Written by Arcelia Camacho, PMP
There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" The two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"
The point of the parable first used by David Foster Wallace in a speech given to a graduating class at Kenyon College is that our surroundings and the culture we live in is all that we know and that’s the normality for us. Anything outside that familiar environment is foreign, different and perhaps even weird.
One of the biggest challenges you might experience when you move to Canada is to understand and join the workplace culture. The challenge lies in the fact that you don’t know you are expected to display a particular set of behaviours.
For example, think for a moment on how you behave with people you are meeting for the first time at your workplace.
Do you offer a handshake? If so, is it a firm or a soft one?
How do you start a conversation with a new colleague? What do you talk about? What type of questions do you ask to get to know him or her?
After living in Canada for almost 10 years, I follow the social norms that are common in the Canadian workplace. When I meet a new colleague, for example, I offer a firm handshake accompanied with direct eye contact and a smile. I ask questions about his or her professional background and current onboarding process. I consciously avoid questions that might be considered too personal such as “Are you married?” and “Do you have children?” Even when I know the person has a similar cultural background to mine, I make an effort to avoid conversations that might cause discomfort. Being mindful of the different perceptions your behaviour and attitude can trigger is useful to prevent misunderstandings at the workplace.
Getting familiar with the Canadian workplace culture will also deepen your understanding of the culture, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours that are common in your country of origin. In future blog entries, I will write about different aspects of the Canadian workplace culture. Stay tuned!