by Guarav Bagwe
was on the verge of calling it quits. He remembered the time he had been excited
at the prospect of entering into a strategic partnership with this particular
Indian firm. The negotiations had taken off smoothly but soon misunderstandings
had taken their course. Jack had attended several meetings and tried to speed up
matters but the Indians simply hadn’t responded with a feasible project plan.
They had spent hours rambling about long-term repercussions without any concrete
points and felt that Jack was being too hasty with the implementation. Soon,
they had begun to doubt his intelligence and sincerity. The distrust only grew
and things didn’t seem too optimistic for the deal…
Amongst of all of the stories, one has been hearing about the new-age Indian economy, this one is perhaps the least spoken about. However, it is not too uncommon. Often, managers such as Jack, forget how culture defines the way one interacts and communicates in a social environment. Doing business in a foreign land requires a multi-faceted understanding of its culture and business environment so that one can adapt to differences smoothly.
The lack of urgency amongst Indian companies, such as the one Jack was dealing with, cannot be confused with a lack of desire to do business with Western companies but simply a manifestation of the “Indian Standard Time” phenomena. As people, Indians are not particularly renowned for their punctuality and this is reflected in the pace of business where delays and interruptions are a part of accepted culture. One of the reasons for this is that time is generally not thought as the yardstick for planning activities but rather the plans are contingent on other people and events, and therefore can—and do—get changed.
Business in India is all about building relationships. This must take place at a business level and at a personal level. One needs to take the time to get to know one’s potential partners in order to develop professional trust. A casual conversation before a business meeting could be a part of this “ice-breaking” process. Topics of conversation could range from the riches of the Bombay Stock Exchange to cricket. Do not be taken aback if you are asked some 'personal' questions about your family, children, etc. Similarly, showing hospitality is part of the negotiation process. Often meetings start by offering tea/coffee and snacks. It is courteous to accept the offer.
Indians are very good hosts and will therefore, invite you to their homes and indulge in personal talk often. The woman of the house will generally go to great lengths to prepare something she knows you'll enjoy. All this is very much a part of business. On your part, you’ll earn bonus points if you treat your host’s family with courtesy and respect.
Negotiating with the Indians is a skill that takes time to develop. A typical Indian’s day is filled with negotiation (Westerners don't negotiate at the supermarket; Indians often do.) When negotiating one must avoid using high-pressure tactics and being confrontational or too forceful. Criticisms or disagreements should be expressed with the most diplomatic language. Indians would generally tend to avert the use of "no" by using phrases such as "We'll see", "I will try" or "possibly.” Perhaps, the easiest ways of negotiating is through silence. Nothing is more frustrating for an Indian than a deal getting done through long interludes of silence. It is important to know that Indians do not simply base their business decisions on empirical data and PowerPoint presentations. They rely heavily on mental and emotional faculties such as intuition, feeling and faith to guide them. Patience is the essence.
It’s the same language but spoken with a distinctly different flavor. If you don't understand what someone has said, don't worry; they don't mind repeating themselves. While the usage of phrases such as “Please” and “Thank You” are matter-of-fact for the Westerner, an Indian may not necessarily feel the need to mention them. Indians may express their pleasure with a smile or a mere nod. Indian languages, unlike English, differentiate between peers and those who command respect. Therefore, Indians tend to address people as “Sir” or “Ma’am,” or affix the title “Mr.” “Ms.” or “Mrs.” before their names. Learning a few basic Indian greetings can surely help win some smiles.
This basic understanding of the cultural context of Indian business will be crucial in getting the best deal out of India.Inc.
Here is an additional list of DOs and DON’Ts for the flight:
expect delays—in the office, on the roads, in the airports
DO clearly define the scope of a project and deadlines
DO routinely visit or check up on the status of a project
DO expect your personal space to be violated
DO expect infrastructure challenges from IT to logistics
DO expect to find highly qualified, professional employees, especially in high-tech
DON'T shake hands unless asked to (especially with women)
DON'T give alcohol as a gift
DON'T expect to seal the deal in a bar or restaurant
DON'T expect e-mails to be returned instantly
DON'T order beef