What are unwritten business rules

Unwritten Business Rules in Canada - Part 1

For many Europeans, how to navigate the Canadian and American business world remains a lifelong puzzle. The friendly and familiar tone between North American business people is incomprehensible, especially for the formal Germans.

One reason for the freedom of North Americans is the absence of the word “you” as a salutation. This is “you”, regardless of the business level of the contact person.

Another reason is the absence of written expressions such as “Dear Sir”, “Sincerely” or even “With excellent respect” in the English language.

In North American business English, the barrier of addressing “Mister” usually falls after the first contact with a previously unknown business contact.

Some immigrants do not want to believe or accept this, even if they have lived here for a long time. I can assure them, however, that it really is, after more than 50 years in the Canadian business world with tens of thousands of contacts and dozens of new contacts every week.

Now and then there are actually a few who find it unusual to be addressed by their first name. Most of them, however, grew up in Europe, or in an oriental country, where the manners are also still traditional.

In Canada there is another reason to use only the first name. Immigrants from many countries often have complicated and unpronounceable names. The names of business people from India, Indonesia, Greece and many other countries often consist of 15 to 20 letters that a North American can hardly pronounce, but definitely cannot remember.

Hong Kong businesspeople usually have short Chinese surnames, as well as short Chinese first names, but have "anglicized" their first names for a long time (due to their hundred-year association with the British Empire). Li Cheng becomes “Lisa” Cheng, Jiao Chu becomes “John” Chu.

In contrast to European business people who like to act as "very reserved" - especially when in a "high position", even the highest of the high - presidents, CEOs and other top executives of Canadian and US companies do not object to using their first name to be addressed.

OK, the first contact with a new customer - generally by e-mail - can always begin with the address “Dear Mr. Martin”. If the answer comes back to “Dear Peter”, it tells me that the writer has nothing against being addressed by his first name in the future. It works like this in almost 100% of our contacts with new people and customers.

Most business people in North America don't mind exchanging personal details every now and then. If you are, for example, a golf player, skier, interested in hockey or another spectator sport, this can lead to a lasting connection between business partners.

That has another advantage. Existing customers often recommend those who do a good job to their business friends. This is called “networking”. Most of our long-standing customers (around 70% to 75%, some since we started our business) came to us this way.

Contracts with clients such as “Powers of Attorney” count very little in Canada and the US. They can be revoked at any time, even if they involve payment of non-fulfillment penalties. The courts are overflowing with such trials.

A sore point with almost all Canadians and Americans is when an immigrant tries to teach them that work in their countries is not of the standard that exists in the immigrant's home country. The statement “in Germany we do it this way” or “in Switzerland we do it better” drives North Americans “crazy”. It's different in Canada and the USA. In certain areas they are at the top, in other areas there is still a lot that could be improved.

But: "if it works, don't fix it" or "It worked so far, so let's keep it that way" are two popular sayings of North Americans.

Peter Iden
Brampton, Ontario, Canada

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