The right response

by Nicole Wong

Wallance Ma, director, Triton Development Ltd

Being at a loss for words is a familiar feeling for many of us, especially when we are under pressure from the boss or colleagues to come up with quick answers or make instant decisions at work. Wallance Ma, director of Triton Development Ltd, who has over 18 years' experience in training, development, management and consultancy, had some essential tips on handling these situations in his "Think On Your Feet" workshop. With a series of step-by-step methods to train the mind in structured communication, he introduced six thinking strategies designed to help anyone express their main point with both clarity and impact.

Taking as examples some of the difficult scenarios commonly faced in the workplace, Mr Ma showed the audience how to structure answers with the "clock plan", which addresses the past, present and future aspects of the issue at hand. One case involved a manager, with a limited budget, having to give a diplomatic reply to an employee who was asking for a new computer for his team. Assuming the manager's role, a participant in the seminar pointed out how the team's performance has gone from being rated as "good" previously to "unsatisfactory" at present. They had sufficient staff and equipment but were missing deadlines. The employee was therefore asked to explain how a new computer would lead to better performance in future. The well-structured response clearly illustrated the principle.

Mr Ma also introduced the "triangle plan", which tackles an issue from three different perspectives. Taking on the role of the employee, he argued the case for buying the new computer by highlighting three advantages: it would enhance productivity, improve the quality of work, and lead to better cohesiveness, as the team could complete work more quickly and have more time to socialise after hours. Focusing on the future benefits, Mr Ma said, is particularly important, since bosses are primarily interested in how to turn past achievements and present challenges into future opportunities.

While we may have plenty of ideas and thoughts to discuss or present, Mr Ma advised sticking to the "magic three". He explained that, in our daily communication, 70 per cent of what we learn is through visual channels. As the human brain only retains a limited amount in the short-term memory, stating three points at a time gives listeners just the right amount of information. Applying this principle to a real-life scenario, Mr Ma gave further tips on how to come across well in a job interview. "If the employer asks why you will be better than other applicants, simply highlight three of your outstanding attributes – perhaps your adaptability, positive attitude, and the fact that you work hard," he said. "There is no need to put your peers down. Focus on your own strengths and you can be a winner."

  • Structured communication allows ideas to be expressed with clarity and impact
  • A well-structured answer will refer to past, present and future aspects of the topic
  • If making a request, it helps to highlight the advantages that will result
  • Presenting ideas in "threes" helps listeners to understand and remember

  • Taken from Career Times 05 August 2005
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