Human Behaviour

The Main Differences Between Malta and My Home Country

It has almost been 3 months since I came to Malta. During my stay here, I noticed some remarkable differences from the Netherlands, and I think it would be interesting, to sum up some big differences to share my image of Malta (or the Netherlands) with everyone.

Traffic
First, the traffic in Malta is really different. I mentioned this in my previous blog but Maltese people have less patience than the Dutch. In Malta the traffic is more chaotic and there’s a lot of cars on the road. The amount of cars is not strange because apparently, this little island is the most densely populated country in Europe. And I thought Holland was overpopulated!

Furthermore, during my internship I see applicants rejecting job offers because “the employer’s offices are too far!”. In the Netherlands, it is normal for people to travel far for their job but in Malta it seems to be different. But I don’t know if it’s because Maltese are used to having everything closer, or primarily because of the traffic.

Public Holidays
The Maltese get to enjoy more public holidays than the Dutch. Malta is a more religious country and almost every month the Maltese have a day off to celebrate a public holiday. In summer, every village celebrates the feast of their patron saint. The streets turn into a party with the whole neighbourhood and there will be music, colourful decorations and lots of alcohol.

I don’t think the public holidays in the Netherlands are as special as in Malta. The only celebration I miss in Malta is ‘Sinterklaas’. This is one of the celebrations that are very big in the Netherlands and it’s a shame I miss it this year.

Architecture
The colour of the houses was the first thing I noticed when I arrived in Malta three months ago. The predominant colour is white because of the limestone that is quarried and used to build houses. The Dutch houses are darker (because of the red or brown bricks we use to build our houses), and more houses are detached because of the gardens around them. The houses in the touristic areas in Malta are quite plain and simple. However, when you go to the towns and villages, the houses have more character and most of them are quite old with lovely balconies that are only found in Malta. Also, the churches in Malta are very detailed and pretty, especially on the inside.

Cleanliness
I think it’s remarkable how often people clean and sweep the streets in Malta. I see many people cleaning the street in front of their house washing the area with soap and water. Every morning I see a guy at the bus stop sweeping all the trash from the streets. Because of that, the streets in Malta are very clean. In the Netherlands, I don’t see this that often but maybe because we have the rain that cleans the road.By contrast, I think it’s a little bit odd that Maltese don’t use wheely bins or other big containers for their garbage collection. The full refuse bags are placed in front of the door on the streets, and that definitely creates an eyesore!.

Weather
Obviously, the weather is very different than the Netherlands. It’s December but last week I could go outside with only a t-shirt in the morning sun and I also managed to get a tan. Yippeeee!. This is difficult to imagine when you live in the Netherlands. In the summer the temperatures in Malta went up to almost 40 degrees while in Holland the temperatures rarely went up to 30 degrees.

Compared to August and October, It rained a lot in November here in, Malta and I have seen some tropical showers that month. Road drains aren’t very good here, so when it rains the roads will turn into little rivers (as deep as your ankles). Moreover, it looks like cars and buses are floating instead of driving. The distribution of the water in Holland is better but unfortunately, rain is way more normal in my home country.

I still enjoy my life in Malta. It’s a shame I have to go back to Holland next week.

Lots of love,
Romee

 

Grote verschillen tussen Malta en mijn thuisland

Ik ben nu al bijna 3 maanden in Malta. In mijn tijd hier zijn mij veel dingen opgevallen die heel anders zijn dan in Nederland. Het leek me dus interessant om een paar grote verschillen te benoemen om iedereen een goed beeld van Malta (of Nederland) te kunnen geven.

Verkeer
Als eerste is het verkeer echt heel anders in Malta. Ik heb dit al in een vorige blog ook genoemd maar Maltesers hebben een andere rijstijl dan Nederlanders. Ze rijden in Malta agressiever en er zijn enorm veel auto’s op de weg. Het eiland is ook het dichtstbevolkte land van Europa. Het gemiddelde aantal inwoners per vierkante kilometer is hier drie keer zo groot dan in Nederland. En ik dacht dat Nederland dichtbevolkt was.

Verder zie ik tijdens mijn stage dat Maltesers soms banen niet aannemen terwijl deze toch relatief dichtbij wonen. In Nederland reizen mensen wat af voor een baan maar dit lijkt in Malta niet het geval. Maar ik weet niet of dit komt doordat ze meer gewend zijn om alles dichterbij te hebben op het eiland of alleen door het verkeer.

Feestdagen
In Malta zijn er meer en leukere feestdagen dan in Nederland. Malta is een gelovig land en bijna elke maand heeft men een dag of twee vrij omdat er een feestdag is. In de zomer viert elk dorp van zijn beschermheilige. Op de straten ontstaan er dan grote buurtfeesten met muziek, kleurrijke versieringen en veel drankjes.

Ik vind de feesten in Nederland niet zo bijzonder als in Malta. Wat ik wel jammer vind, is dat ik dit jaar niks heb meegekregen van het Nederlandse feest ‘Sinterklaas’. Dit is een van de feesten die wel heel groot worden gevierd in Nederland.

Architectuur
De kleur van de huizen is het eerste wat me gelijk opviel toen ik in Malta arriveerde drie maanden geleden. De overheersende kleur is okergeel door de kalksteen. Kalksteen is het meest gebruikte bouwmateriaal voor huizen en het wordt op het eiland zelf verkregen uit de rotsen. De Nederlandse huizen zijn veel donkerder (door de rode of bruine stenen die we gebruiken) maar om de huizen heen is meer plek voor een tuin. In de toeristische en drukke plaatsen zijn de gebouwen niet zo mooi. Echter, als je meer naar de lokale steden en dorpen gaat vind je mooie oude huizen met hele leuke balkonnetjes. Deze balkonnetjes zijn alleen te vinden in Malta. Ook de kerken in Malta zijn heel gedetailleerd en mooi, vooral aan de binnenkant.

Schoon
Ik vind het opvallend hoe vaak de straten hier worden geveegd en schoongemaakt. Ik zie veel mensen die de stoep voor hun huis met een sopje schoonpoetsen en elke ochtend is er iemand bij de bushalte het afval aan het opruimen. Ik zie dit niet zo vaak in Nederland. De straten in Malta zijn dus mooi schoon. Ik vind het wel bijzonder dat er in Malta nog niet gebruik wordt gemaakt van containers. De volle vuilniszakken worden aan de kant van de weg gezet en dit maakt de straat toch wel rommelig.

Weer
Het weer is natuurlijk een groot verschil. Het is al december maar vorige week heb ik nog in een t-shirt buiten gelopen in de ochtendzon en ik heb voor mijn doen nog steeds een mooi kleurtje van de zon. Jippie! Dit kun je je bijna niet voorstellen als je in Nederland woont. In de zomer hebben de temperaturen hier tegen de 40 graden aangezeten terwijl in Nederland zelden de 30 graden zijn gehaald.

Vergeleken met augustus en oktober, heeft het in november veel geregend en dit heb ik ook een paar keer heftig meegemaakt. De voorzieningen tegen de regen in Malta zijn niet zo best dus er ontstaan overal rivieren op straat als het regent (tot boven je enkels zo diep). Daarbij lijkt het alsof bussen en auto’s drijven in plaats van rijden. In Nederland is dit beter geregeld maar in tegenstelling tot Malta is regen daar helaas de normaalste zaak van de wereld.

Ik vermaak me nog goed hier. Helaas ga ik volgende week alweer terug naar Nederland.

Veel liefs,
Romee

How To Be A Bad Boss Effectively

by Mark J Galea

In my (wait a minute. Pause. Stop. I’m 41….so shall I describe my life as long, longish, or short, or relatively short?) professional life, I came across a number of books, articles and papers advising people how to be good or become better managers.

Every single piece of literature under this category aims at converting The Evil Witch/Queen into a whiter-than-white Snow White. I guess, that this creates a gap in the market. So how about addressing those people who want to play the villains at work? Someone needs to acknowledge and address these poor souls, right?

For this reason, I decided to come up with the Bad Boss’s Manual. Political correctness dictates that ignored minorities (or are bad bosses in the majority?) be accepted and embraced. By writing this manual, I feel that not only will they feel embraced, but they will also enjoy a reference guide….a sort of a satanic bible 🙂

Out of respect for generations X, Y and Z who lack enough patience to read articles but have enough time to “invest” in social media, I hereby present you with some brief points to help you become an even worse boss. These are my tips:

1) Empathy is for wusses: You are employed to get a job done. You were given a team to help you achieve YOUR goals….and bonus at the end of the year. Tough luck if they don’t like your style. The door is always open for them to leave and for their substitutes to come through. “Shape up or ship out”: THAT should be your mantra.

2) Terrorise your subordinates: The more your underlings fear you, the more productive they are. This also comes with the added benefit that no one will dare badmouth you. Ever. Not in private. Not in public. Actually, they will praise you with others (both inside and outside the company), and make sure that you get to know they did so. What could possibly give you better gratification than your underlings’ praise? On the flipside, look at how the “kind bosses” get criticised and denigrated in public (both openly and behind their back). Idiots!

3) Divide and conquer: Make sure that you have – at the very least – two factions in your team. Play to their weaknesses and make sure that you can effectively manipulate the weak and insecure team members. In such a scenario, your people will be elbowing each other to curry favour with you. To be in your good books. And while you’re at it, do encourage your underlings to spy on each other and report back to you (1984 style). Reward these loyal servants accordingly. Who can deny that this is a scenario that any manager dreams of?

4) Do your best to lose their trust: If your team fears you already, mistrust is a great bonus! You will become unpredictable in their eyes and THAT’S the one thing they clearly want to avoid. The last thing you want is for your underlings to feel safe. Remember that safe = complacent.

5) Make it clear that you play the political game, and that you have your own agendas: Nothing will make your people feel more insecure and terrorised than the fear of being left out of your grand plan. Actually, they will fight each other out for the leading role of your scheme. They will happily volunteer to do the dirty work for you. They will fight each other to the death like gladiators to climb the beanstalk and steal the magic harp from the giant. Make them play the political game like a video game: kill the ogres to score points. The more they kill, the higher the score…….Which gives me an idea. How about actually creating a leaderboard? No one would want to be at the bottom of the table, right? Muwahhhaaaahaaaaahaa.

6) Badmouth your underlings with other team members AND other managers: If you want to make sure that your underlings will treat you like a deity, you must prevent them from trusting you. Gossip as much as you can….and while you’re at it, make sure to add some of your spice. Go on. Spill the beans. Let them suffer and beg for your kindness.

7) Make sure they don’t trust you: Remember that trust also leads to complacency. If you earn the reputation of bad mouthing people, no one would want to fall victim of your rants. And what’s the best way for them to prevent this? By working hard to be in your good books….and to stay there.

8) Be angry all the time: No one likes to deal with angry people, and this would keep your underlings off your back. Would they dare bothering you with their personal problems? Of course not! Would they come up with some lame excuse for failing in their tasks? Unthinkable. Better still, no one likes to cross an angry manager. Who would be stupid enough to volunteer to fall victim of your wrath? No one should be that stupid, right? And if someone is that stupid, then they shouldn’t be on your team. This is an extremely effective way of getting things done, and achieve your goals.

9) Bark orders at your underlings: Nicities are for softies. Ditch any flowery language and make good use of your voice to show your people that you’re the boss. When ordering them around, make sure to bark your orders thus ensuring that your team is badgered into submission.

10) Be as unfair as possible: Make it clear that you have your own pets. That some animals are more equal than the others. Fairness is for the weak. You must also make sure to be unfair when rewarding your loyal servants. Kick logic and common sense out of the window. Make them crave and work hard for your favours. Convince them to turn their bitter disappointments (when you decide not to give them their rewards) into an even bigger strife for your favours.

11) Avoid consistency at all costs: Consistency makes you predictable; and you don’t want that, do you? Make sure that your underlings are constantly guessing what you’re scheming and that they can never be in a position to predict how you’re going to act. Spice this up by doing things in a diametrically opposed way to what you preach. Avoid acting like this all the time though, otherwise, you’d become consistent. After all, the element of surprise will keep your team motivated to follow your orders to the letter. You also need to master the art of dishonouring promises. Do it tactfully, and you’ll be laughing.

12) Clarity is a weakness: If you want to keep your team under control, make sure that your orders, instructions, and communication are as vague and convoluted as possible. This will inevitably make your underlings come to you asking for direction thus strengthening your power and forging their dependence on you.

13) Denigrate and ridicule your team in public: Make sure that you ridicule different individuals at least once a day. Quash their dreams. Make them understand that they are not worthy…..and keep on reminding them that there IS a reason (or more than one) why YOU are THE manager, and THEY are your servants. THEY are a means to an end. YOUR end. You’ll be amazed by the results you will achieve.

14) Take and keep complete control: Team members are like characters in a video game. You are the player holding the controller. Make sure that you dictate every single step. Every single move. There should be no room for individualism and personal ideas. YOU are the manager and YOU know best. Their role is to do what you say. To follow your instructions. You have no other option but to micromanage your underlings. You’re the only one who knows how every single task has to be carried out  😉

15) You know best: How dare they come up with ideas? How dare they suggest something that’s different to your way of doing things? How dare they question your you?There’s no room for suggestions or any form of discussion. This is yet another reason why micromanagement is the name of the game. Surely IF they were THAT good, THEY’d be managers, right?

16) Make them work hard for you: You will not tolerate anyone who dares to turn up late. It is also unacceptable for you that anyone dares to leave on time. Any “reasons” which – let’s face it – in reality, are excuses should be rubbished straight away. Make it clear that you expect your team to be at work early and leave as late as possible. You shouldn’t be happy to meet deadlines. Impress your bosses by finishing tasks before agreed deadlines. Needless to say, it’s OK for you to leave before any of your underlings.

17) Take all the credit for your underlings’ performance: This is precisely the reason why you need to hold the game controller. How can you claim success if you don’t have complete control? Make sure that your own bosses, your peers and your underlings know that your team’s excellent performance is SOLELY down to your input. If the company ever gets to lose you, there will be no tomorrow! They might as well shut down when you walk out the door.

18) Fire an employee every month: This will definitely keep them on their toes! Fire someone for the stupidest (and most illogical) of reasons, and you will see the team’s productivity soar. Keep this going every month, and you will be unstoppable. And remember: unstoppable = untouchable 😉

19) Hire underachievers: The more unemployable (for others) job candidates are, the more attractive they are for you. You will be the only one who gave them a job after weeks, months or years of searching. They will be forever grateful and will never, ever think of disobeying your orders. Furthermore, not a single one of these underlings will ever even think of dethroning you to take your job.

20) Surround yourself with yesmen: You already have to deal fellow managers and your bosses. Unfortunately, they don’t always do as you say. So why should you allow your underlings to add to the grief and frustration? You are the boss and their sole function is to march to your orders. Make sure that they clearly understand their place in your kingdom. Oops! I mean….department.

I will now leave you with this parting shot: always keep in mind that your decisions are irrevocable and final because, without a shadow of any doubt, you are always unquestionably right!

Should You Make Yourself Indispensable?

by Ian Sammut Dacoutros

Keeping your cards close to your chest guarantees your survival as an individual, right? This idea may have been popular a long time ago but in this age of knowledge and information, it is a big no no.

If you as an individual, a Manager, or an entrepreneur choose to keep your knowledge to yourself, you are essentially slowing down – or even hampering your own and your organisation’s growth and development. If you have employees keeping knowledge from you then it’s even worse.

What happens if these employees want to leave the organisation or if they have an issue with the organisation? Can they effectively hold the organisation at ransom with their knowledge?

Knowledge management is a very wide term and several people define it differently. The main differences come from an exact answer to the question: What exactly is knowledge? Even without this though management in organisations are focusing and investing more and more in it.

Essentially knowledge management is a process that organisations undertake to generate value from the knowledge in and around their organisation. They look both at the knowledge held in their people and the knowledge held outside through their customers.

The ultimate aim is to get this knowledge together and use it throughout the organisation so that the whole organisation will have access to all its knowledge, all the time. Imagine a company where the sales team know all the complaints the company has received and how they were resolved, the sales team could be helped so that the complaints would reduce.

Unfortunately in the age where there is an app for everything many organisations are being fooled into thinking that by simply buying a system all their knowledge problems will be solved, then after spending a hefty amount the project fails because the solution is not the system. A worker can have all the best tools but if they do not have the skill to use them or the training then tools are useless.

In the next article we will discuss what exactly knowledge is and the different types of knowledge.

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The Right People At The Table

by Mark Fritz

There is old saying that always stays current: People Trump Strategy. In fact, people often trump processes, procedures, and methodologies. It is not that these other things are not important, it is that their effectiveness or ineffectiveness is driven by the people executing the processes, procedures, and methodologies. You don’t really say: “That process let me down!”…you say; “That person let me down!.

CHANGE is really 80% PEOPLE and 20% the rest…if we use the traditional 80/20 rule.

To drive successful CHANGE, it is often about getting The Right People at the Table; and there are two outcomes that successful leaders invest more focused time to create than others.

  1. Quality of the Output from the Meeting

(Driven by the quality of the discussion and that is from the quality of the people)

  1. Quality of the Influence after the Meeting

(Driven by the attendees’ ability to influence others to take action on the output)

These two outcomes determine who needs to be there, and if the right people are not there; the perceived quality of the output of the meeting is always suspect.

Consider this situation:

You have a meeting on the change, and another department only provides you someone that is available; and not their best person (knowledgeable and with influence both inside and outside his/her department). Now the key questions…

  • When others see this person attending the meeting, do they feel this meeting is important? Probably not.
  • What will others feel about the decisions/solutions coming out of the meeting? They would probably have low expectations given the person who is attending.
  • When this person goes back to his/her department, do you feel anyone will be listening to him or her? Again, probably not, because they do not have the respect from their peers. They were just available!

As you can see, the people you get to your tables (the meetings) have an impact on the quality of the meeting before a word is even said, and then any influence on the results after the meeting too.

There are three key habits I have seen in leaders who get The Right People at the Right Tables, and if you practice these two habits; you will have more success getting the right people to your tables.

  1. Frame Meetings to Achieve, not to Discuss

How many times have you been invited to a meeting with this phrase: We need a meeting to discuss… Probably all the time, and now here is a great question: Is discussion an activity or an outcome? Right, it’s an activity, and this is why these meetings you are attending are wasting your time.

When you frame the meeting as a discussion, what do you get more of? Discussion! Also, you often get people talking not because they have something useful to say, but because they just like the sound of their own voice!

If you want to run more successful meetings, you need to frame the meeting as an OUTCOME, not as an activity. You need a meeting to ACHIEVE.

From a leadership perspective, the majority of your meetings only have three outcomes…because you need:

1. ACTION You want progress, and people owning their Action.

2. DECISION You need a Decision that enables more action.

3. ALIGNMENT You want Alignment that drives teamwork and more effective action.

Next time, don’t frame your meetings as an activity (to discuss), but as an outcome (to ACHIEVE)…and more of the right people will want to come to your table.

  1. Build the Key Relationships Before You Need Them

If you remember the story about Noah from the bible, did Noah start building the ark before it started raining or after it started raining? Before, right? You need to build your key relationships before you need them. In getting the right people around the right tables, it often comes down to the quality of your relationships with other key stakeholders. When you have built strong relationships, you then have more influence in getting the right people from their organizations to come to your meetings.

To gain that key influence with others, you start by wanting others to listen and engage with you, and that means starting with them (not your) and using:

their Door: You enter the door of what they are most interested in (their self interests), and then wrap what you want within what they want. This has them wanting to listen. How many times do you instantly switch off at the start of a conversation when others begin by talking about only what they want!

and then on their floor: You focus the conversation on the level of details that they are most interested in discussing. This has them wanting to engage with you because you are having the conversation at their level of interest. If you are a leader, you have probably experienced this…your people come to you and want to tell you all the details before getting to the point! They say that a leader’s maximum patience is about 90 seconds in this situation. If you want more influence with others…enter their Door (so they listen) and discuss on their Floor (so they engage). Also, teach your people this and they will package their conversations with you in more concise ways.

  1. Choose People Who Can Both Contribute and Influence

There are many leaders who look at the organization chart in determining who they need to be at their meeting representing that department or area of the company. However, the most successful leaders never think in terms of represent. They think in terms of contribution and influence.

The Right People you need at all the tables are the people who can contribute the most towards gaining the best decisions and solutions, and who can then go away and influence others within their own areas and organizations across the company. It is might be difficult to gain both of these in the same individual and therefore you will then need to invite two people to gain the impact your need both in the meeting and after the meeting. Far too many managers think of the meeting only, and not about the impact after the meeting (when the action is needed and has to be reinforced with others).

Lastly, there are two feelings that fuel people to support the decisions in meetings and to take the necessary actions after the meetings. They are:

It’s Worth It and I Can Do It.

These two feelings are what drive people to sustain the right mindset and keep taking action.

It’s Worth It (They ask themselves…What’s in it for me?)

People need to feel that it is personally worth it to them? Far too often you share why it is worth it to the company, but real change happens at a personal level. A company change is simply the collection of enough personal changes. That’s why people who are great at driving change are also great at adapting their communications…because that’s the way to make it personal to others.

I Can Do It (They ask themselves…Can I handle the conflict?)

This is a confidence and character issue. Decisions often require doing something different and differences drive conflict. Most people don’t change because they feel they are not able to effectively deal with the conflicts they will have with others. They say that people rise in organizations to the level they can deal with the conflict that comes with the role.

Therefore, next time you need to get The Right People at the Table, consider these:

Two OUTCOMES

Quality of the Output from the Meeting

Quality of the Influence after the Meeting

Three KEY HABITS

Frame Meetings to Achieve, not to Discuss

Build the Key Relationships Before You Need Them

Choose People Who Can Both Contribute and Influence

Two FEELINGS

It’s Worth It

I Can Do It.

When you focus on these two outcomes, three key habits and two feelings, you will get more of The Right People at the Table….and GAIN you more influence and more achievement.

 

MFAbout The Author

Mark Fritz is an “International”, having lived and worked across the world (Singapore, Egypt, Netherlands, Italy, Japan, UK and the USA), and lives in London with his Japanese wife and their cat Smokey.   His international career included leading enterprise systems implementations, leading international operations, and also coordinating business model development and changes.  Mark understands how to lead CHANGE and to get your people to OWN IT!

 

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Two Tribes

by Andrew Morris

We come across two tribes of people in the business world. The Do-ers who do what they say or agreed to do. And the Talk-ers, who do not.

We know where we are with the Do-ers. They like responsibility and are fulfilled by getting things done and pleasing us. Once we’ve delegated, it’s out of our head and into theirs. Organisations and relationships thrive with Do-ers.

Talkers say, with sincerity, `leave it with me` but quickly forget what it was we left. They pretend to make notes. They make excuses for letting us down and ask for deadlines to be extended, often more than once. In short, they over-promise and under-deliver. Organisations and relationships can be destroyed by the Talk-ers.

Which tribe would you prefer on your team?

 

About the Author

andrewbmorris_medAndrew Morris is Chief Executive of the Academy for Chief Executives, helping businesses to accelerate growth through better leadership.  Andrew describes himself as a creative businessman, who enjoys meeting people from all facets of life. His mantra is ‘take your job seriously, but not yourself.’

Andrew describes himself as a creative businessman, who enjoys meeting people from all facets of life. His mantra is ‘take your job seriously, but not yourself.’

Is This The Way You Exercise Judgement?

We came across this story on the internet, and it’s so powerful that we’d like to share it with you:

One Saturday Afternoon, Doctor James entered the hospital in hurry after being called in for an urgent surgery. When he got the call wasted no time getting to the hospital, changed his clothes and went directly to the surgery block. He found the boy’s father pacing in the hall back and forth waiting for the doctor.

On seeing him, the father yelled in a very stern voice, “Doc, why did you take all this time to get here? Don’t you know that my son’s life is in danger? Don’t you have any sense of responsibility?”

Doctor James smiled and said, “I am very sorry, I wasn’t in the hospital and I came as fast as I could after receiving the call and now, I wish you’d calm down so that I can do my work”.

The father said angrily “Calm down?! You want me to calm down??? What if your son was in this room right now, would you calm down? If your own son life is in danger while waiting for doctor than what will you do??” Doctor James smiled again and replied, “We will do our best by God’s grace and you should also pray for your son’s healthy life”.

“Giving advises when we’re not concerned is so easy” Murmured the father.

The surgery took a few hours after which the doctor James went out happy, “Thank goodness! your son is saved!” And without waiting for the father’s reply he carried on his way running by saying, “If you have any questions, ask the nurse”.

“Why is he so arrogant? He couldn’t wait some minutes so that I ask about my son’s state” Commented the father when seeing the nurse minutes after the doctor James left. The nurse answered, tears coming down her face, “He lost his son yesterday in a road accident, he was at the burial when we called him for your son’s surgery. And now that he saved your son’s life, he left running to finish his son’s service.”

Never judge anyone because you never know how their life is and what they’re going through. Pass this on if you feel this is true.

This Is How We’re Wired

by Mark J Galea

I have recently developed a new pet hate: electronic communication. Email and instant messaging communication seem to be steadily on the increase, and the more time passes, the more people seem to be resorting to these media rather than a simple phone call or face-to-face conversation.

Unfortunately, we have reached the tragic point where people sitting in the same room just send emails or IM each other. I see this as a means of dehumanising our behaviour while we concurrently transform ourselves into machines.

The issue I have with electronic communication is that it is limited. The lack of (voice) tonality often gives rise to conflicts which otherwise wouldn’t have arisen had the conversation been a verbal one. To make matters worse, a number of people have great difficulty to translate their thoughts into words. So, while a certain trail of thought is logical and has a particular flow while in their heads, it assumes a completely different structure when put in writing. If this happens in a verbal conversation, at least the listener can sense the discrepancy between the words being uttered and the non-verbal communication. Upon noticing this mismatch, the listener has the opportunity to check for understanding. But written communication, on the other hand, does not give the reader access to the other party’s non-verbals. Since non-verbals make up more than 80% of our communication, it is very clear to deduce why electronic channels run a huge risk of skewing the message completely.

Humans are a social animal. We are genetically programmed to live and interact within a group setting. So, logically, how can a communication channel that is devoid of direct interaction and non-verbal information ever be more efficient and effective as our natural way of doing things?

And we’re not done yet! We are also genetically programmed to err on the side of caution. This is a trait we still retain from our hunter days. It was a mechanism to keep us away from camouflaged and hiding predators. Do you doubt what I just wrote? Just think of how you react to even the faintest of sounds – especially when you’re alone in the dark. That is precisely our psychology at work: assume the worst so that you avoid taking risks.

“What does this have to do with the subject matter?” I hear you ask. Of course it does. Since caution is our default behaviour, we apply it to any situation where we feel threatened. If we receive a message which we deem to impact our safety and security, we automatically go into defend and attack mode. So upon reading a challenging question/comment we first get defensive by assuming that there’s a hidden agenda behind it, and then we go on the offensive. The method and style of offence very much depends on our personality.

So if verbal communication is crucial, how do you deal with those cases where keeping a record what was discussed is crucial? It’s easy. Just:

  1. have a verbal (or face-to-face) conversation
  2. then record it faithfully and fairly
  3. gain the other party’s approval of the record of your conversation

If you honestly think that this is hard work, think about the possible conflicts and misunderstandings (which in turn create frustration, energy drain, and severed relationships) you will be avoiding.

Still not convinced? Just think about the reason why we, as humans, prefer to receive bad news (like the ending of a relationship, or job opportunity rejection)l face-to-face rather than in writing. It must have something to do with being human, does it…..