Many Americans make the mistake of thinking Canada and America have basically the same culture. Not only is this belief offensive to Canadians, but it also ignores important differences in the business culture of both countries. International business novices would do well to compare the Canadian and American approaches to doing business. A sharpened understanding of divergent communications, meetings, management and dress styles in the two countries will pave the way to business success.
Both Americans and Canadians take business very seriously. Professionalism and punctuality are expected. Americans tend to be more enthusiastic than Canadians, especially when debating contentious issues. When doing business in America, expect a heavy reliance on facts and numbers. A scientific approach is the norm for all aspects of business, even the human relations department. In general, Canadians take a more group-oriented approach to doing business.
When meeting business partners for the first time, both cultures expect a handshake, not a hug. Address your business partner as "Mr." or "Ms." followed by the person's last name. He will generally invite you to call him by his first name. After the initial contact, communcation similarities end. Americans prefer blunt speech. Tactfulness is seen as wasting time. Canadians take a more indirect, subtle approach and use a self-deprecating humor that Americans might misinterpret.
The divergent communication styles make Canadian and American business meetings very different. Americans pride themselves on their egalitarian culture, and everyone is encouraged to speak up and disagree with a higher-ups. Passionate confrontation may take the more reserved Canadians aback. These confrontations, however, almost never stem from personal animosity, but rather from the business culture of the country. Canadians, on the other hand, conduct more-reserved business meetings. Expansive gestures are discouraged. Meetings tend to seek harmony and consensus, and disagreement is always respectful. Everyone expects to take her turn to speak, and interruptions are seen as rude.
Canadians prefer to maintain a generally informal management style. Consensus building is valued, and Canadian managers will seek input from a variety of affected parties. This guards against authoritarianism and resentment. When it comes down to it, though, Canadians value decisiveness over flip-flopping. In America, management still is more individualistic. Managers are held personally accountable for decisions. They assume any consensus will dissolve as soon as an initiative hits rocky ground, so American managers are less willing to compromise and play politics. However, this approach can lead to resentment and confrontation if subordinates believe their voices are not being heard.
Formal business dress is the same for both countries: dark business suits and ties for men, and pants or skirts with a suit jacket for women. Beyond that, however, dress code varies widely with the location, industry, and corporate culture of each institution. In Canada, rural-based business tends to be more informal; in America, more progressive industries, such as technology, tend to have more relaxed dress codes. Do a little research, talk to someone in the company, and bring both formal and informal clothing to avoid embarrassment.
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