India: Let’s Make a Deal! – Part 2

2015-06-12

Intermediaries, protocols, and the negotiating process

Intermediaries and Contacts

Foreign joint ventures and technical collaborations are not new in the Indian business environment. Well-known American, European and Japanese companies have been doing business in India for more than two – and even more – decades. Therefore, if you are representing a well-known global company, you will find that, by and large, Indians are comfortable and open to negotiation, and an intermediary is not required to establish one’s credentials.

If, however, you are representing a lesser known country or a small company, it will help to get some referrals from your other clients/partners in India.

Indian laws and bureaucracy are quite intricate and cumbersome. Besides the statutes of the Central government, there are numerous pieces of legislation which differ considerably across the states. It is, therefore, advisable to hire an Indian lawyer or liaison person, who can help you to maneuver through these intricacies.

Protocols

Though its importance may vary in degrees across regions and sectors, hierarchy matters in India.

Try to get your first appointment with the person who is high in authority in the concerned department/organisation. It is likely that s/he may later direct you to meet someone in the middle-level hierarchy, who would be actually relevant for your business. However, coming through the superior person is likely to help when it comes to implementation of decisions.

You will often find that, as a sign of respect, the subordinates stand up when the boss enters the meeting room. This is a normal phenomenon in the Indian context. For many people coming from more individualistic cultures, this creates a dilemma – to rise or not. The best option is to get up from your seat and greet him/her personally.

Despite gradual changes in societal values, respect for age, loyalty to one’s family, community or group, and practice of certain religious rituals are still observed in Indian work-settings, in varying degrees.

Women executives, in senior positions, are a relatively new phenomenon in the Indian business environment. If you are a woman, you will normally find people respectful and courteous, but not very comfortable in working with you for business deals. You may have to make extra efforts to get them to discuss business with you.

Negotiating Process

The pace of business meetings in India is comparatively far more relaxed than in some of the western countries, such as the United States.

Indians are somewhat lax about time. Even if you arrive on time, it is likely that the scheduled meeting may start with some delay, or that you are kept waiting. This often happens, and does not necessarily mean much. However, a long delay in the meeting can be a signal that you are being given less importance.

Indians do not directly jump into business negotiations; in fact, that may be seen as rude. Building a relationship is often considered a prerequisite to doing business.

Meetings normally start with small talk about non-work-related topics [ranging from weather to whether your journey was comfortable], before people start talking about business issues. Do not feel surprised if you are asked some ‘personal’ questions about your family, children, etc.

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