Last summer, I worked as a barista in Hanoi, my hometown. When I came back to Canada, I also got a job working as a barista. I noticed the difference in workplace culture between the West Coast of Canada and Northern Vietnam, which resulted in several miscommunications for me at the beginning. Here’s how I’ve grown to understand some of the cultural differences and prevent workplace conflicts
In Vietnam we use a hierarchical structure, so we must use formal terms to show respect. Roles are usually defined in Asian workplaces. It is impolite for employees to disagree with senior management. Most Canadian companies have a flat structure, meaning everyone is equal and encouraged to share feedback and ideas. I’ve noticed everyone talks to each other quite casually, no matter their age or status.
This difference led to several misunderstandings for me initially. My manager in Canada used to think I was shy because I wasn’t talkative. In reality, the formal work culture in Vietnam made me more reserved. I used formal words when talking to him and wasn’t very good at small talk at the start. It made him think that I was unfriendly and then I felt uncomfortable approaching him when there was a problem. Over time, I adapted to the West Coast workplace culture and opened up more. My relationship with my manager and coworkers got better and our teamwork improved.
2. Communication Style
I’ve found that Canadian workplaces tend to appreciate honest and direct communication. Of course, we still have to be polite and considerate of the receiver’s feelings; however, in Northern Vietnam, people have a more indirect way of saying things; people value saving face and maintaining good group relations. They tend to prefer diplomacy. So, my manager in Vietnam provided feedback in a nicer and longer way. Whenever he wanted something done, he would drop hints. There were times I had to guess what he wanted me to improve based on how he said certain things. It also meant I could easily misunderstand what he meant! However, when I was working in Canada, a manager told me I tend to be long-winded, which made it difficult for him to understand what I was trying to say. Over time, I practiced and became more concise, which helped to prevent miscommunication.
These are a few of the workplace cultural differences I’ve experienced. It can be difficult to work in a different workplace culture. However, with time, patience, and an open mind, it can become a stepping stone towards better opportunities and new experiences. Please tell me about your experience working in Canada compared to other places. Share in the comments below!