By Vicki Brookes
“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” This very famous quote is attributed to St. Ambrose, a
very influential and ecclesiastical figure from 4th century Rome. The quote basically means that
if you live in Rome, do whatever it is that Romans would do in any given situation. If you
should be elsewhere, like Canada, for example, do as the Canadians do.
Would that it were that easy, right?
This article is not to suggest a superior way of doing things in Canada. Most of you coming to
Canada have worked in an international, multi-cultural environment so the tips mentioned
here will only serve as a reinforcement to what you already know and have practised. This
article is simply meant to serve a vehicle for those who are unsure and perhaps need some
coaching with the dos and don’ts of the intricacies of Canadian culture.
Communication is very important and few of us do it well! Working in the field of settlement
for the past 20 years has given me the opportunity to experience a variety of communication
styles from my clients. I have often said that through the people I coach, I’ve had the
opportunity to travel all over the world without ever leaving home! My experiences with
internationally trained professionals is extremely rewarding and very eye-opening because it
gives me insight into how other cultures communicate in different parts of the world.
In Canada, we have a very different communication style even though our population is
extraordinarily diverse and exotic. People who come to this country bring a wealth of skills,
education and experience with them. They may also bring some habits that may stand in the
way of their success. Many people think that good communication means speaking without an
accent. Nothing could be further from the truth! Your accent is your history, your connection to
your culture, your mother tongue; everything you hold near and dear. Never strive to rid
yourself of your accent. It’s as unique as your thumbprint and tells the story of who you are.
Strive to be understood by speaking clearly, slowly and following the tips below.
Here’s what many communication experts suggest:
- Gain clarity. This simply means to have a goal or objective when you are speaking to someone. Know your purpose when you have a conversation. Is it to get information or is it to inform or empower someone with knowledge? Make sure you know why you are talking to someone. Don’t just run around in circles.
- Listening is the most underrated of all the skills. We take it for granted that if we “hear” someone speaking, we are listening. Nothing could be further from the truth. Listening requires much more than hearing a sound. Strive to be in the moment; lay aside everything and really focus on your speaker. Establish a rapport by actively listening and asking leading questions AFTER the person has finished speaking.
- Use body language positively. Many people don’t realize that long after we finish speaking, our body language is still communicating a message. Body language, or non-verbal communication is not universal! This means that what might be acceptable or taken as normal in one culture might be horribly offensive in another culture. Learn North American body language symbols and use them positively.
- Be brief. Always aim for less not more information. Research suggests that the average span of attention for adults is limited to 8 seconds. That’s all you have to make a good first impression! Many experts say that a 3 to 5 second pause before you speak gives you enough time to reframe, refocus and limit the possibility that you might just say too much. So the next time you are in a position where you need to speak, take a deep breath, pause, and count to 5 to gather your thoughts.
- Keep practising. You’ve come this far, you’re not going to give up now are you? If you really truly want to be a part of your new country and new culture, you’re not going to give up. You’re going to keep at it until you get it. It won’t take long for you to achieve your success but you have to want to do it. Your children will be soaring like birds once they start school in Canada. You don’t want to be left behind.
There is so much that this country has to offer. Once you decide to fully engage in everything
this country offers, you will realize how great Canada is. I will leave you with a little story. Last
summer, during the Canadian National Exhibition, I was volunteering at the Royal Canadian Air
Show. Everyone was watching the Snowbirds flying and soaring in the sky. It was a beautiful
late summer day and the aerial stunts that the Snowbirds performed were absolutely
spectacular. At one point, I looked over at the lady seated next to me. She was overwhelmed
with emotion and crying. I asked her what was wrong. Her friend explained to me that the lady
was from Syria. She didn’t speak any English but her son was a pilot in one of the airplanes
that just finished the show. This lady was the mom of a Snowbird pilot who was flying at crazy
speeds upside down and looping all over the sky! The lady told me that her friend was
overwhelmed with emotion because it was her son’s dream to be a pilot but not to fight in a
war. At that moment, I was so happy for her, so happy for her son, and so proud to be in
Canada; a place where anyone can achieve their goals.
You can bet that young man who realized his dream of being a pilot in Canada has amazing