Indians place great value on relationships in business so it is essential to understand their rich and diverse culture, from the complex politics to the steep hierarchies in business to the influence of the family – and, of course, how to interpret the famous head wobble.
- Understand the complexity. There is a constant state of tension between traditional Indian values and the pull of the Western influence; and an enormous variation in cultures and beliefs within India itself.
- Respect the hierarchy. Indian companies, and families, have a strict chain of command. Workers at a certain level will not perform tasks that are considered beneath them and junior employees will not feel comfortable questioning or criticising their superiors.
- Embrace uncertainty. Indians have a relaxed attitude to time and meetings may start late and run over schedule. Conditions like traffic may be a common reason for lateness.
- Keep it formal. Use professional and courtesy titles rather than first names. Indians can remain on polite terms for a long time. Education is important, so people will use titles like ‘Professor’ as a sign of prestige.
- Build trust. Personal relationships are important when doing business in India. Networks and contacts are a way of navigating the bureaucracy but staying the right side of the law.
- Socialise. Take hospitality seriously. Accept invitations, network and extend invitations of your own, all as a part of relationship building. Expect to be introduced to a wide network of warm, friendly, curious people; privacy in India has a different meaning.
- Read between the lines. Indians are indirect communicators and are unlikely to give a negative answer but rather disguise it as ‘I’ll try’ or ‘We hope so’. Phrase questions carefully if you need a more direct answer.
- Save face. Criticism must be delivered with care and in private. Indians have a strong sense of face.
- Be patient. Expect negotiations to take a long time. Indians like to gather a lot of information before making a decision and also like to follow protocol.
- Fill in the gaps. Provide as much background information as possible about your company and your proposal as Indians like a lot of context to a situation.
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