Cross-Cultural business communiacion in India

One of the most striking features about India, which any foreign traveler must appreciate, is the size and diversity of this country.
India is the seventh largest country in the world in terms of size, with a total landmass of 3,287,590 sq km. Located in South Asia, it has land boundary of 14,107 km with its neighbours [Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, Burma, Nepal and Bhutan] and a coastline of 7,000 km, which stretches across the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal in the Indian Occean.
India is a country of both diversity and continuity. It is a creative blend of cultures, religions, races and languages. The nation’s identity and social structure remain protected by a rich cultural heritage that dates back at least 5,000 years, making India one of the oldest civilisations in the world.
One of the fundamental components of Indian culture, vital for your business organisation to succeed, is an understanding of the traditions and ways of communicating with others that form the basis off India’s society.
It is advisable to schedule your appointment at least a couple of months in advance. If you are making your appointments before coming to India, do emphasize that you will be in India for a short period of ti

ime, if this is the case. It is also useful to reconfirm your meeting a few days before the agreed upon date.
Do be prepared for last minute changes in the time and place of your meeting. It is useful to leave your contact details with the secretary of the person, so that, in case there are changes, you can be informed.

Formal or informal communication:
• In general, people are addressed by their name [without the prefix] only by close acquaintances, family members, or by someone who is older or superior in authority.
• Do use titles wherever possible, such as “Professor” or “Doctor”. If your Indian counterpart does not have a title, use “Mr”, “Mrs”, or “Miss”.
• Do remain polite and honest at alll times in order to prove that your objectives are sincere.
• Don’t be aggressive in your business negotiations – it can show disrespect.
• The head is considered the seat of the soul. Never touch someone else’s head, not even to pat the hair of a child.
• Beckoning someone with the palm up and wagging one finger can be construed as in insult. Standing with your hands on your hips will be interpreted as an angry, aggressive posture.
• Whistling is impolite and winking ma

ay be interpreted as either an insult or a sexual proposition.
• Greet by pressing your palms together and bow slightly. Say “Namaste” (nah-mah-stay).
• Among the younger urban Indians, a ‘Hello’ or ‘Hi’ with a wave of the hand is also an acceptable form of greeting when making informal contact.
• Talking to a woman who is walking alone is not advisable, since it is likely to be seen as a proposition or other inappropriate gesture.
• Allow women to proceed first.
• Ignore beggars.
• Respect age and seniority.
• The comfortable distance to be maintained during an interaction is much closer in India than in most Western countries. In general, a distance of about 2 or 2 ½ feet is seen as comfortable. However, since India has very high population density, in public spaces [e.g., public transport, a queue, etc.], don’t be surprised if you find people almost rubbing against you.
Meetings, Presentations, and Negotiation Tactics:
• For scheduling, Indians do not use time so much as people and events. Therefore, be flexible.
• Appointments made early are helpful.
• Many businesses are family-owned.
• Subordinates stand when superiors enter the room.
• Meetings are very relaxed.
• Begin business conversation with small talk.
• Indians are enthusiastic about discussing politics and political figures.
• Be open and friendly.
• Presenting and exchanging business cards are a necessary part of doing bu
usiness in India. You must bring plenty since people exchange business cards even in non-business situations.
• Indians do not directly jump into business negotiations; in fact, that may be seen as rude. Building a relationship is often considered a prerequisite to doing business.
• Similarly, showing hospitality is part of the negotiation process. Often meetings start by offering tea/coffee and snacks. It is courteous to accept the offer.
• PowerPoint presentations are generally accepted to start the discussion. It is necessary, however, to send a more detailed proposal in advance. Often, the details of the proposal are vetted by some middle-level executive, who will then brief the superior about them.
Communications :
• There are more than fourteen major and three hundred minor languages spoken in India. The official languages are English and Hindi. English is widely used in business, politics and education.
• The word “no” has harsh implications in India. Evasive refusals are more common, and are considered more polite. Never directly refuse an invitation, a vague “I’ll try” is an acceptable refusal.
• Do not thank your hosts at the end of a meal. “Thank you” is considered a form of payment and therefore insulting.
Non – verbal communications:
• Indians do not maintain continuous eye-contact while talking with others. Direct eye-contact may be
e seen as intrusive. On the other hand, do not feel uncomfortable if you find an Indian gazing at you; this is because Indians are curious–to the extent of sometimes being intrusive–about foreigners.
• Standing with hands on hips is seen as aggressive.
• Do not point with your finger. Rather, use the hand with an upward palm.
• Do not hug or kiss.
• Among Indians, it is normal for them to use their hands to gesticulate while talking with each other. Folded hands, or hands in one’s pockets while talking are likely to be perceived as arrogant gestures.
• Shaking hands with women, since it involves physical touch, is not universally accepted in Indian society. Among the urban westernized Indians, you may find some Indian women offering to shake hands. However, it is advisable to shake hands only when it is offered. In most other situations, ‘Namaste’ is the safest way to greet–in fact, it will also be appreciated as a gesture of friendliness.
• Never point your feet at a person. Feet are considered unclean. If your shoes or feet touch another person, apologize.
• The head is considered the seat of the soul. Never touch someone else’s head, not even to pat the hair of a child.
• Beckoning someone with the palm up and wagging one finger can be construed as in insult. Standing with your hands on your hips will be interpreted as an angry, aggressive posture.
• Whistling is impolite and winking may be interpreted as either an insult or a sexual proposition.
Giving gifts, entertaiment:
• Gift giving is customary in India, and is seen as a sign of friendship. However, it is generally not expected at the first meeting.
• It is advisable not to give expensive gifts, unless you are very close to the person. Normally, large and expensive gifts are given only by family friends and close relatives–and for specific family occasions, such as a wedding. Since Indians try to reciprocate a gift, if it is too expensive, it can cause embarrassment for the recipient.
• Use red, yellow, green or blue coloured wrapping paper. White and black colors are considered inauspicious.
• Gifts are not opened in the presence of the giver. If you receive a wrapped gift, set it aside until the giver leaves.
• If you are invited to an Indian’s home for dinner, you must take some kind of gift, such as a box of chocolates or flowers. If your host has children, carrying a gift for the child [a toy or a book] is also appreciated.
• If you are visiting an Indian during a festival, it is customary to carry a box of sweets.
• If you are giving money as a gift, do remember that 11, 51, 101, 501, etc. are considered auspicious numbers. Your gift would be more appreciated if it is in these denominations.
• If you have worked or lived with Indians, a framed photograph with them as a gift would be viewed as a warm and friendly gesture.
• Different flowers have different connotations across India. If you are planning to give flowers, do check with the florist as to what would be appropriate. A bouquet of roses, however, is the safest choice across the country.
• Drinking alcohol is culturally not accepted in most parts of India. Many Indians do not drink at home. However, if your host drinks and keeps drinks at home, a bottle of scotch whisky or wine will be appreciated.
• Be cautious in giving a leather item as a gift. Since many Hindus are vegetarians, they may not appreciate items made of leather.
• A jewelry item is considered an intimate gift, and would be viewed as inappropriate if given by a man to an Indian woman. It is acceptable if the jewelry is given as a gift by a woman; however, gold jewelry is normally exchanged/given only among family and relatives.
• Cricket in India is almost a national pastime.
• Men are generally expected to wear a suit and tie for business, although the jacket may be removed in the summer. Women should wear conservative dresses or pantsuits. Skirts should cover the knees and blouses should reach high to the neck.
• Wear neutral colors.
• When dressing casual, short-sleeved shirts and long pants are preferred for men; shorts are acceptable only when exercising. Women must keep their upper arms, chest, back, and legs covered at all times.
• Women should wear long pants when exercising. The use of leather products including belts or handbags may be considered offensive, especially in temples. Hindus revere cows and do not use leather products.
• For social gatherings, wearing traditional Indian clothing it is seen as a gesture of friendship. Men would wear a kurta-pajama and women a salwar-suit.
Dinner Etiquette:
• Normally, lunch is for one hour, between 12:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.
• Refusing an invitation is rude.
• Business lunches are preferred to dinners. Hindus do not eat beef and Muslims do not eat pork.
• Be aware that many Hindus fast once a week and only eat fruit.
• Wash hands both before and after meals.
• Do not offer food from your plate to another.
• Business is done more at lunches than dinners.
• 10% is a sufficient tip in most restauraunts.
• If you are invited for dinner at a home, it is advisable to arrive 15 to 30 minutes late.
• In many Indian homes, one is expected to remove his or her shoes before entering. Observing this custom is particularly important if you or your family have received a personal invitation or if the function you are attending is a familial one.
• Do not be surprised if some of your Indian guests bring their own guests. Such behaviour is considered as a sign of their close informal relationship with the host, and not bad manners. In such situations, the host is expected to remain warm, gracious and accommodating.

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