India, a south-Asian country situated on the central northern coast of the Indian Ocean, is bounded to the west by Pakistan, to the north by Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal, and to the east by Myanmar and Bangladesh. It has a tropical climate with occasional violent storms.
India is culturally rich with a fast growing economy. It is the second largest country in the world after China, but is close to overtaking China as the most populous country by the middle of the 21st century. The capital of India is New Delhi and the largest city is Bombay (Mumbai).
Country specific communication
Indian people tend to speak rapidly in long sentences. In general the communication style is indirect. When they disagree they will not show it directly as it may considered unsympathetic or rude. A straight “NO” is considered too direct. Indian people use a lot of expressions and gestures. Although physical contact is not accepted except for shaking hands, elderly people may sometimes touch the head of a younger person as a gesture of respect and as a blessing, but this is something visitors should avoid doing, even with children. Indian people are known for their habit of shaking their heads sideways. This might be interpreted as an expression of ‘no’, but in fact most of the time they mean ‘yes’ by this head shaking, or it is a sign that they are listening to and understanding what you are saying. Using your left hand is also not acceptable to Hindus and Muslims as they believe this is the unclean hand. Some gestures are not done in the Indian culture. For example pointing with a finger, wagging with a finger or pointing one’s foot at anyone, especially at elder people is considered disrespectful and impolite. In general Indians speak with each other while standing three feet apart.
Social interaction is a complex etiquette in India, including in business cultures. Indians are emotional, interested, hospitable, expressive and polite people. In order to adapt to Indian culture socially and while doing business it is expected that visitors should blend in and accept the way of living and negotiating and to learn to read body language. Indian people appreciate small-talk as an essential part of Indian business culture as it helps to build trust. Friendliness is really important in this culture. In general, Indians’ social behaviour is ruled by Hinduism.
Social class, religion and education influence methods of greeting in India. Greeting the eldest or most senior person first is a common sign of respect and politeness because Indian culture is quite hierarchical.
Giving gifts is a way of showing friendship, respect and appreciation and is considered acceptable. Such gifts might be a representation of a particular company and should not be too ostentatious. Refined souvenirs from one’s home country are appropriate. Alcohol as a gift will not always be successful as not all Indian people drink alcohol. Care should also be taken with leather goods as these may be insulting to Hindi people. Indians also believe that giving gifts will help them achieve an easy transition into the next life.
Business dinners are less usual than business lunches and are commonly used as business entertainment in a more informal way, in order to build and strengthen relationships. Hindu people do not eat beef and Muslim people among the Indian do not eat pork, which is something which should be kept in mind when out for a business meal. During a business meal one is expected to speak at a quiet level instead of being loud as loudness may be considered ill-mannered. One also has to be careful with drinking alcohol as this might offend some Indians.
Dress etiquette is important in Indian business culture. Appropriate clothing is important to those wanting to do business in India. Women can wear suits or conservative dresses which should be long enough and most certainly not too tight. Most women wear traditional attire known as Salwar kemeez. Dark business suits are appropriate for men. Modest, conservative dress is required for business dinners.
After the first handshake and greeting it is normal to exchange business cards, at which time it is recommended to use the right hand and absolutely avoid using the left. The business card must be presented in such a way that the recipient can read the card as it is being handed over. Titles are important to mention on business cards, especially if one has a university degree or any other honour. It is desirable to provide business cards which include a Hindi translation.
Indians can have an entire conversation without asking a question and by only nodding their head. Listening is very important and it shows respect in Indian business culture. As mentioned earlier, Indian people do not like to say no, they find it rude to do so. They take time to think and make decisions do not like to be rushed. Indians prefer to establish personal relationships prior to doing business. They look at things from their own point of view and tend to take time to think before making decisions.
When it comes to doing business, Indian people have smart argumentation styles. They are tough, shrewd, alert and clever. Indians have a competitive negotiation style, but long-term relationships and looking for win-win solutions are important to them. Indians like to bargain constantly. They are really hard-headed and one should not underestimate their argumentation as they can occasionally manage to move prices more than 40 percent between the initial offer and final agreement.
Indian people are not fast in making decisions; it is a slow process. The way of living life and doing business is much slower compared to Western people and this is an aspect one just has to adapt to when in India, although decision-making is relatively quicker at higher levels of the organization. It is commonly the person with the most authority who will make decisions at negotiations in Indian business culture. Some decisions concerning new commitments will often be made over dinner among a small group of people.
Management or hierarchy characteristics
Hierarchical relationships are based on the influences of Hinduism and belief in the caste system. Indians are always aware of social order and status. In general, elderly and senior people have the most authority. They also have the strongest influence in decision making. Contradiction of a manager is seen as impolite and should be avoided. They do not accept a younger Indian boss, but a younger one from the west they might accept more easily. Indians also revere titles such as Professor, Doctor and Engineer. It is preferable to call them by their title in combination with their surname. If they do not have any title it is most respectful to use ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’. Wait to use someone’s first name until the person in question gives permission.
Indians value the roles of the family, religion and long-standing personal relationships prior to doing business. Indian people are very family and group oriented and indentify themselves more with groups than by their status as individuals. Respect for the eldest is very important in Indian culture. It is usual to take the advice of the eldest in the family. They are also hospitable and treat their guests with respect.
Team work is very normal In Indian business culture. Indian people are used to working as part of multiple teams, working on multiple projects.
Although Indian people appear to be very competitive, teamwork and harmony are important to them. Of course, there is competition between different business teams but there is little likelihood of competition within teams. Members of a team are required to share information openly but expected keep it confidential from other teams.
Contracts, legal concepts
Indian people do not like excessively legalistic vocabulary or behaviour during a negotiation. They believe in a more friendly partnership system built on trust and respect.
Authors: Sadaf Banyardalan & Angel Matindas