Tips For Workplace Cultural Adaptation

Over two decades ago, I boarded a plane for a teaching job in Japan. I had very little workplace cultural information about my new host country, but I did find one small book and read it from cover to cover. I memorized facts about this new culture and held onto them like the life rings they were. I knew that this information was going to help me navigate the choppy waters of cultural adaptation.

Flash forward twenty years and I’m now facilitating pre-arrival soft skills courses designed to prepare professional newcomers for a successful entry to a Canadian workplace. I remember how important that pre-arrival information was to me so I’m tossing this life ring to anyone hoping to arrive prepared for work in Canada.

My top tips for workplace cultural adaptation to a Canadian workplace.


You need to be fluent.  Accents aren’t a barrier; many people in the workforce have accents and Canadians are very understanding when communicating, but you have to be able to do more than just have a conversation and be understood. You need to speak English at a professional level.

Also, don’t try to impress co-workers with big words. Pay attention to how they speak and you will notice that it isn’t necessary to use very formal and complicated language. Speak to get your message across clearly and concisely and you will be understood.

Workplace Structure

Learn the importance of flexibility, teamwork and collaboration, and openness

Canadian workplaces can have an air of informality and that can be a tough transition. It is not unusual for solutions to a problem to be discussed at someone’s cubicle and not a boardroom. Be flexible and open to that informality.

Teamwork is a very important value to most Canadian companies. Be willing and ready to sharing your opinions and listen to those of your co-workers.

Canadian workplaces can be very open. You could be required to speak to your boss’s boss and you don’t need permission to do so.


Learn to speak up in meetings and whenever there is a need to express your opinion. Employers hired you because they want you to contribute to the success of the company. You can’t do that by staying silent. Don’t be afraid to put your two cents in.

Also, if you are unsure of what is being asked of you, don’t nod and smile. Ask for clarification. This is perfectly acceptable and almost expected. It shows initiative and you can avoid any embarrassment later when you either make mistakes or have to ask for instructions again. Paraphrase whenever you can to make sure you got the message.

Constructive Feedback

You may likely find yourself in the position of having to receive constructive feedback. Our Soft Skills courses like Professional Communication provide tips and strategies to help you deal with these kinds of workplace situations.

Here are some strategies from the course to help you deal with constructive criticism.

Keep an open mind—listen to the feedback with an open mind, recognizing its value. Use it to improve yourself and to solve the problem.  Look at the other side—try to understand the perspective of the person offering the feedback. Change bad behavior—acknowledge feedback that focuses on your work. Attempt to change feedback that seems directed at your “person” to specific behavioural issues.

For additional information on how SOPA course can help you arrive prepared in Canada, visit us at


– Christine Wall – Soft Skills Facilitator for Atlantic Provinces

Christine Wall is currently a Facilitator for Soft Skills courses offered by Settlement Online Pre-Arrival (SOPA) program at Immigrant Settlement Association of Nova Scotia. Christine has worked with pre and post arrival clients at ISANS for over 7 years, focusing on providing new Canadians with essentials language and workplace tools for successful settlement in Canada.


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