Moving into new teams can always feel a bit stressful. For employees who have lived and worked in Canada all their lives, moving to another Canadian job and adapting is a fairly simple task and often happens without us noticing, but it’s not always as simple for international employees. As you navigate the process of getting your first Canadian job, here are some key practices to keep in mind that will make this transition smoother.
Canadians have the tendency to use lead-ins before jumping straight to their topic of conversation. Whether you are in a meeting, sending a message/email or talking to a colleague one-on-one, the conversation will almost always start with small-talk before introducing the business-related subject.
You: “Hey Catherine, how was your weekend? Did you and the kids get up to anything exciting?”
Catherine: “Hey! It was great thanks, we went to a pumpkin patch and then came home and made muffins. You?”
You: “Mine was good too thanks, no pumpkin patches but, I watched a great movie. I wanted to check-in quickly and see if you have the slide deck the marketing team put together, I can’t seem to find my copy”
As you can see, it does not last long and no one expects you to get into details; it is just a more casual way to lead into the conversation. So, when you find yourself in a meeting and everyone is talking about their weekend plans, it’s a safe bet that in 5 minutes you will be well on your way to solving business problems. Now that the small-talk is out of the way, we can get down to business with practice #2.
One of the words you will hear on a regular basis in interviews and on the job is, “feedback.” On Canadian teams, giving and receiving feedback is an on-going process and it does not necessarily require a special meeting or a formal process. The Canadian mindset surrounding feedback is that if it is constant, we can support each other in always making small improvements and avoid making the same mistakes multiple times. Feedback also comes from all directions: your manager, their manager, your colleagues, or even someone who reports to you. Similarly, do not hesitate to share your feedback in multiple directions as well.
While we have gotten accustomed to providing regular feedback we are not as comfortable being direct (another Canadian-ism you will pick up on in general). So, we have a magic formula that allows us to give feedback constantly without making the other person feel badly or criticized:
1 compliment + 1 piece of feedback + 1 compliment = A Feedback Sandwich
Let’s say you are speaking to your colleague, Margot, about the meetings she schedules. She often comes unprepared which means everyone wastes a bit of time and you would like to help her change that. Your conversation might go something like this:
“Hey Margot, I saw your meeting invite, thanks!
You’re always so good at following-up on important topics, I think it would be even more effective though, if you came with an agenda to each meeting, that would really help us get the most out of these great meetings you organize!”
The important thing to remember about this way of giving feedback, is that the middle part (the part that’s underlined), the actual piece of feedback, is always very important and the person giving it to you expects you to make changes based on it. So, if you are not clear on what needs to improve, do not hesitate to clarify with someone and ask them to be more direct. Now let’s say that you received a piece of feedback about taking the lead more often, this is another common thing in Canadian workplaces as you’ll see in Practice #3 and we have just the thing for you.
Healthy work environments in Canada place a large emphasis on employees sharing their thoughts, critiquing projects and taking the initiative to bring forward new ideas. The logic behind this is that you were hired by them because the company and your manager value your insight and your skills, and they want to see them in action.
Even Canadians however, can find it intimidating or stressful to bring forward ideas or challenge a bad idea, especially if you are used to an environment where this is discouraged. Sound familiar? Here are some steps you can follow to build that confidence:
Review: take a critical look at your idea, is it in-line with the business goals or does it solve a current or future problem? If not, maybe reflect a bit more on if it is the right idea for the company.
Practice: try to present it a few times with friends or on your own, you want to make sure you are clear and concise so you increase the chances of someone supporting it.
Test: run it by a few team members in the company, ideally people outside of your direct team so you can get honest feedback.
Present: schedule time to meet with your manager, or bring it up at the next team or department meeting you have.
We all have different levels of comfort with speaking up in meetings or bringing fresh ideas forward, so focus on finding the way that works for you. The value is placed on taking initiative and not necessarily how you do it.
While these three practices are very common, there are many more that you will encounter as you move through Canadian organizations. If I can give you one piece of advice to cover everything it would be: don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Your colleagues and managers are there to support you. If you notice something that’s confusing you or that you cannot quite figure out, asking for some perspective will save a lot of time and potential frustration.
Finally, embrace your differences. If everyone acted and communicated the same way, the world would be a very boring place. Canada prides itself on being multicultural and as such, it is not only up to you to learn about Canadian practices but also important for Canadians to try and learn from people like you. Your knowledge and experience can add so much value to a team, so, do not hesitate to let someone know if you have a unique approach that could work better!