September 14, 2021

The Official CELPIP Podcast: Episode 8 – Workplace Communication

Communication in the workplace is crucial in creating a good working environment and to increase productivity. In today’s episode, we revisit a popular CELPIP Live episode featuring Linda Davey-Longstreet, an intake counsellor from Skills for Change.

Show Notes


CJ [00:00:00] Hello, everyone, and welcome to the official CELPIP podcast, where we help test takers get the scores they need and support newcomers building a life in Canada. My name is CJ and along with my co-host Chris, we talk to a variety of guests from test takers, language teachers and test raters to employment counselors and immigration consultants and sometimes our in-house CELPIP staff who make the test available around the world. Hey, Chris, as you know, this week we’ll be talking about workplace communication in Canada and providing some tips to our listeners who may be new to the Canadian workforce.

Chris [00:00:36] That’s right.

CJ [00:00:37] And that got me thinking that you can probably relate to newcomers getting their first job in Canada since you lived in and worked in another country for quite some time yourself.

Chris [00:00:48] Yes, that’s right. I lived in Japan for eight and a half years.

CJ [00:00:52] Wow. So how’s your Japanese?

Chris [00:00:55] Well, not great, especially now after all these years back in Canada.

CJ [00:00:59] Fair enough. But could you get by in the Japanese workplace?

Chris [00:01:03] Sure. But a lot of people spoke English in the schools where I taught.

CJ [00:01:08] Still, it must have been challenging. I imagine Japan has a different work culture than what we’re accustomed to here in Canada.

Chris [00:01:15] Oh, yes, that’s true. There are a lot of customs that were new to me. I had to learn to bow at the right times. Eventually became a habit, though. Sometimes people even bow and on the phone with someone over there. Then I had to learn to stop bowing when I got back to Canada.

CJ [00:01:31] Yeah, I mean, that might be a bit too formal for the Canadian workplace. So what would your advice be to someone who is going to work in a foreign country?

Chris [00:01:41] I think learn as much as you can about the country, not just history, although that’s good to know as well. But current events understand what’s in the news. Expose yourself to some of the pop culture. What are people watching on TV? That will help you connect with people more easily and learn as much Japanese or whatever language is spoken in that country as you can. But most importantly, if you’re not sure about something, just ask. There were lots of times in Japan where I would just find a coworker and say “I’m not sure what I should be doing in this situation. Could you help me?” People were always happy to explain.

CJ [00:02:21] Well, that sounds like really good advice for anyone who’s starting a job in a new country. And it’s super cool to get to hear that about your past experience in Japan. So thank you for sharing that with us and our listeners. And today, we’re going to hear some more tips specifically about workplace communications in Canada. So why don’t you tell our listeners more about today’s episode?

Chris [00:02:42] We’re going to hear an excerpt from another popular CELPIP live episode. This one is titled “Tips on Workplace Communication in Canada”. We’re going to hear part of an interview with Linda Davey-Longstreet. She’s an intake counselor who works for a program called Communication for the Canadian Workplace.

CJ [00:03:02] Great. And of course, we’ll put a link to this episode of CELPIP live in our show notes for everyone who would like to watch the rest lot of really good CELPIP live content these days. Anything else you want to share about this upcoming interview?

Chris [00:03:16] Only that is conducted by our social media expert, Aswathi Iyer.

CJ [00:03:19] All right. Well, that’s that. And let’s jump right in.

Aswathi [00:03:25] So now we’re going to go ahead and talk to Linda. I already introduced her, but I’m also going to give Linda an opportunity to give you a brief introduction about herself.

Linda [00:03:37] OK, my name is Linda and I am the intake person for a program called Communication for the Canadian Workplace. So our program helps internationally educated engineers, architects, and IT with skills training, job search, language and mentoring. So my job as an intake person is to evaluate the immigration documents, check the language level and verify the resume that the person has a resume. It’s a five week program offered–for the moment online. My original training was as an ESL professor both in Ontario and Quebec. I taught courses like English for academic purposes and business writing. So I’m ho–and of course, I have done workshops on communication, cross-cultural communication, so I’ll be happy to answer any questions that you might have.

Aswathi [00:04:29] Perfect. Thank you, and I’m really glad that we have you both here with all these varieties of experiences, especially you, Linda. So I’m going to say, well, I’m going to start with, like, the first question that I have for you in general. What is your opinion about multiculturalism in the workplace in Canada? Do you think there are benefits for this?

Linda [00:04:53] Absolutely. Absolutely. All the all the research that I’ve done and of course, we get a lot of information at Skills for Change about Conference Board of Canada and all these other research bodies. And they all maintain the importance of having a multicultural work environment because our country is is multicultural, our country, and that’s the audience. So companies want to succeed. And of course, they have to succeed by being relevant. And being relevant means having a mix of different employees from different cultures, different age groups, different backgrounds that will make the company more successful and more important, relevant.

Aswathi [00:05:35] Really well said, and I agree about the relevance aspect as well, so talking a little more about multiculturalism. Many people who immigrated here come from a collectivist culture and then Canada is like an individualistic culture. So if people don’t know what individualistic culture and collectivist culture is, Linda will be explaining that. But I also want to know, like does that–does the difference in those cultures impact communication in the workplace?

Linda [00:06:06] Or it can. So let’s take a situation that individualistic cultures means the privacy autonomy. Individual rights are mainly important or as a collectivist culture is the benefits of the team. So the individuals is maybe less important than the benefit for the team as a whole. So let’s take a situation. Let’s say that there’s a there’s two people, two employees, and they’re not getting along. So a person who is individualistic, an individual, this culture would try to go to the other employee and say, let’s work it out together, or somebody from a collectivist culture would probably go right to the manager or boss and ask for advice.

Aswathi [00:06:56] Oh, okay, that makes complete sense to me, and I, I don’t know I don’t know how to identify which which culture is collectivist. I do know what they mean, but I don’t know how to identify what they are. So is there any–okay-.

Linda [00:07:08] So for the most part, individualistic cultures would be generally in the West like Canada and the USA, whereas most Asian countries would be classified as collectivist cultures.

Aswathi [00:07:24] Gotcha. So I think that’s a good way to put that, and I also think, Sachin, that answered your question, because if you’re talking about difference, so such a question was what are the what are the usual differences between office communication in India vs. office communication in Canada? So maybe what you said answer this question, but if you have anything else to add, the floor is yours.

Linda [00:07:49] I think that obviously it’s hard to judge because individuals are individuals and companies or companies, I mean, these are just general patterns that I feel that I’ve indicated. I mean, there are exceptions to the rule.

Aswathi [00:08:02] Okay, so what we’ll do is we’re going to go through a more questions about like scenario specific examples, and maybe that will answer your question a little better. Okay, so let’s go on to the next question. Which skills would you argue are most important to develop intercultural communication and and competence?

Linda [00:08:24] Okay, I think the most important there are lots of so-called soft skills, but I would say the most important are the ability to work in a team and flexibility or adaptability, being able to just–adjust to new circumstances.

Aswathi [00:08:39] So when you say flexibility, I, I don’t like there are many things like I’m thinking of flexibility in terms of do you mean like working extra working hours or do you mean like taking on different roles? What do you mean by flexibility?

Linda [00:08:53] Okay, well, especially in the current environment, there might be changes and things that are happening. So I’ll give you a scenario. We had a client a couple of years ago who was an I.T. specialist, very strong language skills, very strong technical skills. She got a job. And as most readers were, most of your viewers will know that in most companies, the first three months are probation. So after that three month period, the company will decide, “Yes, things work out great, we’re going to keep you.” or “Things are not working out. We’re going to let you go.” So she was let go. So, of course, she came back to us and was very upset as to why she was let go. So we contacted the company and we asked and we said, “why did you let her go?” Because she has strong language skills, strong technical skills. And the response was nobody liked her. She couldn’t work with anybody. They said that she had a very condescending attitude, that she was better than everyone else and it made for a very difficult environment, because if nobody wants to work with you or they feel that you can’t work with–with that person, then that’s a problem.

Aswathi [00:10:05] Sorry, I have a follow up question for this–does this. You said that she was from IT. I’m just curious to know if if it matters which department you are, in fact, about being likable, like if you’re in a department that is more of like a singular basis than a teamwork basis, does that matter? I just want to know your thoughts on your experience.

Linda [00:10:26] Like I would say no. Obviously, if you’re in a you’re in a role that obligates you to connect with clients, then being able to communicate with clients, being able to work with clients that clients are happy with the service you provide or that you’re competent, then that’s definitely more important if you’re working by yourself. But again, nowadays, it’s very rare that people are just working in a little corner all by themselves. So I would say that no matter what role you have, you have to be able to adapt to changes in circumstances and you have to be able to get along with other people since most people work on teams.

Aswathi [00:11:05] Great. So seeing as we’re talking about being able to work and then improve yourself skills, does is there are opportunities or is there a learning place and skills for change that offers these learnings?

Linda [00:11:18] Yes, absolutely our program is called Communication for the Canadian Workplace because that’s the role. Most of our clients have relatively good English skills. They don’t need grammar, but what they do need are things like sector specific terminology, and they learn they have to learn not only how to get a job, but of course, it helps them with that, but how to keep a job. And hopefully the other pointers I’m giving will make that difference.

Aswathi [00:11:45] They–I think they absolutely do. So let’s move on to the next question. I’m going to tap into your experience a little bit more in what are some of the top three common workplace scenarios that you have seen that involve cultural differences and that causes work to not progress?

Linda [00:12:05] Okay, first of all, that I’ve heard about, based on my own experience and from those of my clients would be. Clients that don’t really participate in the workplace other than doing their job. In other words, somebody that goes in, sits at his desk, stays his desk all day, eats lunch at his desk or her desk and never connects. So that sort of gives an impression to the other workers that he or she doesn’t really want to connect. So I would say it’s important to establish a connection to say a great people, smile with people, even bring them a coffee or offer to go get a coffee or lunch and then volunteer at their social events within the workplace, go into the lunch room, the famous water cooler talk. Maybe not. You don’t have to do it every day, but at least show that you’re you’re not hiding from other people. The second scenario would say, and this is a little bit of a delicate point, speak English as much as possible in the workplace, one because practice makes perfect, but two, because it creates a better work environment. Again, I’ll give you a scenario.

Aswathi [00:13:16] Oh before. Sorry, I just want to do something that you said, like jumped out to me. So before you talk about the scenario, the thing that you spoke about English when I was it, I just wanted to impart that it applies outside of workplace as well. So when I was studying, when I was applying to come to North America to study, I come from India, so I was applying to the United States and everybody was telling me, make sure you make friends outside of your Indian circle because you might just end up like you might just end up sticking with their Indian circle because it’s comfortable. You might speak the language, you know and you’re comfortable with, but that does impact your growth. So just just something that jumped out to me when you mention this. Yeah, well, one thing I use, of course, nowadays, maybe we don’t have a lot of online classes, but when people ask me how can I improve my English, I say take a cooking class. Simply because when you’re in a cooking class, you’re going to be talking to other people and you have a topic that everybody is obviously interested in because they’re–they’re there. So I feel that–that’s that’s a great opportunity to connect with, especially with native speakers, because that’s a question I get a lot. How do I connect more with Canadians, quote unquote?

Aswathi [00:14:28] Did you have any other scenario that you would like to share with us?

Linda [00:14:33] Okay. Well, sure. I have lots of stories to tell. We do know one thing that you asked me about issues in the phone is that with phone calls, sometimes we get somebody calling and saying somebody had “Skills for Change” contact with me. Okay, well, we have over 80 employees, so that makes it a little difficult if I’m on the phone and trying to figure out exactly who called, what program, etc.. So so I would say before you make a phone call, even if you have to make notes, that’s fine. Make sure that you’ve got your information there so you don’t get and certainly do not get on the phone and start telling a story. I remember a couple of years ago I had a client and he just kept on and on and on and literally five minutes. And of course, we have a multi line phone. There are other calls coming in. And then finally that “You’re not answering me”. So I said “Well. Sir, I can’t answer you because you’re not you haven’t stopped talking as soon as you stop talking I’ll be happy to answer you.” So so don’t get on the phone and tell a long story, because to most people time is money. They want to know the information as much information as you can provide that is pertinent. My name is, my program is, I’m interested in, I didn’t get the name of the person who contacted me. I am an international student, permanent resident, Canadian citizen, et cetera. And that way it’ll make it easier for anybody to help you because we all want to help you. But if you just say somebody called me, it makes it a little harder for us to be able to help you.

Aswathi [00:16:09] Great, again, great tips, and I’m hoping that people who are watching, as we have quite a few people watching us today are, you know, taking this information for the benefit of their future career. I just want to remind you guys that we have like a one minute technical difficulty, and I apologize for that. But if you caught that and let it, I think you’ll let us know. So thank you so much for that. So, Linda, I’m going to continue with questions, and I want to go into what’s happening currently in terms of like our pandemic and then the Covid-19 situation, seeing that we’re all at home and most of our communication is happening on screen. Could you give us some tips for communicating better with our colleagues during this situation?

Linda [00:16:50] Okay, well, one thing that’s that’s difficult communicating with colleagues is that we don’t always know if if the colleague is busy or not, because some of our some of my colleagues do have children in their home schooling. I don’t always have access to somebody’s calendar. So I know a couple of times I called create and then it turns out she’s already on the phone with a client. And I’m sorry to interrupt you. So that’s a little bit frustrating because if we were at the office, then I would go to see her and I would know if she was busy or not or on the phone or with a client. So. And one other thing that is maybe good, both the pandemic for us at “Skills for Change” is that we get the opportunity to connect with people outside Canada. I very rarely connect with people outside Canada, but because our program is virtual, we have had people and it’s been really lots of fun for for our facilitators, for free and for myself to sort of connect with people outside, outside of Canada and even in other cities within Canada, because that gives them a chance to understand a little bit about other markets, because sometimes within the GTA, people might be a little reluctant to actually look at other job opportunities outside. But let’s say, for example, there’s a job that turns up in London and somebody in your class lives in London where you can get some details about what it’s like in London or Ottawa and maybe you’ll be more willing to consider that possibility with before. And so, like, “Oh, I don’t know, I’m not going to do this.”

CJ [00:18:24] And we’re back. Well, that was a lot of really valuable information. What do you think are some of the important main points, Chris?

Chris [00:18:34] It sure was. I think probably one of the key takeaways here is what Linda said right at the beginning about the value of having a multicultural workforce. Canada is a multicultural country, so in order for companies to be successful, they need to reflect the makeup of the population. Companies need to serve a variety of communities across the country. And it will only be able to do that with a multicultural staff.

CJ [00:19:02] Yeah, that’s an important starting point when talking about workplace communication. Diversity is certainly one of our core values and aspirations.

Chris [00:19:11] Right. And people may have slightly different work styles based on their background.

CJ [00:19:17] Right. Like the collectivist versus individualistic mindset. That’s a hard one to say.

Chris [00:19:23] Yes, right. But as Linda said, these are very general concepts. And she was quick to point out that there’s going to be a lot of variability among people from any particular group.

CJ [00:19:36] Uh huh. And the actual soft skills that she said were important seemed pretty universal: ability to work in a team, being flexible and adaptable.

Chris [00:19:45] Yeah, for sure. It seemed like the biggest challenge for some of her clients was simply how to connect more with coworkers. Part of that is just speaking English as much as possible as she mentions. But I know from my own experiences teaching new Canadians that the challenge sometimes isn’t so much speaking English as what exactly to say. I taught a group of Chinese-Canadian accountants here in Vancouver helping them to get ready for the workplace. The thing that they were worried most about was small talk. They just weren’t sure what the acceptable topics were and if they knew enough about Canadian culture to have those conversations. But it really didn’t take much to make them feel more comfortable chatting with others. I introduced them to the CBC and a few popular TV shows, and I think they were surprised how much they understood and could relate to.

CJ [00:20:37] Yeah, and I can imagine that the first day of work must have felt pretty challenging to them. And it’s that way for all of us, whether we grew up in Canada or not. I think small talk is so challenging.

Chris [00:20:50] Yeah, that’s true. And things are even more challenging now as we learn to live and work since Covid became a part of our lives, even though we’re finally emerging from this pandemic, a lot of our work continues to be online. And for some, that has made communication even more challenging.

CJ [00:21:07] Yeah, absolutely. But I really liked the positive spin that Linda had on working and studying online during Covid the fact that it’s meant that we can connect more easily with people from across the country and learn of opportunities that we may not have known about before when we only talk to people who lived in the same city.

Chris [00:21:26] Yes, that’s true. Anyway, there are many more valuable insights in this interview with Linda, so I encourage everyone to check it out. And I should mention that at the start of the show, Aswathi interviews an employment specialist who is also part of the communication for the Canadian Workplace Program. She talks about how to optimize one’s LinkedIn profile.

CJ [00:21:47] Hmm. So two really useful interviews in one episode. For those interested in getting a job or keeping a job, this is one not to be missed. And as a reminder, will include the link to that episode of CELPIP live in the show notes. And what can we expect for the next podcast episode, Chris? Well, the title of our next episode is Don’t Worry. We’re going to discuss all the things the test takers sometimes worry about, but that are actually not that important when it comes to getting the scores they need for any test takers who would like to reduce their anxiety over taking a CELPIP test. I would strongly recommend checking this one out. Oh, amazing. Anything that can help Test raters relax a bit is totally worthwhile. So until then, we wish everyone the best in their work life and study life. Yeah, and. And just life. Yeah. Awesome. Bye, everybody. Bye.

I had taken other English language proficiency before, and CELPIP was more relatable to me. All of the questions were situations I was familiar with from daily life, and were like conversations I had experienced personally.
- Chrisna D., CELPIP Test Taker
When I took CELPIP, I found it was like speaking English in real life. You speak every day with your boss and with your friends, and the CELPIP Test represents those every-day, real-life language situations.
- Rafaela B., CELPIP Test Taker