Most of the people you, a foreigner, would be interacting with in your India business speak good English and they would likely be wearing Western style clothes. They would have most of the same consumer products city people have all over the world nowadays. But don't let this fool you, as India is an ancient culture, which has many contextual rules of behaviour and etiquette.
Though etiquette and business behaviour in India is not so radically different from the Western style as business behaviour is in Japan, Korea of India, there are significant differences. The good news is that most of these behaviours and mindsets can be learnt if you do your homework before meeting the Indians. Here are some quick guidelines.
The golden rule is: Be always sensitive to the context.
When doing business with India, never -
- Make the other person lose face. Though this is not as serious as the Chinese face saving Gei MianZi(, it is very important. Avoid shouting at an Indian or reprimanding her/him in front of peers.
- Accept every 'yes' as a real yes. Learn to recognise the "NO" as Indians don't say NO directly, unless it is a crucial issue.
- Lecture about poverty, dirt, bribes and social ills to Indians as they might interpret it as condescending coming from a foreigner. Indians are proud of their rich history and appreciate intelligent discussions with mutual respect, so avoid preaching about democracy, social equality and women's rights etc.
- Get nervous over frequent interruptions, digressions or bargaining in meetings and negotiations.
- Expect quick commitment as all decisions take time and may involve people not present in meetings.
- Never use your left hand for eating, serving, or taking food or in fact handing over or accepting things. The left hand is considered the toilet hand and thus taboo.
- Address business partners by their first name unless given permission to. Seniority is important to the Indians especially if you are dealing with a State owned enterprise or government body. Indians are more informal than other Asians and in some sectors the atmosphere may seem very egalitarian and informal.
- Get upset when someone asks personal questions about your age, marital status, income, and family background.
- Buy the same gifts for everyone in the same organisation. You need to show respect according to rank and seniority. Buy better gifts for the senior managers instead of buying the same for everyone.
In addition to the above rules of behaviour, a genuine understanding of the other's position, an appreciation of the other's culture and achievements goes a great way towards A forming a long-term give and take two-way relationship.
As in business with other Asians, doing business with the Indians is difficult if mutual trust and respect have not been achieved. Try to make this your main focus. Gaining mutual respect is the key to managing relationships with the Indians. When you gain the respect, you have the foundation for a long-term business relationship.