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.
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This World Business Culture profile is designed as an introduction to business culture in India only and a more detailed understanding needs a more in-depth exploration which we can provide through our training and consultancy services.