Doing Business in India

For foreigners, especially those from Western countries, doing business in India can be difficult. Not least of all, because of the complex social customs which also govern how business is conducted.

There are several aspects of Indian business culture and etiquette that would be helpful to understand. Here are 5 that we feel are the most critical to understand if you wish to do business effectively here.

1. Indian society is hierarchical. What this means: Junior employees may not always speak up in meetings or contradict their superiors especially in public. If you have an Indian subordinate, don’t expect him or her to be candid, especially when it comes to giving bad news! Further, if the top person is not present in a meeting, do not expect a decision to be made by juniors.

2. Indians have a hard time saying no. What this means: You may be under the impression that your Indian partners have accepted a deadline, just because they haven’t said no. Guess again. This is a major cause for frustration among several foreigners, but the key to overcoming this challenge is to watch out for a the non verbal cues, probe to understand potential obstacles which may not be voiced immediately and create a plan to overcome these.

3. Personal and professional frequently mix. Relationships will often precede business or follow as a result of business transactions. You may be asked personal questions (are you married, how old are you, what do your kids do etc.), and you may be invited for family functions.

4. Punctuality is not as valued as in the west. It is common to be a bit late for meetings — however, if you are meeting someone more senior than yourself, you are expected to be on time or at least arrive no later than the senior person.

5. Price is very important, and often will be the most important factor during negotiations. However, “cheap” is not the way to go — “cost effective” or “value for money” is.

These are just a few aspects of Indian business culture and etiquette. There is an unlimited number of nuances in addition to these — for example, variations by region, generation, rural vs. urban differences and so on. However, we hope this serves as a starting point for those new to India!

iRikai has helped several foreign companies understand how to do business in India / interact effectively with Indian counterparts. We offer customized Indian business etiquette courses onsite locally in New Delhi (NCR region), as well as online via web conference all over India and around the globe.