Canadian Work Values in Communication

To successfully communicate while networking and interviewing, it helps to understand Canadian work values. Some of them may be the same as in your first country, while others may be different. Keeping in mind these basic rules will make you a better communicator in your new country.


Do NOT Say ‘Maybe’

When asked a question in Canada, you could really upset or even anger a person by answering ‘maybe’. ‘Maybe’ is not a polite answer – it is an answer that could confuse and frustrate people. Your honest ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ is very much appreciated. However, you must be polite and explain your reasons and/or conditions.

While in Canada people prefer the ‘polite directness’, in some other countries it is not considered polite to say ‘no’ to someone’s request, especially if it comes from your superior. It’s different in Canada – a polite and honest answer is your best choice. For example:

A: Can you…?

B: I’m sorry, I’d like to, but ….


Watch your Body Language around your Superiors

Do not behave subserviently towards anyone you consider to be superior to you, whether it’s a hiring manager at a job interview or a new important contact you just met at a conference. In some countries, teachers, supervisors and bosses have a special status and others may ‘bow and serve them’. In Canada, the sign of respect is direct eye contact and a smart, thoughtful answer or a question.


Think and Ask Smart Questions

This is especially important while networking, so, before attending any networking event, make sure to preplan several questions and possible topics for discussion. Also, when preparing for a job interview, you need to come up with 3-4 possible questions to ask the interviewer. The winning questions are the ones that demonstrate that you are willing and eager to start working, so ask about the job duties and responsibilities.

Do not expect people to tell you what to do. In some countries, you will be given the exact instructions while in Canada your ability to take initiative is what will help you succeed. ‘Initiative’ means you need to think for yourself, search for information and come up with ideas. Before you go bother anyone with a question, google it and see what you can find. Do not approach anyone asking ‘Can you help me? How do I do this?’ Instead, ask: “I was thinking I would try XYZ. What do you think? Is that a good idea? What else could I do?”


If you have an Idea, Suggest it

Do not push, do not get upset if your idea gets rejected, but make sure you express it. It shows two things: a) you are a smart person; b) you care about the success of the matter. In some culture, this would not be welcome, but in Canada this will help you get noticed, build relationships and get promoted.


Do NOT Tell a Long Story

Whether communicating in writing or speaking to a person face to face, always remember that time is limited and people are often in a rush. If you have something to ask, make it clear in your first or second sentence what it is that you want. In some cultures, it is polite to first explain the reason and then say your request. In Canada, it is in reverse order: first your polite request, then the reason for it.


Do NOT Ask Personal Questions

A person’s health, marriage, salary, address is their personal information. The question ‘Where do you live?’ might sound innocent to you but some people will consider it tactless. It’s better to ask “Do you live far from here?’  to give a person an option to share as little or as much as they would consider acceptable. Remember: Canadians value privacy.

You have to become a person’s close friend to have the right to ask them about their health. If you know a person has a problem, the only question that is okay to ask is “How are you feeling?” Click here to read more about appropriate topics for discussion.


Body Language: Do not Touch a Canadian

In some cultures, a touch on the hand is considered a good way to build or express trust during a conversation. If a person you are talking to was born in Canada or have lived in Canada since young age, they might feel very uncomfortable and even get irritated if you touch them. The safest way is to reciprocate but not to initiate any physical contact.

The same rule applies to someone’s personal belongings: try not to touch another person’s jacket, bag, etc.


“So, how do you spend most of your time?”

If you are not sure a person you just met has a job, is a student, a stay-at-home parent, or unemployed, it’s better to ask a very broad question. Do not ask them if they have a job – some people might be ashamed to admit they don’t have one. Work is really important for some Canadians and they will often work overtime and even do some work at home on their own time. They understand that family is important, but would often make work their priority.


“It was really nice talking to you but I have to get back to work…”

In Canada, a priority is given to a task. Talking to a person is nice, but it is culturally acceptable to say “I’m sorry, I have to go” because you have another thing to do. People limit their interactions to the time available and leave promptly. Do not be offended or take it personally – people, especially successful ones, have busy schedules. After an information interview or any other similar meeting, make sure to say: “Thank you for your time.”


Keep it Positive

While networking and interviewing, you only have a very short time to make a good impression. Even before a formal part of the interview starts, a casual remark about the weather can already cost you the job. The weather topic is often used an ice breaker, so be careful: what the interviewer is really checking is your attitude. Tell them that you don’t mind the rain/snow, that you only had to walk a short distance from your car, that hopefully we will have a nice weather next week – anything positive you can think of. Avoid being negative at all costs and never complain – people wouldn’t want their future employee or co-worker to be a negative person.


Both networking and interviewing are the skills that can be learned and improved. Being aware of the above cultural differences will help you become better at communication and be more successful in your job search.