How (Not) to Greet Your Boss


“Hi, boss,” said Roberto (not his real name), a recent immigrant, on his first day of work in Canada.

“Don’t call me ‘boss’,” was the reply. “My name is Jim.”

Do you think Roberto has created a good first impression at work? Maybe not. A seemingly simple social exchange has led to a misunderstanding and possibly hurt feelings. But as someone who was raised in South-Asia, it was natural for Roberto to want to show deference to his superior in their first interaction. In fact, studies show that in the Philippines, where Roberto is from, hierarchy is more important than almost anywhere else in the world! Yet as a Canadian, it was natural for Jim to want to be addressed as an equal. Hierarchy is not valued as highly here.

For individuals like Roberto, understanding Canadian cultural values is an important part of integrating into the Canadian workplace. And there are many other cultural orientations, in addition to hierarchy vs. equality, which are studied by academics in the field of inter-cultural communication: time vs. relationship, individualism vs. collectivism and directness vs. indirectness to name a few.

Complicating matters further is the reality that the Canadian workplace is multicultural, so recent immigrants to this country need to understand the cultural values not only of their coworkers who were born and raised in Canada, but also of those born elsewhere, like themselves.

Providing guidance in navigating these rough waters was one of the major goals of a course in Canadian Communication recently offered by the Language Training Centre to a group of internationally-educated engineers in a pilot Bridge to Civil Technologies program. A motley crew of students of various nationalities (Chinese, Colombian, El Salvadoran, Filipino, Iranian, South Korean and Vietnamese) developed their awareness of Canadian cultural orientations through the completion of a variety of communication tasks. Needless to say, with such a diverse crew, it was not always smooth sailing. Nevertheless, with practice, they gained the knowledge and skills necessary for their work-term placement and successful integration into the Canadian multi-cultural workplace.

Roberto now understands why in the Canadian workplace we typically address each other by our first names and avoid deferential titles like “boss” and “sir”.

Submitted by Stuart Schwartz, EAL Instructor, RRC’s Language Training Centre

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