5 Essential Facts about Indian Business Etiquette
Joan Robinson, a renowned Cambridge economist, once said: “Whatever you can rightly say about India, the opposite is also true.” Indeed, India is an extremely plural, multi-ethnic, multilingual society where it’s almost impossible to make generalizations without making mistakes. As a result, navigating Indian business etiquette might be a tricky thing for those who are not familiar with Indian customs and values.
In this blog, you will find 5 key facts about Indian business culture and etiquette that you need to know to succeed in your next work trip.
Prologue: a quick guide to Indian culture
Before we delve into Indian business etiquette, there are a few general facts about Indian society that you need to know in order to understand not only the way they conduct themselves when doing business but also the behaviour that is expected from your part.
- Indians’ values and behaviour are strongly dictated by their religious views. Some of these values include respect for authority, the importance of family, and respect towards elder people.
- As in many Asian countries, India places huge importance on the concept of saving or losing face. In these societies, a person’s ‘face’ refers to their dignity and respectability. An important part of Indian business etiquette is avoiding conflict or any type of embarrassing situation that might harm your interlocutor’s standing or reputation.
- Younger generations might be laxer when it comes to traditional values and societal norms, but you will find that, on the whole, Indian society is still relatively conservative, which means you will have to adhere to conventions, especially when dealing with elders and superiors.
Greetings and introductions
As we said before, India is a multi-ethnic and multicultural society. Hence, the best thing you can do is follow a flexible approach to introductions and greetings. Though Indian business etiquette requires a firm handshake, you will also see that some Indians use the namaste. If the context calls for you to use this greeting, don’t panic. All you have to do is bow slightly and press your palms together so that your fingers point upwards. If there are many people in the room, make sure you greet the eldest person first.
Another big part of Indian business culture and etiquette is the exchange of business cards. If someone presents you with their card, you can show respect by receiving it with your and attentively looking at it before you put it away.
Right after you greet your colleagues, investors, or potential business partners, it is common to engage in small talk before getting to business. Given the importance that family has in India, it is perfectly appropriate to include questions about this topic when you first meet someone. In fact, it may be the best way to build trust before a delicate business meeting. Just make sure the questions are general rather than personal or too specific!
Hierarchy and seniority are paramount in Indian business culture. As a result, it’s always preferable to use formal titles unless they indicate otherwise. For example, if you are meeting a professor or a doctor, you may call them profesar or chikitsak, respectively. If you are addressing a colleague who has the same rank as you or whose position you ignore, you can just use Madam or Sir. The use of the suffix “Ji”, on the other hand, is a common way to show respect to someone who is both older than you and superior in rank.
Being an official language in India and the most universal means of communication in the world, it is no surprise that English is the main language used for business in India. As soon as you start to navigate the Indian business world, you will see that most people are fluent in English and will usually stick to this language whenever there are foreign people in the room.
However, if you want to make a good impression, don’t take this for granted and try to use Hindi as much as possible, especially during introductions and informal conversations before and after meetings.
For example, instead of just saying “subrabhaat” (good morning) when you enter a room, you can add phrases like:
aaj aap kaise hain? – How are you today?
main ant mein aapase milakar prasann hoon. – I’m pleased to finally meet you.
aapako phir se dekh kar achchha laga. – It’s nice to see you again.
bahut dinon se mulaakaat nahin huee. – Long time no see.
Even if your pronunciation is not perfect, people will appreciate that you made an effort to use their language, which is bound to have a positive impact on your negotiations.
Since we are talking about language in Indian business culture, there is one more thing you should know about the way Indians communicate. While in countries like Canada and the US it is perfectly common to say “no” to a business deal, Indians may find it difficult to openly dismiss or reject a proposal. Thus, you should be ready to hear ambiguous phrases such as “we’ll see”, “we’ll try”, or “it may be difficult for us to comply with those terms”. You will have to learn to read between the lines and avoid being pushy.
Business meetings and negotiations
Indian people like to plan ahead and they are very respectful of each other’s schedules. If you want to avoid unnecessary tension before even arriving in India, make sure you announce your intended travel dates well in advance and show flexibility when it comes to scheduling dates and times for meetings.
At the same time, though Indian business etiquette requires punctuality, it is also perfectly common for meetings to finish later than planned as interruptions and digressions are an essential part of any successful business conversation. And, while things can get a bit slow by Western standards, it is very important to avoid rushing negotiations. Patience, good disposition, and cheerfulness are the key factors to succeed in Indian business culture.
In short, Indian business etiquette is about understanding Indian values and navigating cultural differences with grace, good character, and an open mind.
While most business managers will be willing to use English during meetings (again, English is the main language for business in this country) learning basic Hindi before your trip will help you make a better impression, gain your potential partners’ trust, and result in a much more meaningful experience for you at a personal level.
For this reason, we kindly invite you to take a free trial lesson with one of our native teachers of Hindi and experience the incredible benefits of a one-to-one learning experience with a local.
What do we mean by “incredible benefits”? We don’t have to explain it ourselves. See what Eden from in Canada has to say about her first few lessons with our teacher Neha:
I am absolutely loving the course! Neha is an amazing instructor and has made me feel so welcome. I always feel like I’ve learned so much after one lesson. It’s so helpful too, that she’s able to teach me about the culture in different areas of India to give me more context or more relevant information than I would get learning the language any other way!”
What are you waiting for? Send us a quick message telling us about your learning goals and join the Language Trainers today!