Cultures and countries are classified by sociologist in 2 main groups: high context and low context. Western societies are usually seen as low context and verbal communication is direct. India is one of the high context countries. Group harmony is a lot more important than you may believe. This is a hierarchical society in which hierarchy keys a really important role in all business interactions.
Mastering business etiquette in India is complicated. There are many things you should remember. Let us give you some important tips you will want to remember. Every single one will count and is a part of business etiquette in India.
It is really important that you know the position of the individual you deal with so that you can assess the ability to carry through a commitment and commit. When approaching a group, it is important that you first greet the senior figure.
SMS, Talking And Emails
Indians love technology. Mobile calls are really cheap. There is always an expectation that you will talk for a long time and do so often. Never be offended if you do not receive a reply via SMS or Email. You will get the answers you need through a verbal communication channel.
Language And Greetings
Remember that Hindu is a person, not a language. Hindi is the language. However, do not assume that everyone speaks Hindi. “Namaste” may be great in the north as a greeting but “Namoskar” may be appropriate in the Eastern part of India. When you meet someone that you do not personally know, use a formal title. If you do not know the name, say Madam or Sir.
A handshake is a highly acceptable gesture, especially in urban centers. You can combine that with “Namaste”. You are allowed to shake hands with women when in urban regions, unless you see non-verbal cues that dictate otherwise. Remember that men hugging is not a good idea. Also, never kiss the cheek of a woman.
There Are No NOs
Indians actually dislike confrontation and will rarely express a clear NO. You need to look for phrases and words that basically translate to no. One of the difficult cultural nuances that you have to master is the concept of losing face, which is really bad for Indians. They will not like it when anyone loses face, even when in a group, because of your actions. Always do all that you can to make sure that you will not cause the business counterpart to end up losing face because of your actions.
Always exchange business cards at the very first meeting. You do not need a Hindi translation as there are 26 languages that are official in the country. Always handle cards with respect and have many on you. If you see that a mobile number is not included on the card, ask for it!
Indian negotiations are usually pretty slow. You need to first build trust. All decisions are taken at a high level. If you see that the company’s Director is not present, you are at an early stage of the meeting and negotiations are still a long way to being over. You have to always be diplomatic in your approach. Indians tend to ask many questions that do not seem to be related. You may believe that this is a sign of disrespect but it is not the case. Bargaining is really common and you have to be flexible. With negotiations, you have to be sure that you allow enough time for them to take place.
You need to arrange meetings way in advance, in writing. Then, the meeting needs to be confirmed by phone, around one week before it actually takes place. Never have meetings near holidays. Do expect meetings with officials to change at the last minute. Dinner meetings are rare for business purposes. An official dinner is usually a large gathering, usually set up for socializing purposes. It can be frustrating to see that many conversations carry on at the same time in a meeting. In most cases this is a necessary part to reach conclusions and consensus.
Alcohol And Food
If you are hosting Indians, ask about what you should arrange and what dietary preferences exist. When referring to alcohol, you are not allowed to advertise alcoholic beverages in public but Indians do drink. In most cases you take alcohol before a meal. We are faced with a growing wine culture. Make sure that you ask what the person would like to drink instead of offering suggestions.