At your first business appointment in Canada, you will soon observe that your Canadian contacts are extremely polite, respectful and discreet in their dealings with each other. They are not accustomed to purely performance-driven behaviour in their working lives. “Stay cool” is their motto. Canadians are calm and composed at all times. You will also notice this whilst driving since the traffic flow tends to move at a sedate pace.
Despite Canadian nonchalance, you should avoid an overly casual style and dress conservatively when doing business. Colourful experiments are frowned upon, therefore suit jackets and trousers should match.
As a man, you cannot be wrong with a suit in grey or blue. Depending on the industry, you will notice that a tie is an integral part of a business outfit. A safe choice for women is a suit with a skirt and blouse or a trouser suit. You are best advised to take your cue from your Canadian business partners.
One more tip: since it gets extremely cold during the winter, with plenty of snow, you should wear warm winter boots to and from your appointments at this time of year. Simply bring the shoes that match your suit in a bag with you and change into them on arrival.
Should your business trip take you to the province of Québec, you are advised to check beforehand what language your Canadian business partners expect you to speak. If you are travelling outside the metropolitan area of Montréal, you should be prepared to give your presentation in French. Consider travelling with an interpreter if your business French is not up to par. In larger cities such as Montréal and Quebec City, you are unlikely to have any problems speaking English.
Greet your new Canadian business partners with a firm handshake. A simple “I am very well, thank you” should suffice as an answer to the question “How are you?”. It is merely a pleasantry and does not require a detailed reply.
To be on the safe side, you should address your Canadian business partners at first as Mr. and Ms. followed by their last name, particularly if they are over forty. Most of the time, Canadians will offer their first names shortly after. After your first “Hello”, the company boss will probably invite you to “Please call me Bob!”
But be warned: for Canadians, the friendly tone does not imply any kind of intimacy. They simply prefer a more relaxed approach in business and calling someone by their first name is understood as a welcoming gesture.
Older people and figures of authority should always be addressed as Mr. or Mrs. followed by their surname until a more informal address is explicitly offered to you.
When doing business in Canada, your business cards should preferably be printed in both English and French. The exchange of business cards does not follow any set ritual. However, you should accept each card with respect, instead of letting it slide into your pocket unseen.
Your Canadian business partners have probably prepared an agenda with a list of items, which are to be worked through methodically, one after the after. Accordingly, you are expected to arrive punctually for the meeting. Given the often rather adverse weather conditions, Canadians consider a delayed arrival of up to 10 minutes acceptable.
At the same time, it is expected that the estimated duration of each meeting is adhered to. Therefore, be sure not to exceed your allotted time and keep an eye on the scheduled limit for each meeting.
The Canadian style of communication is clear, precise and direct. Perhaps you are accustomed to having to fight for your position at business meetings in the US; at any rate, this is best avoided in Canada. Despite their candour, Canadians invariably endeavour to maintain a certain decorum regarding courtesy and restraint. You should adjust your negotiating skills accordingly.
The objectives of the first meeting
From the Canadian perspective, a business meeting is generally considered successful if, at the end, a plan of action has been drawn up, specific goals agreed upon or decisions have been made. Obviously, a meeting between new business partners also aims to strengthen relations. Particularly in the French-speaking province Québec, you may find a slightly stronger focus on relations than you would in other regions in Canada. In general, when doing business in Canada, you may assume that meetings are just as much about the business itself as about building good personal relationships.
Therefore, their schedule permitting, Canadians also like to go for lunch together after a meeting. At the table, do not limit the conversation to business topics but also offer something personal to help the participants get to know each other better. They will most likely be extremely interested in you, your company and your homeland. Reciprocate this appreciation by asking appropriate questions yourself.