Around the World
May/June 2013, eSide Supply Management Vol. 6, No. 3
In this edition of eSide Supply Management, we're taking a trip to India, one of the most diverse countries in the world. India is a sophisticated, modern, industrial leader that is home to educated professionals and savvy consumers, as well as many primitive tribes and millions of poor people, making it one of the more complex countries for business.
It's advisable to make your business appointments by letter, and at least one month or preferably two months in advance. The best time for a meeting is late morning or early afternoon. Reconfirm your meeting the week before and call again that morning, because it's common for meetings to be cancelled at the last minute. Keep your schedule flexible in case a cancellation occurs.
Always send your Indian colleagues a detailed agenda in advance. Send back-up materials and charts and other data, as well. This allows everyone to review and become comfortable with the material prior to the meeting.
Indians are impressed with punctuality, so plan to arrive on time.
Meetings will start with a great deal of getting-to-know-you talk. In fact, it is quite possible that no business will be discussed at the first meeting. Good topics of conversation include marital status, family, your educational background, where you grew up or sports. Avoid topics such as politics, religions, the caste system or the Kashmir region.
Indians are nonconfrontational communicators. It is rare for them to overtly disagree, although this is beginning to change in the managerial ranks. Decisions are reached by the person with the most authority, and decision-making is a slow process.
In negotiations, most Indians expect concessions in both price and terms. It is acceptable to expect concessions in return for those you grant. Never appear overly legalistic during negotiations. In general, Indians do not trust the legal system, and someone's word is sufficient to reach an agreement. As India is a very hierarchical society, it is best to defer to the most senior person in the room.
Men should wear suits and ties. During summer months, you may omit the jacket.
Women should wear conservative pantsuits or dresses. Dresses should not reveal too much of your legs.
Indians do not like to express "no," either verbally or nonverbally. Rather than disappoint you, for example, by saying something isn't available, Indians will offer you the response that they think you want to hear. This behaviour should not be considered dishonest. An Indian would be considered terribly rude if he or she did not attempt to give you what you asked for. You may receive an affirmative answer that's deliberately vague about any specific details. Look for the nonverbal verbal cues, such as a reluctance to commit to an actual time for a meeting or an enthusiastic response.
Indian names vary based upon religion, social class and region. The following are some basic guidelines to understanding the naming conventions, although you will always find exceptions to rules:
Common cultural taboos. Lewd behavior and even simple PDA (public displays of affection) are highly frowned upon. Avoid touching people or moving/passing objects with your shoes. Winking and whistling should be avoided. Grasping the ears signifies sincerity or repentance, as ears are considered sacred. Pulling on your ears is a grave insult.
General dining dos and don'ts:
Indians entertain in their homes, restaurants, private clubs or other public venues, depending on the occasion and circumstances:
There are diverse dietary restrictions in India, and these may affect the foods that are served:
Table manners are somewhat formal, but this formality is tempered by the religious beliefs of the various groups:
Give gifts with both hands. In India, gifts are not normally opened in the presence of the giver. Gifts from your country are appreciated but they are not normally expected at the first meeting. You may give them once a business relationship develops.
Wrapping presents in green, yellow and/or red is the way to go. Avoid black or white.
To be on the safe side and avoid insulting your host's religion, stay away from any leather, alcohol, pigskin or dog-related gifts. Safe gifts include chocolates or flowers (no frangipani or white flowers, as they are for funerals).
Lisa Wolters-Broder is ISM's senior copy editor. She can be reached by email.
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