English is one of the fifteen official languages in India and is the only one which is universally spoken by the educated sections of society.
English is deemed to be neutral and does not carry any of the regional connotations which cause so much friction in Indian political life. Therefore, many Indians speak excellent, almost perfect English and it would be unusual to meet any business person engaged in international trade who was unable to converse in the language.
As with many Asians, Indians find it very difficult to say no – feeling that to do so would be offensive and lead to difficult ongoing relationships. Thus, when faced with disagreement, you are likely to encounter vagueness and lack of commitment. Answers such as, ‘We’ll try’ or ‘Yes, but it may prove difficult’ should be viewed with great suspicion and will probably mean ‘no’. The danger is that you will be told what people think you want to hear, rather than any unpalatable truths. Do not attempt to force your Indian contacts to be more direct and forthright than they feel comfortable with otherwise you may frighten them away.
Always try to be specific in your question -asking. If you ask the question ‘We are OK for the deadline on Friday, aren’t we?’ the answer will probably be yes. A better question would be, ‘Can you tell me exactly when we are in the process right now?’
As Indians are highly family-oriented, do not be surprised if many meetings begin with questions about your family. Such small talk is considered to be highly civilised behaviour and a good way to establish meaningful dialogue later in the proceedings. Do not be over-eager to move things onto an empirical business basis too quickly.
Written and Produced by Keith Warburton
This country profile has been produced to give a short overview of some of the key concepts to bear in mind when doing business with contacts in India. It is intended to be an aid to business people who have commercial dealings with counterparties in the country but should not be seen as an exhaustive guide to this topic or as a substitute for more substantial research should there be a need.
With this in mind, we have covered the areas which are key to a better understanding of the cultural mindset underpinning business dealings in India and which are, quite often, extremely different from the approach and thought processes associated with business in other parts of the world.
Therefore this briefing note is broken into short, bite-sized sections on the following topics: