Expat life

Expat’s choice: Do’s and don’ts when doing business in India

India is home to more than a billion people, which has led to it becoming one of the most culturally diverse countries on earth. International relocations to India range from short business trips to assignments that last for years. Regardless of the time period spent in this country, it is important for foreigners to consider its cultural diversity, as well as a bunch of other factors.

Let’s take a look at the do’s and dont’s in India. Understandably, the following does not characterize every person on the Indian peninsula, but it does create a picture of what society looks like in general, based on principles, values, attitudes, and beliefs. 

Do’s: How to behave in India

Personal Relationships

In India, it is considered normal for people who do business together to discuss personal aspects of their life with each other, such as their family or their interests & activities. It’s considered a way of getting to know one another better, to see how reliable they are as business partners/colleagues. It is always a good idea to build personal relationships with those that you work with, as you will find it common that people who work together often visit one another & get to know each other’s families.

Company Behavior 

Indians are easy to work with, but you need to understand that they are used to a slightly different manner of communication. Here are the following things to keep in mind:

  1. Be discreet when shaking hands with members of the opposite sex. It is better to wait until your host or hostess extends his or her hand to you.
  2. Shaking your head does not mean “no” in Indian culture. It is simply a sign of understanding. Indians often shake their heads as a sign that they hear and understand what you are saying. 
  3. Meetings usually start with a friendly conversation, but you should still try to be tactful.
  4. Indians hardly ever use the word “no.” If something is impossible, they are more likely to explain this in other words.
  5. It is preferable to schedule business meetings well in advance because Indians are very respectful of the other person’s personal space and time. Be sure to contact your partner before the appointment time to make sure no one has forgotten. 
  6. Many Indians do not eat meat for religious reasons. Take this into consideration when making arrangements for lunch or dinner. Make sure there are plenty of vegetarian options.

The concept of hierarchy

In Indian society, it is quite important to observe hierarchy because of the importance given to status. For example, there is still the fact that people who have a higher status have a certain number of advantages over the rest of the common people. This is expressed in the fact that middle and lower-level managers are not allowed to make most decisions and must address these issues to their superiors. Now, this situation lends itself to the influence of young people, so a company with a young team may be different. To avoid making a mistake, it is better to find out immediately if and how this culture is present in the company you are dealing with.

Collectivism and harmony 

Harmony and unity with others is a key point to consider when visiting India. Locals value keeping close ties with their community and relatives, and family is considered a primary source of support for them. 

Indians can frequently count on their social connections when needing help or assistance, especially their relatives. They are discouraged to work with those who are isolated or secluded from their family because they find them suspicious. Indians tend to be aware of how their behavior may reflect on their family or community. 

Improvisation is their forte!

Indians often achieve business goals by adapting and improvising rather than by carefully laid out plans. Companies with flexible planning are often more successful in their business operations than companies that stick to previously made plans. It is worthwhile to pay attention to this approach. 

Negotiations

Indians expect you to negotiate prices and terms, to show that you are willing to bargain. For these reasons, try to provide flexibility in your negotiations.

Don’ts: What not to do in India

Wear tight or revealing clothing 

Indians generally are more conservative in clothing standards, especially compared to many western countries. For them, it’s more or less acceptable for women to wear jeans in big cities, which is influenced more so by Western culture. But still, you should be careful, and forget about holes and cutouts on the knees, because open legs are the height of obscenity. Rarely can you meet a self-respecting man in shorts! However, this rule does not apply to the beaches of Goa and for students. 

In India, it is sometimes believed that when a woman is presenting her body to the world, it leads to promiscuous sexual relations, so it is better to dress conservatively. Covering your legs and shoulders (and even your head) is especially important when visiting temples in India. Also, avoid wearing strapless outerwear. If you do wear a strapless top, wear a shawl or scarf over it.

Wear shoes indoors

Before you enter someone’s home, remember to take off your shoes. It is also a prerequisite before entering a temple or mosque. Indians often wear shoes in the house, for example, when they go to the bathroom. However, these shoes are kept for home use and are never worn outside. Sometimes shoes are also taken off before entering a store. If you see shoes at the entrance, you better take yours off as well.

Mind your feet, toes, and fingers 

Feet are considered unclean in India, like many other Asian countries, so it’s vital to avoid touching people or objects (especially books!) with your feet or shoes. If you accidentally do so, apologize immediately. 

On the other hand, in India, it is considered a sign of respect to bend over and touch the feet of an elderly person. Also, note that Indians often touch their heads or eyes as a sign of apology.  As for pointing, if you need to point at something or someone, it is better to do it with your whole hand or thumb, but do not poke with your fingers. 

Obey the left-hand rule

Do not take food or pass objects with your left hand, as it is considered unclean. In India, it is used to perform actions related to going to the toilet. Therefore, you should avoid contact with food or any items you pass to people with your left hand.

Be offended at intrusive questions  

Inquisitiveness is commonplace in India, so it’s common for people to ask questions that may feel for you as too personal. So don’t get angry if you are asked one day how much you earn or about your intimate life. Instead of being aggressive, try to avoid answering in a friendly manner.

Polite is not always good

Using the words “please” and “thank you” is a must for good manners in Western culture, but in India, it is sometimes considered little more than a formality and sometimes even an insult. Although it is quite normal to thank someone who has done you a favor, you should frequently avoid thanking friends or family members. In India, people believe that doing something for those with whom they are close implies a relationship.

If you continuously thank them, they may see it as a violation of your personal boundaries and measures of what is permissible. It is better to show your appreciation in other ways. For example, by mentioning how much you enjoyed the gesture or favor they did for you.

Refusing invitations

Although in India sometimes you need to be assertive and ready to say “no”, refusing an invitation or request can be seen as disrespectful. It may seem rude to the other person, as you are not respecting their feelings. Instead of saying “no” or “I can’t” outright, adopt the Indian way of responding evasively: “maybe”, “I’ll think about it”, etc. 

Expecting punctuality

There is a time, and then there is the “Indian stretch time”. The concept of time is generally flexible, so don’t expect something done before the deadline or even shortly after it. 

Expecting respect to your personal space

Overcrowding and lack of resources lead to a lot of pushing and shoving in India! If there is a line, people are bound to try to jump it. To prevent this from happening, those in line usually stand so close to each other that they touch. This may seem unnerving at first, but it is necessary to keep people out of each other’s way.

Be aware of body language

A handshake, which is a standard Western gesture, is a bit more complicated in India. With two people of the same sex, it is relatively common practice. However, if it’s a meeting of the opposite genders, the man will most likely need to wait for the woman to extend her hand first, but some may not shake hands at all with the opposite gender. There are other greetings, such as holding one’s palms together and saying ‘Namaste’, it will all depend on the region, religion, age of the participants, and other factors.

Conclusion

To wrap it up, working with Indians and doing business with them is a pleasure, but don’t forget to follow certain standards of behavior and show respect for their culture. There will always be an element of culture shock if you are visiting from a more western country, yet there is much potential to learn and grow from such changes too. 

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When companies send their employees on international assignments, they should always support them with the appropriate preparation process. A company has a big responsibility to ensure that they have adequately arranged cultural training, advice for getting settled and psychological support if needed. In addition to the relocation services, such as house search, visa support, household goods shipping, etc.

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