes there are whole groups of them (students) out there, “nerdy types who spend entire evenings thinking up questions on quantum physics or comparative history just to rattle your nerves, when they should be on Facebook or watching movies or something.”

So what do you do when you don’t have the answers?

“Just tell them it’s not in the syllabus,” said one teacher in a clipped tone that suggested the issue was a no-brainer.

“Tell them to focus on what they need to know for the exam. They can learn about the other things once they finish school.”

“I pretend I am suddenly very busy,” said another teacher.

“I look at my watch or phone then suddenly remember I have this very important meeting and tell my students I will get back to them on the topic later.

“Usually I do some research when I get back and the next time I meet them, I do give them the answers as if I had known them all along,” added the teacher

“Saving face is very important in the profession. You can’t let students go off thinking the teacher’s not so smart and that he doesn’t know the answers.”

But students often have an uncanny knack of knowing when teachers are being real and when they are putting it on.

by Mallika Yasugi.

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Learning to be mindful

Monday, February 17th, 2014

WEEDING OUT HEAD NOISES; It will enrich our relationships, work and everyday life.

A PERSON I recently met stopped me in the hallway the other day and apologised profusely. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry I didn’t say much the other day.”

“Why is that necessary?” I asked.

“Because it was an unusual day,” he said. “I had taken up a friend’s listening challenge. For one full day I decided to say very little. I just wanted to listen to what people say.”

“What did you learn?” I asked him.

“A lot,” he said. “I heard a lot that I had not heard before. I recommend it to you.”

“Oh why, thank you!”

The fact is we are all listening all day, even as you are reading this now. Even — especially — when you are sitting alone at the table, sipping your cup of tea. Call it head noises, continuing narrative or, as neuroscientists prefer to call it, the default mode network, even though it touched on only just one aspect of his daily activity that my newly found friend was trying to master.

Even though what my friend was trying to weed out was the clutter in conversation that he himself was producing whilst engaging with the other, he also found another problem, that that made his mind wander.

“I used to talk all the time,” he said. “I found a lot about people I had been conversing with almost all day, every day.”

He found that very useful. He found how people spoke, how they shaped their thoughts, and how even the silence in between speeches — he wasn’t talking, remember? — became excruciatingly unbearable.

But then, he said, the head noises were worrying him even more. He found that he frequently sank into himself and was listening to the drift of his mind even as his friend was talking to him.

“That’s the default mode network that brain scientists have been warning us about,” I told him. “Your brain has a default state, and that default state is telling you stories.”

“What a nuisance,” he said.

“No,” I said, speaking as a dreamer myself in the broad light of day. “It keeps you sane. You’ll go bonkers if you can’t. Your mind isn’t losing focus, but simply switching to something more engaging. Er, what was it you were saying to me just a minute ago?”

The brain in its idle state is never idle but continues to flow in a running narrative. For me it is one reason why narratives are so important to us, because it makes sense of ourselves, of our daily existence in this world. But I will hook this to an even greater benefit later.