India: Let’s Make a Deal! – Part 1

2015-06-12

What you should know before you negotiate

Diversity of Indian Business Culture

Like the rest of India, Indian business culture is also very diverse and heterogeneous. While the following points would help in negotiating a deal, it is important to be sensitive to, and appreciate, the diversity of Indian business culture, which varies across regions, sectors, and ownership patterns.

A large part of Indian businesses are family-owned or ‘owned’ by members of different social communities. Among these, Parsi, Marwari, Gujarati and Chettiar communities are the prominent ones, and have controlling interests in some of the largest Indian business houses.

Though many of these business houses are quite modern/western in their working and operations, and follow the international norms for doing business – nevertheless, it is useful to understand their specific community culture.

In addition, there are differences between the government-owned public sector companies, which are more often bureaucratic and hierarchical, compared to many of their private sector counterparts, and the ‘new economy’ service sector companies [IT, telecom, insurance, etc.], which are in turn more egalitarian and flexible than the traditional manufacturing-sector firms.

There are also regional differences in business etiquette. For instance, broadly speaking, the southern Indian companies are more conservative when compared to the north, or the western part of the country. These sectors, in turn, tend to be more individualistic and assertive than the eastern portion of India.

Language

Presenting and exchanging business cards are a necessary part of doing business in India. You must bring plenty since people exchange business cards even in non-business situations.

English is the common language for conducting business, and therefore, it is not necessary to get your card translated into any Indian language. If you are not from an English-speaking country, then you must get your brochures and other promotional material prepared in English.

Though widely spoken and used, there are nuances of Indian English which are quite native. For instance, there are local meanings of terms like ‘Himalayan blunder’ [grave mistake], ‘godown’ [warehouse], ‘deadly’ [intense or very good], etc. Similarly, you may find people using terms like ‘cousin-brother’ or ‘cousin-sister’, or overuse terms like ‘actually’, ‘obviously’, ‘simply’, etc., in their sentences.

In addition, the pronunciation varies widely across the country, which can sometimes make it difficult to understand spoken English. You can, however, request a person to repeat what s/he has said slowly. Such a request from a foreigner is not considered as a discourtesy.

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