Every culture has its preferred ways of communicating.
Each culture also gives special clues to its members which let them know that they are on the same page. The shared understanding which arises from comprehending these clues is the key to successful communication.
When you communicate with someone, shared understanding develops between the speaking and the listening. However, shared understanding can be difficult to develop between people who come from different cultures which are unfamiliar with each other. This is due to the fact that the special clues of communication differ from culture to culture, and members of different cultures are socialized in different ways.
Often, this gap leads to embarrassing mistakes, frustration, misunderstandings and hurt feelings. When you communicate in ways that people aren’t expecting, they can take it as a personal insult. To avoid miscommunication and to develop a shared understanding, it is vital to know the two secrets to effectively communicate with Canadians.
Secret #1: Canadians are information-based communicators
Information-based vs. relationship-based communication
Most cultures are relationship-based, not information-based. In relationship-based communication, establishing the relationship is an important first step. Discussions like ‘How are you?’ or ‘Tell me about your family’ lead up to the actual questions. You also establish commonality, finding interests or life situations which are common between the two people communicating.
The Canadian way
Relationships are important to Canadians too, but less with initial communication when approaching a stranger. Relationships aren’t built the way they would be if this weren’t an information-based culture. Canadian cultural logic dictates that you approach them in an information-based way. This means that you need to conduct your own research from newspapers, radio, TV, journals, the internet, YouTube videos and neutral sources to find information and answers to your questions before approaching them.
Secret #2: Canadians are afraid of having their personal space, privacy or time encroached upon
Things to avoid
If you first approach a Canadian in a relationship-based way, it will make them very suspicious. They will think you want to take advantage of them, that it’s going to take their time and that it will bring take out of their comfort zone. In order to communicate with them, you need to reassure them that you won’t:
- take a lot of time
- ask them personal questions, or
- obligate them to get engaged in a relationship they aren’t ready for
Position yourself well
While this makes it sounds impossible to connect with Canadians, the secret lies is in how you phrase your approach and position yourself. In order to make Canadians feel comfortable with you, you must follow a communication protocol. If you don’t take the time to learn a new communication style more suited to their needs, you will not be able to make connections. They may feel worried or offended, or they will avoid you.
The Communication Protocol
The following is a good example of how to approach a Canadian you don’t know.
Excuse me, I’ve been looking at job boards and trying to find a way to connect with a real person, and I have one question. I was wondering if you can help me find the answer to that question if you have time.
- Begin the conversation politely. ‘Excuse me’ is a good way to do so.
- Say something about what you have already done to find a solution to what you are looking for. Stating what you have been researching shows you have done your part.
- Be careful about how much you are asking for. Asking just one question lets people know it won’t take up too much of their time.
- Give the other person the option to decide. Using phrases like ‘would you mind…’ or ‘I’m wondering if…’ gives the other person the freedom of choice.
The example above uses speech softeners – words and phrases which draw people in without making them feel obligated to respond, an approach Canadians prefer. If the person feels they can help you in a way that will respect their privacy without it taking too much time or putting them in a relationship they are not ready for, they are more likely to spend more time helping you. They will listen to what you have to say, they will be considerate, and they will then be interested in knowing more about you. The relationship will naturally start to develop from that point onwards.
The same communication protocol is to be followed online as well. Beginning with your needs and demands up-front will alienate Canadians. Approaching people using speech softeners will allow you to develop a relationship which both people will be comfortable with and enjoy.
American and Canadian Differences
Here are some communication differences between USA and Canada:
- In Canada, using Sir and Madam is considered archaic and even impolite.
- In Canada, a person’s title (like Dr.) can be used only the first time you meet someone. Use only their first name thereafter.
- In Canada, using ‘Dear’ as a salutation is too intimate for the professional world.
Use these secrets to pave your way to successful communication with Canadians!
For more great information on understanding the professional environment in Canada, check out the Career section on www.shiftworkplace.com
Looking for more ways to improve your communication skills? Grab the ‘Secrets to Communicating with Canadians’ checklist below.
Marie Gervais, PhD, CEO Shift Management is a business-to-business entrepreneur who specializes in helping employers train their middle management to lead, get their workplace learning online and interactive, and conduct team assessments to figure out who to promote and how. She has a background in integrating internationally-trained individuals to the workplace and has supported many businesses in their efforts to hire, retain, support and promote immigrant and diverse employees.
Get in touch – she would love to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org or 780-454-5661