10 tips for doing business in India

Introduction to India business culture

You will make a good impression in India if you adapt to the pace of life and accept the fact that things take longer to happen. Getting frustrated with the system will neither change the system, nor win you friends.

Fitting in includes embracing the Indian style of hospitality. Accept invitations (there will be many) and prepare to have little privacy. Be prepared to answer personal questions and indulge in small talk on every occasion. Building a relationship is very important. Do not try to impose Western values and management style on an unprepared Indian team; understand what motivates the team instead.

While Indians are friendly, gracious and warm, the country also has a culture of tough negotiation and haggling at every level. Be ready to use all your negotiating skills.

Indians enjoy a presentation that is well-ordered, and leaves them with a clear impression of what is expected of them.

Trust is achieved over time and through a process of getting to know each other. Be prepared to be introduced to colleagues, peers and even friends and family members of those you might be working with. Often, this is done so that they can form an opinion of you as well.

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Top 10 tips on Indian business culture

Here are 10 essential tips for making a good impression when doing business in India:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Save face. Criticism must be delivered with care and in private. Indians have a strong sense of face.
  9. 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.
  10. 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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About the Author

Terence Brake

Terence Brake is an author in the global learning & development field and has over 20 years experience helping executives to work better across cultures.

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