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Doing Business in India

Business Etiquette indiaIn such a richly diverse and complex country as India it is difficult to impart generic conclusions that can be used by those doing business there. Regionalism, religion, language and caste are all factors that need to be taken into account when doing business in India. Behaviour, etiquette and approach are all modified depending on whom you are addressing and the context in which they are being addressed.   

However, most of those doing business in India will do so in cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad and with a particular socio-economic class. This short guide to doing business in India will explore a few cultural facts and their influence on business culture and etiquette. These are in no way meant to be an all-inclusive summary on doing business in India but an introduction.


Language

Different states in India each have different official languages. Central government only recognises Hindi as the official language of India. However, when doing business in India, English is the language of international commerce.

Hierarchy

Of all the cultural influences that most impact Indian business culture, hierarchy plays a key role. With its roots in Hinduism and the caste system, Indian society operates within a framework of strict hierarchy that defines people's roles, status and social order.

For example, within companies manual labour will only be carried out by the "peon" (roughly equivalent to a 'runner'). It is not uncommon for the moving of a desk to take hours. This is because no-one in the office will carry out the task but the "peon", who, if otherwise engaged can not do so.

Doing Business - Meeting and Greeting

When doing business in India, meeting etiquette requires a handshake. However, Indians themselves use the namaste. This is where the palms are brought together at chest level with a slight bow of the head. Using the namaste is a sign of your understanding of Indian etiquette.

Names speak volumes about an Indian's background. For example, a Singh will always be a Sikh. The suffix "-jee" ( as in Banerjee) is a sign of a high caste. "Kar" (as in Chandraskar) denotes that person is of Maharashtan high caste. Arabic sounding names will be used by Muslims.

When addressing an Indian whom you know personally, always use the appropriate formal title, whether Professor, Doctor, Mr, Mrs or if you do not know their names then Sir or Madam will suffice.

When doing business in India, business cards should be exchanged at the first meeting. It is a good idea to have it translated on one side into Hindi, more as a sign of respect as opposed to linguistic necessity. Be sure to receive and give with your right hand. Make sure the card is put away respectfully and not simply pushed into a trouser pocket.

Doing Business - Building Relationships

Doing business in India involves building relationships. Indians only deal favourably with those they know and trust -  even at the expense of lucrative deals. It is vital that a good working relationship is founded with any prospective partner. This must take place on a business level, i.e. demonstrating strong business acumen, and at a personal level, i.e. relating to your partner and exhibiting the positive traits of trustworthiness and honour.

Doing Business - Meetings and Negotiations

Meetings should be arranged well in advance. This should be done in writing and confirmed by phone. Avoid meetings near or on national holidays such as Independence Day, Diwali or either of the two Eids. Avoid the heat by scheduling between October and March.

Punctuality is expected, although being 10 minutes late will not have disastrous consequences. Flexibility is paramount. Family responsibilities take precedence over business so last minute cancellations are possible when doing business.

When entering a meeting room you must always approach and greet the most senior figure first. Meetings should always commence with some conversation. This is part of the 'getting to know you' process. Favourable topics of conversation are the latest business news, the fortunes of the Bombay Stock Exchange or cricket. Avoid talking about personal matters and, if new to India, do not comment on matters such as the poverty or beggars.

If your business dealings in India involve negotiations, always bear in mind that they can be slow. If trust has not yet been established then concentrate efforts on building a rapport. Decisions are always made at the highest level. If the owner or Director of the company is not present, the chances are these are early stage negotiations.

Indians do not base their business decisions solely on statistics, empirical data and exciting PowerPoint presentations. They use intuition, feeling and faith to guide them. Always exercise patience, show good character and never exhibit frustration or anger.

When negotiating avoid high pressure tactics. Do not be confrontational or forceful. Criticisms and disagreements should be expressed only with the most diplomatic language. Indian society has an aversion to saying "no" as it is considered rude due to the possibility of causing disappointment or offense. Listen carefully to Indians' responses to your questions. If terms such as "We'll see", "I will try" or "possibly" are employed then the chances are that they are saying 'no'.

Once terms have been agreed you will be expected to honour them. When negotiations end successfully continue the relationship building process with a celebration dinner.

Doing Business in India

The above examples of differences in culture, business practices and business etiquette show the advantages cross cultural awareness brings. By tailoring your behaviour and approach to doing business in India you maximise the potential of your visit. 

Business Culture Guides

We offer free guides to doing business in many countries. Please visit Business Culture Guides for a full list.

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