Indian Communication Styles

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.

A brief overview of some key concepts to consider when doing business in India

Written and Produced by Keith Warburton

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Overview

India is notoriously difficult. It scores badly on the ease of doing business index and a lack of investment in infrastructure over the past twenty to thirty years can test even the most seasoned of business travellers. So why bother with India when there are easier potential markets?

We feel you really do need to look at doing business in India for a number of very strong reasons. Firstly, India stands poised to become one of the world’s largest economies over the coming years as economic liberalisation kicks in after decades of political stagnation. It has a population of almost 1.3 billion of which 50% are under the age of 30 and therefore the consumer potential of the country is almost limitless. Secondly, the lack of historical investment in the country means that India needs everything. You cannot point to a sector which is not crying out for investment and new product ideas. Thirdly, and very importantly, India has a highly educated, aspirational workforce who can help you build your business on the ground.
India is the ‘next big thing’ – you really cannot afford to ignore it.

You cannot ignore India but if you want to business in India successfully, you need to understand it. You need to understand the cultural drivers and expectations of the people you will be working with when you get there and you need to understand how that cultural knowledge can help you succeed in-country.

This country profile provides an overview of some of the key aspects of Indian business culture in a concise, easy to follow-format. The document includes information on:

  • Background to business
  • Business Structures
  • Management style
  • Meetings
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Women in business
  • Entertaining
  • Top tips