India is one of the most promising non-European markets which creates many opportunities for entrepreneurs, including entrepreneurs from Poland. However, the establishment of a stable relationship and development of economic activities in this area involves overcoming many cultural barriers, which occur here at practically every stage of business activity. Taking these differences into account is the key to success when confronting Indian business partners.
It is no secret that this country is extremely diverse in many respects. One of them is communication, which can cause a number of problems, as the people of India use, in total, more than 800 languages spoken by nearly a billion citizens. Fourteen of them are official languages, of which Hindi is the most popular for foreigners. In business, however, it is English that is used primarily. While it is possible to communicate in this way with senior managers, it might be difficult to communicate with employees of e.g. factories or mines, who are often even illiterate. Therefore, this country is a challenge for businessmen who are trying to make it in this market. Thus, it is worth learning the rules regarding the conduct of business in India before the first meeting.
Preparation for a meeting
The meeting itself should be scheduled well in advance and confirmed one week before arrival. When planning a trip, you must also take into account that there is no hurry in India and that the negotiations themselves may last longer than expected. Therefore, the possibility of returning to the country at a later date than planned should be considered in order to avoid the stress of another unplanned meeting falling on the return date. After all, the Indians value punctuality even though they are not punctual themselves, and any attempt to rush them may send a negative message. Companies and institutions in India usually work from 9 am to 5 pm, from Monday to Friday. However, it is worth planning a visit between October and March, when temperatures are not yet at their maximum and there are no monsoons.
Before the meeting, the agenda should be presented for Indian partners to read it, and after the meeting a note should be sent with a summary of the negotiations. Moreover, do not be surprised to hear personal questions, e.g. about your family, before going to the heart of the matter. This helps establish a relationship and show partners what kind of people we are, especially since Indian businessmen prefer to do business with people they know and trust. It is also important to delegate persons holding positions at the same level as the representatives from India to the meeting. If the level of the hierarchy is not equal, the meeting will be of informative nature rather than taking the form of negotiations.
Indian culture is ceremonial in nature, so it is worth paying particular attention to the observance of the hierarchy and knowledge of the etiquette, especially the manner of greeting one another. In India, you should first greet the elderly and people in a higher social position. Although certainly everyone has heard of caste division, in business this is generally not a determining factor. Men greet each other with a handshake. However, this gesture is rarely practiced with regard to women, especially since women are still not considered as equal partners in business in India. Nevertheless, a symbolic gesture of holding the palms of both hands together under the chin and bowing slightly, i.e. a greeting known as Namaste, will be welcome. In North India, you should address partners using their title and surname, and in the South, it is advisable to use the partner's title and first name.
An important element of etiquette is also the exchange of business cards, which in India should be given with the right hand, supported with the left hand at the wrist. When receiving a business card from a partner, you should also take it with your right hand and read it carefully before putting it into an elegant case.
Dress code and negotiations
Regardless of the circumstances, you should dress up for negotiation meetings according to the formal dress code, that is stick to dark colours. Despite difficult climatic conditions, men should wear a suit, while women should wear clothes covering their shoulders and knees. The rules regarding dress code can only be relaxed when relationships are already established and our business partners dress less formally themselves.
As far as negotiations are concerned, be prepared for at least three stages of the talks. The initial stage always includes the so-called small talk to create a friendly atmosphere, which is very important in this culture. Indians like to talk about their family, personal life and they appreciate it when someone engages in a chat with them. The actual talks, on the other hand, may include extremely strong negotiation techniques such as bluffing, sudden toughening of the position and bargaining. If we keep a certain margin of compromise and flexibility, Indian partners may even agree to less advantageous solutions when we convince them of the real possibilities of making a profit in the future. The final stage is the closure and implementation of the contract, where cultural factors must also be taken into account.
In addition to a high level of patience, in India, as in other Asian countries, an important aspect is the fear of losing face. Therefore, the negotiators will not say "no" outright. We should not refuse either as it may be seen as a faux pas. Indian style of negotiation is a high-context style. You may even get the impression that your partners say one thing, do another, and think something completely different.
It is also worth remembering that there is a hierarchy of age in India, so younger representatives should have supporting roles and often agree with older people in their organisation. You should also bring gifts to a meeting as they are extremely important in establishing relationships. Gifts should be given and received with both hands and opened after the meeting.
Indian culture is characterised by extremely abundant and expressive gestures. Non-verbal communication accounts for almost 55% of all communication in India. However, it is much different than in European culture. For example, if you move your head up and down, it will mean nodding in agreement in Europe, but a negative response in India. Side-to-side tilting of your head, on the other hand, means "yes".
Crossing your arms on your chest with a serious look on your face, in turn, is a sign of disrespect. Sticking out your tongue, on the other hand, is considered an expression of respect in India.