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Exporting to India: Customs and Culture

With over 1.2 billion inhabitants, India is the world’s second most populated country. The many different cultures, religions, origins and languages make the country unique. For the past 20 years, the country has experienced many changes in terms of consumer goods, technologies, and ways of life.

Since 2000, India has managed to skip the intermediary stages of development thanks to its amazing growth. After the 2008 great recession, the country has experienced impressive growth compared to other developing countries.

Furthermore, the Indian economy is expected to grow by 6.1% in 2013-14 and to increase further to 6.7% in 2014-15. India is now the world’s second-largest producer of computer software. What should you know about Indian business culture?

Defined by its cultural and linguistic diversity, it’s advisable to understand the Indian culture and customs if you are planning to work with Indian companies or in India itself. Here are some tips about the Indian business culture.

First of all, you should be aware that the business culture can be quite different depending on the region. Southern Indians are often calmer and more conservative than Northern Indians who are more likely to be extroverted even if Southern Indian companies such as in Bangalore or Hyderabad tend to be progressive. These differences are also defined by the sector where Indian citizens are working in. Indeed, there is a huge difference between people working in the government or traditional manufacturing sectors and the technology and service sectors which are more flexible and fast-moving.

With regards to relationships, the Indian culture is generally group-orientated. As a consequence, building personal relationships with your business partners is very important.

While companies such as the internet-based ones may close the deal while the business relationship is still being established, others will only be able to negotiate before a stronger relationship is established. Business people in India usually only want to do business with partners they appreciate and trust, that’s why you should take care to become familiar with Indian customs and habits so you can understand how to form relationships with Indian professionals.

Respect is really at the heart of the business culture in India. Taking into consideration the age, status and rank of your colleague are essential. You should also always act in a proper manner when dealing with Indian partners. Even if you disagree, you must always remain friendly and never talk about sensitive subjects in public so people won’t become embarrassed.

In terms of communication, even if Hindi is the official language and a lot of local languages are spoken across the country, most Indian business people speak English well. However, avoiding jargon and slang is recommended.

Communication is usually indirect in India since being friendly is essential. For instance, people may give abstract answers instead of clearly expressing their opinions. You should use a similar approach when dealing with Indian people if you don’t want to appear as rude and negatively impact your business negotiations. Moreover, Indian people may not give direct feedback to their superiors; they may say what the person wants to hear or skip over the negative points instead.

Physical contact must be avoided in India, except for handshakes. Since Hindus and Muslims (respectively 80% and 12% of the population) consider the left hand unclean, you should avoid using it. You should also know that eye contact is not necessarily recommended; looking away is not a sign of dishonesty but a sign of respect in most cases.

These traits are only some examples of the Indian business culture. However, you may have noticed other behavior since both the different regions and sectors have a considerable impact on customs and habits.

What about you? What have you noticed when going to India (for business or personal reasons)?

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