Canadian Business Culture
Canadians are overall a polite people, and slightly more reserved than their southern neighbours. The values of the country are largely respect, peace and good government. Make sure you do not offend a business colleague or dash your chances of securing a deal by learning the basics of Canadian etiquette.
It is a good idea to treat all persons with courtesy and respect, especially people with authority. However, you should not act too humble.
Meeting and Greeting
- A firm handshake is the usual contact when first meeting a business associate. Both men and women greet with a handshake, although women may acknowledge you with a nod of the head rather than a handshake.
- Shaking hands is also common for first meetings in social situations. Men and women often embrace and kiss lightly on the cheek when meeting if they are related or good friends. Men may formally embrace old friends or family.
- In Quebec, friends or acquaintances will kiss on both cheeks when meeting and leaving. This happens between female friends and between men and women, but not between male friends.
- In informal settings, such as a party or bar, most young people will simply exchange greetings such as "Hi!" or "How are you?"
- Introduce people in business based on rank not gender.
- In Canada, a person's authority is related to his or her position and responsibility. Women occupy the same range of positions as men and have the same kinds of authority. People do not have authority just because of their name, status, social class or sex.
Behaviour to consider for business transactions and life in general:
- Eye contact is important when conducting business and should be held while speaking to someone, but be careful not to stare. Lack of direct eye contact signifies boredom or disinterest.
- There is little casual touching during conversation and most people will stand approximately half a metre apart when speaking.
- People stand in line when waiting for the bus, to buy tickets, at the store or bank. It is considered very rude to jump the line or go ahead of someone who was there before you.
- Smoking is not allowed in offices, most restaurants, and even bars (with the exception of Quebec). When out in a public space, ask your companion before lighting up. If visiting people in their home, always ask for permission to smoke.
- Be on time. Canadians will not wait more than 10 to 15 minutes for someone who has arranged to meet them for business. Your supervisors and co-workers will be angry if you are always late for work. For social invitations, people expect that you will arrive within approximately half an hour of the stated time. If you are going to be late, phone and advise the person expecting you.
- People usually set up meetings or arrange visits. It is not common to just arrive without an invitation.
- Be approachable and accessible. Return phone calls and be polite and friendly in hallways.
- Honour commitments. Do what you say you will do.
Customs and Protocol
Canadian businesspeople are conservative in manner, speech, and dress. Business customs are similar to those in the U.S. or the U.K., but etiquette is very important. Excessive body contact, gestures in greeting, or loud conversation generally are frowned upon.
To ease the way into Canadian favour, always be punctual for meetings and appointments; use titles in all correspondence; and take letters of introduction when meeting someone for the first time.
U.S. businesspeople should guard against assuming that Canadians are just like Americans, which is an assumption Canadians might find offensive.
Businesspeople negotiating with Canadians should be well informed and knowledgeable about the details of their proposals. Thoroughness is appreciated and directness is also valued. Evasive answers are not viewed positively by Canadians.
It is important for all businesspeople to avoid exaggerating the strengths of their company or the benefits of their product.
In many countries, women in business situations are the exception. Add to that your foreign nationality and you may encounter some difficulties in dealing with businessmen. You may have to work a little harder than your male colleagues to establish a level of comfort and trust, and your behavior and business style may be more open to scrutiny. Deal with any unwanted sexual overtures firmly and clearly - be in control, but be polite.
Women have earned high regard in business and government in Canada. While some sexism and subtle barriers still exist, women are found in powerful positions in all walks of life.
Visiting female executives can expect to be taken seriously. Likewise, Canadian women receive respect from their Canadian male colleagues, and will expect the same from foreigners.