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back to index backASIAtalk June,  2017


Working with Indians: 12 Things You Need To Know

India is a land of great diversity, contrasts and complexity. Its diversity spans geography, languages, religions, castes and classes. There is a North-South divide as well as regional divides along cultural and language lines. Business practices may differ in India depending on your location in India, and whether you are working with government officials, multinational companies or local vendors. The size of the company, the age and level of your business associates, as well as their familiarity with western business practices will all have an impact on your team effectiveness and productivity.

As a cross-cultural trainer with experience working with U.S./India teams for many years, there are some generalizations that can be made and will be helpful in anticipating cultural and communication challenges. Below is a list of 12 things you need to know when working with Indians.

Hierarchy – Authority is generally respected among Indians who may hesitate to question a boss due to the respect given to seniors/elders. It starts in the home with parents, as well as in their educational system. e.g. Indian children are not encouraged to speak up or challenge a teacher. It carries over into the work place and may affect communication with seniors.

Empowerment – Indians aren’t used to a boss asking their opinion, “what do you think?” Many Indians prefer to do what the boss says and expect to be micromanaged. A U.S. boss may need to explain and train some Indian employees for empowerment and individual responsibility. Initially, be very specific with directions.

Strong work ethic – Be careful what you ask; Indians generally don’t push back and will try to accommodate you, even if it means working through a weekend.

Roles & responsibilities – If a colleague asks for help, an Indian employee will usually try to do it: they try not to say no.

Team – Competitive with themselves and others; still many prefer to be collaborative as they are group-oriented in work style preference. However, those behaviors may be restrained in a mixed Indian and American group until mutual trust and “open and honest” communication has been established.

Collegial – Indians enjoy being with others and take breaks and lunches with colleagues. They may use the time to ask a question or clarify a point. If your colleague doesn't have an answer, he or she may know someone who does. Indians utilize networks well.

Timeliness – Working in multinationals, Indians are generally timely with schedules and deadlines; in Indian companies they expect flexibility. There is an intention to complete the work on time; however they often don’t give early warning of problems. It’s better to check-up how the work is going and will it be ready on time.

Communication style – Indians generally prefer a communication style that is less direct than many Americans. They are polite and careful not to offend; they often perceive a direct style as blunt, and sometimes rude.

Conflict – Indians are taught to minimize conflict and strive for harmony. If uncomfortable with your "style" or unable to deliver for some reason, Indians may stall or avoid you to eliminate direct confrontation.

Risk – Many Indians prefer to gather detailed information before making a decision to avoid risk. There is a preference to do business within the network of personal relationships based on trust.

Relationships – Relationships first, then task. Indians may be reserved in the beginning until they know you better, especially with non-Indians. Build relationships through team meetings over lunch and celebrations of birthdays.

Socializing – In social situations among themselves, Indians are personal and informal. They generally don’t plan far in advance to see friends. Friends become like family; they can speak about personal subjects and share confidences. Indian friendships are often compared to a coconut (hard to break into, but then smooth and inviting). American friendships are compared to a peach (easy access but the hard pit prevents friendship from becoming deep). Be sincere and patient in your efforts to develop relationships.

Understanding and appreciation of cultural differences promote more effective interactions and result in greater collaboration among people of diverse cultural backgrounds.

You will increase your business success in India if you are knowledgeable about regional and local business practices and social customs. For additional information, see The International Business Interact: India, available through Sherisen International Inc.

Source: Sondra Sen, Sherisen International Inc. via LinkedIn - GAI





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