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The One Thing To Know About Canadian Work Culture

I’ve had three Canadian managers in the 5 years I’ve been here.

There’s one thing I’ve noticed about them – when they need me to get something done. They don’t tell, they ask.

  • “Can you get that reported completed by EOD today?”
  • “Can you see if those reviews are up-to-date?”

I remember a long time ago, back in my Dubai days, I travelled to Africa to work with a French doctor to setup his clinic. Extremely nice person. And just like any other manager, he had needs to be fulfilled as well.

But his choice of words were different:

  • “You will be at my office at 8 0’clock tomorrow”
  • “You will make sure the computers are working as designed”

“Can you” vs “You will”.

Same requests, same tone, different words.

Had he used these choice of words in Canada, he would have been considered rude, arrogant, and possibly a bad boss no one wanted to work with.

So why does this extreme “politeness” exist in Canada?

Conflict avoidance.

Yes, at the heart of Canadian work culture, conflict avoidance plays a critical role in how we operate.

It’s the reason managers request their employees. It’s the reason small talk is focused on neutral non-controversial topics like the weather, movies and sports.

And the norm is to always agree with the other person’s opinion, even if you disagree.

Communication is indirect. If you are in a meeting and don’t agree with what’s being said, you make your point subtly – “I hear what you’re saying and I get it. What if we tried it this way?”

In other cultures with more direct communication, this would be seen a dishonest form of communication. This is why you may have read online that “Canadians are two-faced! They appear all polite. but they have a hidden agenda”.

Hidden yes. But to an experienced Canadian who gets the culture, it’s “hidden” in plain sight.

Any negativity, even the slightest hint of it, should be a clue that the other person disagrees with you.

For example, when your manager wants to give you feedback on your report, and there is something wrong with section 2, this is what she may say:

“Good work on the report. I like the way you’ve summarized everything. I would update section 2 to make the visuals more organized. But overall, it’s a good job.”

This is called the “sandwich technique” of giving feedback – a compliment, a complaint and another compliment.

To a Canadian, they understood that they need to immediately go back and update section 2 (as instructed).

To someone else, they may think “two out of three ain’t bad. I don’t need to change anything!”

Understanding Canadian work culture, is just as important for newcomers to Canada as finding a job. Third party recruiters that I’ve spoken to personally have stated it’s just as hard for newcomers to keep a job than it is to get it.

And this is the reason – the manager states they are “not a good fit”, because they don’t get the culture.

If you’re new to Canada, don’t just be content with your resumé and LinkedIn profile. Take some strides towards understanding Canadian work culture and how it’s different.

It will be the difference to getting the job offer that’s right for you.

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