A Guide for Business Travelers to India – Part 1
Doing business in India? Then you’ll appreciate this ready reckoner from Priya Parul.
India is at a stage when it cannot be ignored. With a GDP growth of 7.8% (2011 Q2 estimate), India is one of the most rapidly developing economies. It is attracting multinationals and investors in large numbers. Visiting India, and doing business here, is quite an experience though. So whether you are an investor looking to meet future partners or you are an MNC employee here to engage with your global team, this post may just be what you need to read.
Geography: Delhi, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad are the most prominent cities for business purposes. While Delhi, being the capital, is the seat for all governmental activities, Mumbai is the financial capital. Bangalore and Hyderabad are the IT hubs, and Ahmedabad is emerging as a strong investment destination with a number of special economic zones coming up. Whereas Delhi is to the north, Ahmedabad and Mumbai are in the west. Bangalore and Hyderabad fall in the southern part of India. This is helpful in order to keep climatic conditions in mind when travelling. The north experiences severe summers and winters; so, if you are travelling to Delhi (or anywhere in the north) during October-March, it is wise to carry warm clothing.
Business Behavior: Due to the large presence of multinational corporations in India, the etiquettes followed here are quite similar to the globally-accepted ones. This stems largely from the British influence dating back to the colonial rule. Compared to cultures like Japan, India is more absorbent of other traditions. This is perhaps due to the existence of a wide variety of cultures within India itself.
For a meeting, a handshake is acceptable as a form of greeting. If you are meeting a lady, however, it may be better to wait for her to extend her hand. Exchanging of business cards too takes place in a simple manner. Indians prefer to open conversations with small talk, usually bordering on personal. So if your host asks you about your family, do not think it to be intrusive. It is merely a way to make you feel at home.
Considerable importance is given to position and/ or rank. So if you are meeting your subordinates, do not be surprised if they insist on calling you Sir or Madam. Similarly, if you are meeting a senior, politely enquire how s/ he would like to be addressed.
Most Indians are comfortable with English but they may have a thick accent, depending on the part of the country they belong to. Similarly, they may take a while to understand your accent. So speak slowly and ensure you are being understood. Also, ask a person to repeat if you have not followed the thread of conversation.
Though Indians are quite tolerant about religious diversities, it is a wise move to not initiate discussions on religion. Political discussions are more acceptable. As with any self-respecting nation, India is fiercely proud of her cultural heritage and history. It is thus good to focus on the positive aspects of the growing and developing India than to dwell on the pain points like poverty, filth, and backwardness. Read up on the current affairs in order to have intelligent and safe small talk with your Indian colleagues.
The occidental cultures are more direct and to-the-point. You may find Indians different when it comes to this. A simple no would be said with a lot of politeness and hesitation. While interacting with Indians, it is good to be a little less abrupt and more evasive. E.g. if you wish to decline an invitation, do not say no directly. Instead, say, “It may be difficult but I’ll try.”
In a business interaction, the process is more important than the outcome. Indians will focus on the soft aspects of the interaction, e.g., the relationships being formed. So if you want a successful result of your visit, ensure you give as much importance to the people as to the numbers.
Do not be upset if your hosts or Indian counterparts turn up late for an appointment. Indians have a relaxed concept of time. So do carry enough material with you to keep yourself busy if your Indian meeting delegates do not turn up on time.
Check back tomorrow for part 2 of our India Business Travel Guide.