Working together with people from India

Written by Jelte Hepkema November 2013. Posted in Int. Skills, Working with people

Working together with people from India

Spread over more than three million square kilometers, India has twice as many citizens as the whole European Union and the population speaks 29 different languages. So it’s hard to say: “This is the way you should work with people from India,” because people from the north are really different from the ones in the south and there is much diversity between the cultures. But in this article I will try to give you a broad impression.

The Indian caste system is something we Westerners find interesting. Lots of documentaries have been made about this system that show the hierarchical levels in society that people are in from the moment they are born. It’s not easy to understand this system because of its complexity, but I have been told that it isn’t as important as it used to be. The fact that it is forbidden to discriminate on the basis of caste should make the differences in Indian society smaller. In the bigger cities and in business life one’s level of education is already becoming more and more important. Yet for some people it’s still not possible to get a good education or a good job because of their caste group. Nevertheless, with the median age in India being 24 it’s possible that this will change, because of the growing Western mind set amongst younger people.

As I mentioned before, there are 29 languages in India, but when you’re working there that won't be any problem, as English is the business language. Even in a company with only Indian people it’s normal to speak English. Therefore, you can expect them to have a really big vocabulary in English, although sometimes they have a really thick accent.

In the business culture of India hierarchy plays a big role, where not only your job title is important, but also your age and sex. Older people are always treated with respect and women are mostly ranked lower than men, which is something that foreign women should keep in mind when there doing business with the Indians. It’s always important to show respect to the ones that are ranked higher. In business meetings the highest ranking person may have a special seat and it’s not common to question what he says. In most multinational companies, however, there is a more Western-style business culture. In addition, in business etiquette the Indians are a lot like the British.

When you are working or going to work with Indian people you should also know that their mindset is focused on karma as well. That means they make decisions with karma in their mind, so they do not only focus on making money or achieving business-related results.

In conclusion, when working together with people from India, you will manage with speaking English, but you will face other differences such as the more hierarchical business culture and a whole different mindset than the one you're used to in Europe.