11 Sep A Brief Introduction to Business Negotiations and Indian Culture
Those who have never lived or worked in India may not realize that it is a culturally diverse country. Because local dialects and customs change drastically from one region to another, it is difficult to make generalizations about indian culture. However, there are a variety commonly held customs among business professionals, which will be discussed below about business in India.
When doing business in India, it’s important to recognize that everything from how businesses are structured to how deals are negotiated largely depends on following appropriate social conventions. This guide seeks to clarify some of the differences between U.S. and Indian business culture and to offer advice about how to navigate the complexities of international negotiations.
There are two official languages in India: English and Hindi. English is the more popular of the two languages for business negotiations. However, Americans entering into negotiations with Indian businessmen should not assume that just because they share a language, they will also share negotiation strategies.
Keep in mind that Indian businessmen do not typically use the word “no” in negotiations. It can be off-putting for Americans, but in India, it is polite to respond with verbal affirmation while expressing disagreement through body language. Even a “yes” in response to a question that is accompanied by a bobbing of the head that approximates a mix of a shake and a nod can usually be safely interpreted as a “no.”
It is considered polite to sustain eye contact while engaged in conversation. Try to stand about three feet away from others, and avoid pointing the feet at others or standing with hands placed on the hips. These gestures are considered angry or rude.
Physical touch should not be a part of any conversation. Above all, avoid touching others’ heads, even those of children. In Indian culture, the head is considered to be the seat of a person’s soul.
Distributing business cards is a common practice in India. Additionally, the practice of gift-giving is greatly appreciated. Flowers or even a sweet treat can go a long way toward establishing a positive relationship. It is, however, important to avoid giving leather items as gifts, as many Hindus are vegetarian.
Punctuality is certainly appreciated when it comes to business meetings. However, Indian businessmen entering into negotiations may be less likely than Americans to reciprocate that punctuality. Try to schedule appointments at least one month in advance, and call to confirm meeting times upon arrival.
Normal business wear is similar to that of businesspeople in the United States. Men should wear a suit and tie, although thanks to the country’s hot climates, a full-sleeved shirt and tie can often be considered an acceptable alternative. Women may wear pant-suits but may find that long skirts are better accepted.
Forming a personal connection is an important part of any negotiation. There are many conversational topics that are widely discussed among professionals, including cricket, films, politics, and Indian economic reform.
While Indians are known for being tolerant of other religions, discussions of religious beliefs and spirituality should be avoided. Conversations surrounding the country’s poverty rates should also be avoided, as should India’s contentious relationship with Pakistan.
Status and Respect
Status in India is determined by four main factors. These are age, education level, profession, and caste. It is important to treat those who are considered higher on the social ladder with appropriate respect at all times.
Women working abroad should bear in mind that in India, men are considered to hold primary positions both in the home and the workplace. Patriarchal families are the norm, and the female literacy rate is almost 20% lower than the male literacy rate. It may be difficult for female business professionals to become accustomed to local gender conventions, but it is essential for successful negotiations.
Business in India: some parting words
Conducting business abroad can be stressful regardless of the country. It can also be extremely beneficial to all parties involved. Taking the time to learn about the culture can make the difference between establishing a lasting partnership and creating unnecessary animosity. You should consider this guide as a brief introduction to some of the differences in negotiation strategy and conversational style.
When it comes to doing business in India is a country that is ripe with opportunity. Those seeking to form lasting business relationships would be well-advised to be respectful of differences in language and customs and to express polite interest in local affairs.