Business Etiquette In Canada: Tips for Newcomers
By Marie Gervais, PhD. Director, Shift Management Inc.
There are some expected cultural business norms in Canada with regard to informal meetings, phone manners, email, social media and follow up. If you want to succeed in a professional position in Canada, it is best to follow these norms to give the best possible impression. Learning Canadian business etiquette norms will make you a “client facing” employee. This means your employer can be confident that you are able to work with a group, meet a client, or make a presentation in a calm, friendly and professional manner. An employer does not want to be embarrassed by the behavior of any employee. When the employer can see that professional business etiquette is being observed, you have become “client facing”.
Answering the phone is an area where most newcomers need to pay more attention to Canadian norms. It is VERY important to answer the phone in a friendly, clear, relaxed and interested manner. People judge you harshly if you do not answer the phone in a way that makes them feel welcome. “Good morning, ABC Accounting, Jamal speaking. How may I help you? (or how may I direct your call?)” sounds professional. Some newcomers answer the phone in a defensive manner sounding like they are suspicious of the caller. Others do not answer until the other person starts speaking. Yelling, sounding bored and uninterested, calling out loudly to other employees while on the phone with a client, asking several times who is calling, or not remembering the names of frequent callers are all problematic in Canada. If the callers feel unwelcome, they will take their business elsewhere. Be polite, friendly and businesslike on the phone at all times.
Your voice mail should be clear, welcoming and provide the necessary information in a short period of time. Some newcomers ask a native speaking Canadian to record the voice message at their place of work. This does not leave a good impression because it looks like false advertising. On the other hand if three out of three people cannot understand your voice message, you may consider asking someone else to record it.
Leaving a message
When you leave a message, state your full name, clearly and slowly, remembering that the phone distorts voices and if someone has to listen to your message several times to get the information, they may not go to the trouble. Make sure you leave your contact information and repeat it slowly; don’t assume the other person has caller ID on their phone, or that they will know who you are. Do leave a message. It makes people suspicious if you call several times and don’t leave a message.
The biggest mistake made by newcomers is not calling back. If someone contacts you and you do not call back you have lost credibility. It doesn’t matter to the person who called you if your English is perfect; it does matter that you show you want to communicate. Always return calls. If the other person is not there, leave a message.
A great way to connect with businesses, make professional contacts and to keep records of your contacts is to tell them you will connect with them through Linked In. This has quickly become the most important professional business connecting tool in Canada.
It is not considered good taste to try to connect with a professional business connection on Facebook, unless it is through a business Facebook page.
Only use text messages if you have confirmed with a client or colleague that they do use texting. When sending a text always identify yourself, it is not always clear where a text is coming from.
Come on time to the meeting and if you are going to be late, call to say how much longer you will be and be honest about that length of time. Calling to say you are 10 minutes late and then showing up 45 minutes later is viewed very badly in Canada. Do not try to give yourself more status or credibility by using names of your influential friends during your meeting. Your contact will think you are incompetent, or that you are acting in a suspicious manner. In Canada you must present yourself on your own merits and the merits of your products or services, people are not interested in who you know or how highly regarded you are. They are also suspicious of people who flaunt their titles, educational achievements or accomplishments.
Meeting for coffee
Usually for a first meeting, whoever asks for the meeting to take place pays for the coffee/tea. If a Canadian host does not offer to pay for you however, don’t be offended, not everyone follows the same protocol. But if you ask for the meeting, or if your meeting partner has to go out of his or her way to meet you, it is considered courteous to pay for their coffee. This is however not obligatory and not something you should do each time. So if there are several meetings involved, people generally pay for their own coffee unless you have made some kind of an arrangement where you take turns paying.
Meeting for lunch
If you meet for lunch make sure the place you choose is quiet enough to talk and be willing to eat whatever food is offered there. When people insist on having a food that the restaurant doesn’t offer (for example: “Why don’t you have rice on the menu? I don’t eat meals without rice!), it does not look good to the person you are meeting for business. Show appreciation and courtesy to the servers in a restaurant. It is considered impolite to ignore, speak in a disdainful manner towards, or not thank a server. It is even better if you compliment the server, the food and/or the restaurant – but only if you can sincerely do it, not as flattery. A sincere compliment makes a good impression on Canadians who generally have high regard for customer service.
If you are at a business meeting, don’t eat anything that is messy, will make noise, or for which you have to get your fingers dirty. Make sure you do not speak with your mouth full. Watch the eating norms of your meeting partner and copy them.
Thank the coffer or dinner partner for taking the time to meet you.
Common mistakes newcomers make at first meetings
Don’t apologize for your English – if you have to repeat something do it without saying you are sorry. Canadians appreciate confidence and are suspicious of people who are too meek or who are always apologizing.
Show respect, but not to the point of deference or even reverence. If you are too “suppliant” in your attitude, you have lost the respect of the Canadian speaker.
If you need something, present your case in a calm and polite way. Groveling and begging is very off-putting for Canadians. It is not a good idea to say, “I really need this job, my family has to eat”, or “You should give me a chance, I can do it, please buy/use the service/hire me”.
If you come on strong, manipulate, criticize, try to intimidate, or act upset if the speaker does not want to take you up on your offer, you will lose the professional relationship. Leave the choice in the speaker’s court and remember to remain detached, friendly and neutral in your approach. If you intimidate or get upset with a person in authority, you have not only lost their business but you will be making things difficult for the next newcomer from your country who comes along. People tend to stereotype, if they have a bad experience with one person from a country, they will be less likely to try to engage with a second person from that same country.
Common mistakes newcomers make in follow up
The most common mistake is not following up! The person who called you doesn’t care if your English has mistakes in it, he or she does care that you don’t return the call, or do what you said you would do. Always follow up what you say you are going to do. Be consistent in fulfilling your promises or don’t make the promise in the first place.
The second mistake is making too many calls or trying to get too friendly or personal with your business contact, especially in the beginning. Most business contacts are made through weak interpersonal connections, not strong ones. That means someone who knows someone who knows you is more likely to be your employer than a direct connection or a friend.
How and when to interrupt a speaker
It is a fine art to know when to interrupt a speaker and when not to. In Canada it is generally considered polite not to interrupt. However the person who interrupts is showing that they have something important to say and that they have the confidence to say it. Interrupting too frequently looks disrespectful to Canadians. Not interrupting at all looks like incompetence and lack of confidence. Study how and when people interrupt and match your interruption style accordingly.
How much silence?
In Canada more than a second of silence is generally considered very long, unless it is an emotional exchange between people, which is not usual in a professional context.
If you can be smelled, it is generally not considered professional here. People should not be able to smell what you ate for lunch, or what you cooked for dinner the night before. They should also never smell body odour. Strong perfume is frowned upon.
A final note
In your Canadian career, you are likely to find Canadians who are rude or unprofessional in their business dealings. That is not your problem; they will certainly have their own problems if they are not following the expected protocols. But as a newcomer you want to make a good impression, so it is always best to be on the safe side and be careful to observe Canadian business etiquette. Be professional and do the right thing, and you will benefit because of it.
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