“Reading between the lines” in Canada

Posted on Updated on

Canadians are defined by their unique Multicultural society, a four seasons country with lots of winter sports and outdoor activities. Over 35 million people are living in their 9 984 670 km²  land. It’s  an interesting mix of cultures from all over the world, with a strong presence and rules defined by the British influence (they got here third, after the french and the first nations), and a solid international reputation as a tolerant country.

As a constant cultural observer, now joining the Canadian life as my family settles in this new life experience, I practice and try to share the little communication mistakes we all do when trying to fit in.

Personally, I find non-verbal communication as the most important skill that many forget to review and practice when starting a new project in a different environment. Here are some of my findings:

  1. Breaking the ice: It’s the basic first words you might say to stranger just to feel less uncomfortable when silence gets to you. Typical breaking the ice subjects: Hockey (players, results, or anything related to the sport that was news yesterday); the weather (How can anyone be inside with today’s beautiful weather). Any event that made first page in the media (Teachers strike in Peel region; Ontario Sex Curriculum).
  2. Sense of humor: Canadians love jokes, the laugh and they actually have a smile on their faces most of the time. The jokes can include public personalities (as Rob Ford), the weather or their jockey team)
  3. Politeness: they will rarely talk loud or scream bad words even when they are in trouble. They argue with respect for the other person, never sending a message regarding race or religion, social status or political groups. This might sound obvious for many cultures, but in some countries it can be accepted to show all your anger and use inappropriate language.
  4. Fears: Yes, as all humans they can be scared by a changing situation, a new person, terrorism and their future. As an occidental society they follow basic nonverbal communication as the principal skill to accept or reject another person. For example, Canadians look into the eye. They hear you but they need to read your eyes. Canadians, as well as many occidental cultures, seek eye contact that will confirm the message they are listening. It is not ruled by social status, age or gender. Women, men and children will look into your eyes when you are talking to them. If you don’t look them in the eye, it can be read as you are lying, you are nervous or insecure.
  5. Kindness for children and women. In many societies there are important differences between women and men that are socially accepted and culturally sustained for centuries. Not in the Canadian Society, because the legal system offers inclusion and tolerance for all citizens and residents.
  6. This society has a special focus on Family, especially children and women, who are on the top of the list. Many women begin social relations as a consequence by the friendly interaction kids develop when they start to play in the park. Women have exactly the same duties and rights as men. You will find women as chief officers in may big corporations, working as construction builders or bus drivers. They compete for the same professional or academic positions as men.
  7. Age: In the workplace get prepared to have a younger boss. The guy might be 26 years old, but he has gained his position with hard work and good communication skills. Canada is one of the most professional regulated countries, so never underestimate the preparation a person might have to be working at any level.  Never underestimate any job, there is an incredible training program behind it.
  8. Time as a concept. Canadians have a great sense of respect for other peoples time. Time is money, and it really is. When there is a dental appointment at 1, the dentist will start at 1, not a minute after or a minute before. Expect this with the Bus, parties and meetings. Being casual with time is not a good call in Canada.
  9. Salaries: Companies CEEOs or Bosses, probably make a few more thousand dollars yearly than their General director and Managers. It is a horizontal economy and society with many differences, but does not obey hierarchical positions (as can be the Asian or the Latin American culture)
  10. Outdoors: Canadians love being outdoors even in winter. They will ski, skate, camp or swim, because it is safe and it’s fun. Women also participate in these activities. Young families prefer going camping than spending the weekend in a hotel. All over Canada, outdoors activities represent an interesting business because people will find a way to have fun as a group or individually. The cities have many trails or hiking parks that are free or have a reasonable price for the parking lot.
  11. Clothing: Canadians feel proud of having multicultural society, but some dresses that cover entirely the women, really make them suspicious. They feel that if in the cultural background of a family it is accepted to have the female body hidden, there might be something they are hiding. This is a controversial subject that I still need to research more deeply, but the feedback I have received from Canadians is that they fear that some extreme covering is not related to a religion but to a sexual interest.
  12. Language and manners: Drinking soup, shaking hands, using cutlery, talking with food in your mouth, the way you hold a glass of wine, it is incredibly important for this culture. It is so, that many companies hire teams of teachers to provide social rules to some employees.
  13. Body smell: this is a difficult one. Canadians have rules about fragances in public offices. Even in clinics, it is recommended not to wear perfumes. Also, it is commonly noted, that body smell, the one you are born with and that you sweat, no matter what, can also bother Canadians. Some cultures use delicious ingredients in their cooking recipes. It happens that they do not notice their natural body fragrance that has a direct link to the spicy ingredients. The rest of the cultures that live in Canada will notice it, and  they will not do it with happiness. The problem comes when this affects your socializing in the workplace or in any public space. People will isolate others because of their body smell. Also, when bringing a lunchbox into the office, watch out for the smells. Many offices do not have a lunch area, so the condiments will be shared in all areas. A cooking training might be something to explore while living in Canada.
  14. Clean clothes: In Canada you might see lot of people out of fashion. Instead, you will not see people wearing dirty or ragged clothes. Closely linked to the smell problem, Canadians like clean and tidy people. A shower once a day, the regular use of deodorant, monthly care for your hair, weekly manicure, would be the rules. Makeup is optional and it’s very flexible but not as important as it is in some other cultures.

I will write about the Hi, the hand shake and the head nod in a next post!


Target´s reputation: learning with the Canadian Closure.

Posted on

I´m a real Target client. I visit their store at least once a week, and I have to admit my shock when I heard the news about them closing their 133 stores in Canada.

Despite what might have happened with Target´s business in Canada, I wonder why this was so badly communicated in-house and for the external audiences. What I have read in the Canadian Media, International media and by the comments I still hear while shopping in the store, I feel a few things were not made to minimize the reputation impact this will have on the brand.

I assume Target has a big PR agency working for them, but honestly, as an outsider, I feel some steps were not followed or, perhaps, the possible reactions were taken for granted. The news spread within social media, and traditional media, before the employees were aware of it. I witnessed as one client shared the news to an employee who had no idea and was not even able to breathe.

I feel surprised because this is not the first time, or company, that announces a huge closure as this one, and there are many experiences that have taught what to do and how to do it to protect the company.

Today some Target stores have closed aisles for the groceries; employees still have no corporate message or training on what to say about this. If Target found out that the business was going to be profitable by 2021, as mentioned on the Financial Post ( ), why was it so difficult for them to adjust for that to happen. By the way, is commonly know that the 5-8 years is the basic North American time frame to see some profitable growth on any business.

Trying to share something about the complex communications and PR field on this blog and looking forward to read some feedback, here are some of the Basic Crisis communication strategy things you can think about before announcing a big closure:
• Establishing the creative and “decision making” team, including Canadian CEO, Legal Advisors, HR, and PR or communications team. Determine the responsibilities as spokespersons and set their ability to be reachable 24/7. Media training (this first step should have been done at least 3 months ago).
• Develop strong key messages that serve as the backup to explain the decision. Numbers, statistics and any information with the options the company managed to survive before. Next steps (the Calendar).
• Creativity with a detailed FQ&A inspired with what would internal and external audiences would worry and ask about.
• Prepare immediate Media relations, offering one on one session with top Canadian Media and opinion leaders for the business.