10 tips for doing business in Canada

Introduction to Canadian business culture

Canadians are normally punctual and reliable and will expect others to be the same. Tolerance and reasonableness are marked national characteristics and Canadians are also largely traditional and understated in manner. They respond well to a relaxed but respectful demeanor and do not appreciate pushy or boastful behavior.

Infographic: Top 10 business etiquette insights – Canada

Although Canadians relish argument, they are courteous and aggressive behaviour will normally be frowned upon. They have a good sense of humour and admire it in others.

Canada enjoys good social and business relations with America, with which it shares a vast border, but Canadians are proud of their country and of their distinctive characteristics as a people. They prefer not to be taken for Americans and will respect someone who has taken the time to know the differences between the two countries and their people, and who have learnt something about their country.

Canadians are pragmatic and do not like to waste time. Although they will appreciate someone who takes the time to get to know them, they will expect meetings and negotiations to lead somewhere and to achieve something. They are direct and egalitarian and, living in one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, expect others to be mindful and respectful of cultural and ethnic differences. Although they are good at listening to others, they value honest debate.

When working the French speaking parts of the country, an effort to speak some French, if possible, will gain respect as will proper preparation for the use of interpreters and translations and a regard for French Canadians and traditions.

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Top 10 tips on Canadian business culture

Here are 10 essential tips for making a good impression when doing business in Canada:

  1. Be friendly but polite. Canadians tend to be fairly reserved and conservative.
  2. Be thorough. Accurate, detailed knowledge of your subject and whatever you are proposing is important, not grandiose claims and vague answers.
  3. Be inclusive. Canadians are known for their tolerance and their empathy with multiculturalism and expect the same qualities in others.
  4. Never assume. Canadians see themselves as very different from Americans and do not appreciate sweeping statements assuming they are the same. Many identify more strongly with Britain or France, or with their province, or country of origin.
  5. Be approachable. Corporate structures are flat and managers are expected to be accessible, and to stick to their word.
  6. Keep to deadlines. Be punctual for meetings; Canadians do not like to feel their time has been wasted.
  7. Speak French. In the French-speaking areas, it is important to appreciate that French is the first language, so have all business materials translated.
  8. Embrace the meritocracy. Name, social status and gender are not relevant; a person’s authority and responsibility comes from the position they have earned.
  9. Be understated. Flashy behaviour and showing off are not appreciated. Canadians tend to be quite modest, generally speaking.
  10. Appreciate regional differences. A Canadian from high-tech, Asia-facing Vancouver may be completely different in attitude from a Canadian from conservative, more old-fashioned Newfoundland.

Do you regularly work across cultures? Would you like to improve your ability to communicate and influence with colleagues and clients from other cultures?

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canadian business culture

About the Author

Terence Brake

Terence Brake is an author in the global learning & development field and has over 20 years experience helping executives to work better across cultures.

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