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Business Culture

India - Business Culture

India is a vast country with many cultural variations, and business protocol varies between regions and types of organisation. In general, you will find Indians very open and friendly, and the business culture fairly relaxed. At the same time, India is a very hierarchical society, in which people's status and roles are very clearly defined. You should always be respectful and deferential to senior people, and use professional, academic or personal titles when addressing Indians. There are relatively few Indian women in senior business posts.

The national language is Hindi, although a number of different languages are spoken. English is the main language of business and it is not necessary to translate English-language materials or business cards into Hindi.

You should arrange meetings in advance, avoiding national, regional or religious holiday times. Breakfast and lunch meetings are becoming common, but business dinners are generally for socializing rather than negotiating. Try to make initial contact with the most senior person in the organisation, even if they refer you to someone in a lower rank, as their influence may help your bargaining position.

Although you should try to be punctual for meetings, Indians have a relaxed and flexible attitude towards time, and may turn up late or reschedule at short notice. Normal business attire is a conservative suit and tie for men, although a short-sleeved shirt is acceptable in hot weather, and conservative dresses or trouser suits for women.

It is common to shake hands as a business greeting, although Indians will greet each other by bringing their hands together to their chest and bowing slightly. Business cards are exchanged on meeting; you should give and accept cards with your right hand and read them respectfully before putting them carefully away.

There is always small talk at the outset of meetings; this is often on general topics such as the weather or sports, but it is also normal practice in India to discuss family and other personal details. Indian business is based on relationships of trust and mutual respect, and Indians are keen to get to know their business contacts on a personal level, and to understand the wider context of their business, which may sometimes give westerners the misleading impression that they are unfocused. Business decisions in India are made not only on the basis of hard facts and data, but on personal feelings and intuition about people. Bargaining is common, and concessions expected.

Meetings are generally quite relaxed, but it is important to observe protocol regarding hierarchy, and address the most senior person first. It is quite common for meetings to be interrupted by callers, or to go off track, as Indians often deal with several tasks at a time.

Communications are courteous, and language is often indirect in order to avoid direct refusals which could cause embarrassment or disappointment. You will gain respect if you demonstrate self-restraint and patience, even though negotiations and decision-making are often very slow in India due to the complex bureaucracy and the likely need to consult senior members of the organizational hierarchy. Once agreements are made, they should always be honoured.

It is normal practice to give inexpensive gifts to business counterparts in India, such as a souvenir from your country, which should be wrapped in red, yellow, green or blue wrapping paper for luck. Gifts are usually opened later in private. If you are invited to an Indian home, take a gift such as flowers or chocolates, but check whether there are any local superstitions about specific types or colours of flowers.

You should respect the religious beliefs and practices of your Indian contacts. Many Indians are Hindus and do not eat beef; some are vegetarian. Note that the use of leather items such as belts and handbags may be regarded as offensive to Hindus. Some Indians are Muslim, and do not eat pork or drink alcohol.

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