Smiling Tiger, Hidden Dragon

In the book, Smiling Tiger, Hidden Dragon, author Dr John Ng uses the metaphors of Tigers and Dragons to illustrate that even though conflict may not be overt in Asian families and organisations, most of the time, it exists. Conflict also rears its ‘ugly head’ in unique ways as a result of the inner psyche and unspoken scripts we have as Asians and we have to be equipped to confront and cope with conflict.

Smiling Tigers – Concealing Our Emotions, Even in Conflict


Using the analogy of a tiger, Dr Ng, discusses why Asians avoid conflict; why they have conflict; and what their unhealthy tactics in conflict look like. He describes how we could all look like friendly, harmless (smiling) kitty-cats, even when we are actually seething inside and lying in wait for opportunities to ‘pounce’ at an ‘enemy’.

“…Like cats or tigers, we want to be cared for and for others to be kind to us. We treat other people well if they treat us well. When we relate to others benevolently, their tendency is to reciprocate.

But like tigers, when threatened, we become defensive, annoyed, acrimonious and vicious. Often, we do not show our emotions openly and directly. Instead, we conceal them.”

Hidden Dragons –Teasing Out the Toxins Within Us

Besides being like tigers, Asians are described to be “hidden dragons” when it comes to conflict management. As such, the author attempts to identify the different “dragon toxins” within us and their impact on conflict management.

These toxins include:

• the concepts of ‘face’ and ‘ke qi

• shame and shamelessness

• power and powerlessness

• pride, arrogance and conceit

• resentment and unforgiveness

• greed and self-interest

Dr Ng explains that the concept of ‘face’ and ‘ke qi’ often underlies Asians’ actions when dealing with conflict. He writes:

“‘Face’ is the social image that individuals would like to preserve for themselves. The self in the Chinese context is defined through an intricate web of social and personal relationships. That is why ‘face’ is an ubiquitous concept.”

Quoting Fred Sneitere, Dr Ng explains that ‘face’ is a person’s social connections. A person is not an ‘individual’ in the Western sense of being defined by personality and character, but rather a locus within a social context. One is X’s parent, Y’s spouse or Z’s employee. Thus there’s the danger that ‘face’ can be ‘lost’ when the propriety of a relationship is violated.

Though ‘ke qi’ is often translated as ‘politeness’, it refers more to the stance of being deferent and controlled even in intense situations. Unfortunately, as Dr Ng describes, “many Asians interpret this to mean not showing our true colours, not sharing our true intents or expressing our real needs in conflict.”

With 25 years of training organisations, as well as listening to and working with married couples and families, Dr Ng goes gives practical tips on how to purge all these “dragon toxins”.

Taking Out the Myths in Conflict Management

Smiling Tiger, Hidden Dragon hits the mark of throwing light on certain matters of propriety and hierarchy that the Western mind cannot even begin to fathom. Dr Ng introduces his readers to many thought leaders in the area of conflict management and the process of mediation and peacemaking. They include:

• Dr Daniel Siegal and his work on interpersonal neurobiology

• Christopher W Moore, respected mediator, on Types of Conflict

• Speed Leas from the Albanian Institute, on Levels of Conflict

Dr Ng applies the all insights gleaned from the international panel of conflict management professionals into an Asian setting. He is passionate about the topic and brings hope even to very trying situations. He writes:

“My perspective is that conflict itself is neutral: It is neither good nor bad. Some of the worst conflict can turn into the most beautiful self-recovery processes and etch relational depth.

Conflict itself is not the problem. It is how we manage and recover from it that will determine if it will turn out for better or for worse. Conflict has the power to become totally destructive or incredibly constructive.”

The concepts throughout the book are well fleshed out with case studies and examples, including Dr Ng’s experiences as a husband and dad. On top of that, many inspiring and memorable quotes dot the pages, peppering the reading experience with a less ‘technical’ side to it.

While Smiling Tiger, Hidden Dragon is described to be a book on managing conflict at work and home, there’s no suggestion of a dichotomy of the various roles we take on in these two contexts. Whether you are dad, boss, employee or husband, the principles apply. The skills and attitudes in conflict management are what matter the most.

Smiling Tiger, Hidden Dragon is available in Singapore’s Public Libraries
To own a copy, make an online purchase at Armour Publishing


1. Ng, J., PHD, (2012) Smiling Tiger, Hidden Dragon –Managing Conflict @ Work and Home, Armour Publishing and META Pte Ltd, Singapore

About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.

First published on 22-08-2012.

Categories: Recommended Reads

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