My last blog post provided some quick tips when dealing with China. I wanted to provide the same kind of 2 minute explanation for business etiquette tips for India.
Salutation and greeting
India is a more westernized country (than China) therefore it is perfectly acceptable to use the common handshake when meeting and greeting someone. The traditional Indian greeting can be performed by joining palms to each other (at chest level), fingers pointing upwards, bowing slowly and saying Namaste.
When dealing with someone with whom you have a relationship, use the person’s title and name (Doctor, Professor, Mr, Mrs, etc).
Know the background of names
Many names or suffixes have particular meanings and I recommend you study them before meeting your Indian counterpart. As an example, the common family name of Singh always indicates that the holder is of Sikh decent.
The suffix jee (such as Banerjee) or kar (Chandraskar) indicate the person comes from a high cast. Any name that sounds Arabic indicates muslim decent.
If you will be dealing with India often, I recommend you print business cards that have English on one side and Hindi on the other. This is a show of respect and will be well received.
Business cards should be presented and received using the right hand. When you receive a business card, take a second to read and then store it respectfully in a business card holder or case. Do not simply stuff it in a pocket (which is disrespectful).
Importance of a relationship
When an Indian business is attempting to win you as a customer, then they will adopt very western approaches (for sales and marketing).
However if you are trying to win an Indian customer or building a relationship with an Indian partner then you need to understand that Indians prefer to deal with people they know and trust. If you can find a mutually trusted third party (that can conduct the introduction) then take advantage of that. Otherwise understand that building the relationship (aka gaining trust) may take time and effort. To build a business relationship you will have to show genuineness, expertise, professionalism, honesty and trustworthiness.
Conducting the meetings
All meetings should be organized in writing and then confirmed by phone. It is recommended to send a reminder as the meeting date/time approaches. Ensure that your meetings are not on or close to the following common holidays: Independence day, Diwaly or either of the 2 Eids.
Indian’s are usually fairly punctual but a 10 minute delay is considered acceptable. It is important for you to know that personal responsibilities are more important than business and a last minute cancellation, due to family obligations, should not be badly seen (is culturally acceptable).
When entering a room with multiple people, always approach people based on their business seniority. Approach the most senior person first then work “your way down”. It is recommended to make small-talk before the meeting officially starts. Safe topics are business news, cricket, the Bombay stock exchange, the rich history of India, etc. Avoid socially taboo topics like poverty, beggars, cast system, etc.
It is common practice to ensure that the ultimate decision maker may not be part of the business meeting. This is a way to ensure they will “not be forced” into making an on the spot decision. Decisions are only made by the most senior business people and these people rarely participate in the early stages of negotiations.
Indian’s will rarely say No as it is seen as being rude therefore offensive. Indians will be very diplomatic and tactful (as should you). Listen for terms that may be construed as a hidden No such as “we’ll see”, “we’ll try”, “possibly”, etc.
When your business dealings are completed successfully, invite your Indian counterparts to a celebratory dinner to celebrate. Honor is important and inviting them to a celebratory dinner will be seen as honoring them.