5 Effective Verbal Communication Tips For Newcomers in the Canadian Workplace

Effective verbal communication is critical in creating a great first impression in the Canadian workplace.  But despite our best intentions, a newcomers’ lack of awareness of the culture, norms, and lingo may lead to awkward situations.

Here are 5 effective verbal communication tips based on my personal observations, research, and conversations.

Use of Personal Names

In the Philippines, we show our respect for our superiors by calling them Ma’am or Sir.  So, when I landed my first job, it took me a while to get used to calling the head of the organization by his first name.  I felt awkward and disrespectful.  However, I found out that addressing Canadians formally sometimes brings unintended results.  They may feel that it is archaic or even discourteous to call them by formal salutations.

One of the previous directors at my workplace told an employee outright to not call him Sir because he is not his professor.  A female colleague even mentioned that she feels offended when addressed by the term Madam.

Tips

Internet resources generally advise calling a person by Mr. or Ms. prior to meeting as manners dictate.  However, you may use a person’s first name right after meeting them.

If dealing with professionals such as doctors, lawyers, or professors, the Studying in Canada website suggests referring to them by their last name accompanied by a Mr. or Ms.

Sports in a Common Ice Breaker
Sports in a Common Ice Breaker

Small Talk

In my home country, grade school classmates who you have not seen for over two decades would ask about relationship status as an icebreaker.  Out of concern, distant relatives or acquaintances would prod people about having kids.  It is awkward but, it still happens. 

In the Western world, these might be considered prying. 

I remember a conversation from my previous job one cold day.  My colleagues and I were talking about how to stay warm. One female colleague asked a male colleague if he wears long johns to keep warm during winter.  He then made a comment that the question is too personal. 

Tips

Creating good rapport starts with “small talk” or conversation.  However, Canadians’ definition of “private topics” may be different from what you are used to. For example, asking strangers or acquaintances about personal affairs such as age, relationship status, and income is considered impolite.  Religion, sex, and politics may even be considered taboo.

Every day matters such as weather, sports, or work commute are acceptable “small talk” starters.  Travel, festivals, and food are topics that most people are happy to engage in.  As you build trust and rapport, your colleagues may share sensitive topics.  Until then, avoid asking directly.  Also, if the topic makes you uncomfortable, politely change the subject.

Workplaces in Downtown Vancouver

Asking Questions

At work today, I attended four meetings and hosted one.  In all five meetings, we asked participants if they have questions.  This is to ensure a common understanding of the topics or even to hone our ideas.

Asking questions may not be a norm in hierarchical cultures where many immigrants come from.  In these cultures, asking can make one appear lacking in understanding or even challenging authority.  As a newcomer, a change in mindset is the foundation to integration into our new society.

Tips

Ask questions.  This is acceptable and even encouraged as it shows interest or initiative to learn.

Observe how questions are raised and how people react to the questions.  This would allow you to learn how to properly word your questions in an acceptable manner.  This would also give you an assurance that asking is not frowned upon.

Prepare for meetings by knowing the agenda in advance.  This will you help you draft possible questions.

Effective Verbal Communication is Critical in Any Canadian Workplace
Effective Verbal Communication is Critical in Any Canadian Workplace

Interrupting

In general, interruptions and a lack of attention towards a colleague speaking are frowned upon in Canada.  However, there may be situations that require you to interrupt to speak up.  So, effective verbal communication also requires judgment, tact, and balance.

To make this more complicated, the Anglophone and Francophone parts of the country have different takes on interrupting.  According to Commisceo Global’s Canada Guide, “Francophones are generally more indirect than Anglophones, although less so than the French. They also tend to be more exuberant than Anglophones. Anglophones do not generally interrupt someone who is speaking. They consider it rude not to let a person complete their thought before entering the discussion. Francophones are more likely to interrupt another speaker.”

My manager, who is an immigrant woman, and I have discussed this at length.  We agreed that we need to be inclusive and respectful of colleagues.  But, at the same time, we must know when to politely interrupt, when needed.

Tips

Observe the interactions in your new country and learn key phrases to effectively but politely interrupt. Here’s a helpful video.

Local Lingo

As immigrants, it is important for us to learn the local language.  However, we usually learn formal English for IELTS, job applications, or government correspondences.  In our daily lives, we get exposed to expressions that we may not understand.  We may understand each word, but we may not understand the entire phrase.

In my workplace, not a day goes by that I do not hear the term “on the same page”.  This means having the same understanding.

An article by The Mirror has a list of expressions also commonly used in Canada and their meanings including:

  • heads up – notification
  • going forward – look ahead
  • low hanging fruit – easy win business
  • ping – get back to
  • It’s not rocket science – it’s not difficult
Tips

There are many ways to learn and practice the local lingo.  There is the option of joining an English Conversation Circle at your local library.  Then, expanding your personal network and engaging in conversations with them.  There are many common interest groups to choose from such as volunteering for a cause or walking groups.

Support Staff Communicating with Clients in a Vaccination Clinic
Support Staff Communicating with Clients in a Vaccination Clinic

Effective verbal communication skills apt for the Canadian workplace are key to creating great first impressions.  I hope these tips help you integrate smoothly into your new workplace.

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