Communicate the Canadian Way Before Starting Your Job in Canada
It’s a common belief of both Americans and Canadians that virtually no difference exists between the two cultures. In fact, the countries are very similar on all dimensions outlined by the Geert Hofstede model (below).
Looking at personal and workplace interactions with a more critical eye, however, illuminates a number of differences in what’s considered acceptable behavior in Canada and the U.S. If you are an American who is seeking an opportunity to work abroad, Canada is a potentially safe choice. As a close neighbor, the weather and time differences as well as the ability to visit friends and family would not require much more adjustment than a move across the country would. But differences in communication styles between Canadians and Americans can lead to cringe-worthy moments.
Travis Wingate, an American who has been working as a marketing manager in Canada for the past seven years, said, “While Canada may sometimes be referred to as ‘The 51st State,’ it is a different country. It has its own identity and personality, so (if you move here plan to) explore the culture of Canada.”
According to the Lewis Model of cultural types, Canadian culture is similar to that of the U.S. in that we both tend to be data-driven planners, drawing from the Linear-Active part of the model, defined as “those who plan, schedule, organize, pursue action chains, do one thing at a time.” But Canadians balance this by walking the line between the Linear-Active dimension and the Reactive dimension which includes “those cultures that prioritize courtesy and respect, listening quietly and calmly to their interlocutors and reacting carefully to the other side’s proposals.”
Before you leave to search for Canada jobs, you should become familiar with the following communication differences between the two cultures.
Sound Bites vs. Niceties
The concept of communicating in sound bites is a familiar one to anyone who works in public relations. It has also become a pervasive influence in American speech patterns. Tanvi Bhatt, an American who moved to work as a technical project manager in Canada in 2001, said, “Americans try to summarize everything in shorter sentences, and they use acronyms in emails. Canadians communicate more formally, and they put a lot of details in emails.”
As an example, most Americans wouldn’t hesitate to send a one-word email reply stating “Thanks!” to a co-worker to acknowledge a completed task. Many Canadians would find a one-word response to be rude and would instead opt to send an email such as, “Thank you for finishing this. I appreciate it.”
There are other minor differences in spelling and word choice that affect communication in Canada. Wingate said, “Mind your spelling! ‘Favor’ is ‘Favour.’ ‘Center’ is ‘Centre.’ While it may be confusing at first, you will get the hang of it. Spelling is a pet peeve for a lot of people, so go ahead and set your spell-check setting to North America Canada. It will save you some embarrassment.”
Word choice makes a difference too. Wingate said, “If you have a four-year degree, you didn’t go to college, you went to University. Yes, they distinguish the two in Canada, so be sure not to sell yourself short.”
Goal Orientation vs. Relationship Orientation
In the view of many other cultures, Americans can be very aggressive. Bhatt said, “We push to get our point across. We’re driven. Canadians are cautious. Sometimes in work environments Americans can come across as very abrasive in Canada. When I moved to Canada I was young and I came from dot-com community. I had to rethink how I presented ideas at work. In Canada there is more hierarchy than the U.S., but mostly there’s just a ‘respect everyone’ atmosphere.”
In addition Canadians tend to be more social with coworkers than many Americans. Bhatt said that she still goes out with co-workers or former co-workers at least twice a week after work.
High-Level vs. Detailed Presentations
Presentation style is a lot more formal in Canada. According to Bhatt, “You’re expected to have well-thought-out detailed recommendations. In general when Americans would present a high-level plan and put the details in a document, Canadians would expect you to have the details memorized and able to speak to them.”
Despite the learning curve involved in assimilating to the Canadian communication style, Bhatt said, “(Canadians are) very nice people. There’s a very competitive work environment, but they have respect for each other and for the diversity of the people there. Canadians also understand that newcomers need time to ramp up to a new workplace culture.”
Wingate adds one final caveat, “We have two national languages in Canada. You may want to brush up on your French…especially if you are planning on moving to Quebec.”