Required reading for anyone doing business in India, with detailed analysis of cultural and communication differences. Example: in India a lack of emphatic “yes!” means “no”. Teaches Westerners to adapt to this.
India is no more a country than is the equator.
"Whatever you can say rightly about India, the opposite is also true."
We assume, unaware, that our culture is the best, normal, right. The development of this belief in our own culture is an important part of our ability to function effectively in it.
Causing someone to lose face:
- openly disagreeing with what someone says, especially if senior
- correcting what someone has said, especially if senior
- criticizing someone present
- challenging something someone says
- giving negative feedback
- not being able to answer a question one should know the answer to
- not being prepared in circumstances where you should be
- saying something is not possible
- admitting a mistake
- admitting you don't know
- admitting you're not on schedule, falling behind.
- asking for help or more time
The primary reason for communication in India is not an exchange of information, but to preserve harmony and avoid giving offense, thereby safeguarding and strengthening the bond between speakers. Any exchange of information that happens is welcome and appropriate, but not the main point.
In Western culture, (viewed by an Indian), indepepdence is viewed as the cherished ideal and dependence is seen as a stigma. In contrast the Eastern cultures place more emphasis on dependability. Parents ensure children grow up in an atmosphere where the parents are the role model of dependability. Such goals lead to indulgence and prolonged babyhood. But it creates strong bonds and provides an inner sense of security and strength.
1991 Hofstede survey of individualism:
Average is 42. Guatemala was 6.
When used as the initial response to something a Westerner says, "yes" should be seen for what it is : pure politeness and nothing more. (Like we might say "hm" or "uh huh".)
Indians avoid saying "no". Instead, they do it by not giving a real yes. Absense of a positive statement where "yes" is clearly desired or expected.
These things mean NO:
- responding with a question
- won't answer your question
- qualified yes ("maybe" or "should be possible")
- postponing ("let me ask my team")
- saying how busy they are
- agreeing at first, but then asking about it again later
These are ASKING FOR HELP:
- saying how busy they are
- saying something is taking longer than expected
- implying a deadline might be missed (you are supposed to ask why)
- something is more complicated than they thought
- talking about another team that recently needed and received help
- talking about a time when they received help in the past
These are NEGATIVE CRITICISM ABOUT YOUR PROPOSAL:
- avoiding any response
- repeating your suggestion
- a loud silence
- suggesting an alternative
- asking your opinion of your own idea
- only praising part of it
When Indians have a request to make, and not sure if the other person can agree to it (that the other person might need to say no) - they never actually make the request. Instead they make it clear through comments and observations that they could use some help if the other person was so inclined, then wait to see how the other person resopnds. If the person is willing to help, they will offer it. If they are unable or not willing, they will say nothing. This avoids the awkward position of having to turn down the "request" because no request was ever made.
If you want Indians to be more direct, you have to tell them several times, and give them time to get used to being what they regard as impolite. Give strong feedback as soon as you see the least sign of Indians doing what you've asked.
Don't telegraph the answer you want. They will say what they think you want to hear. Don't say, "That won't take long, will it?" or "Can you get it done by Friday?"
If you really want to know what they think, don't begin by telling them what you think.
"In America, it is easier to talk about money or sex than about power. People who have it deny it. People who want it do not want to appear too hungry for it. People who engage in its machinations do so secretly." - (Kanter)
Bosses do not empower subbordinates. They are expected to check-in constantly to get the boss's OK. Subbordinates should never act empowered.
When talking to a team, you must talk to the boss, not the subbordinates.
If you want a team to NOT consult you for everything:
1. tell them you want them to take responsibility and not check with you
2. explain why : that you find it inefficient and a poor use of your time
3. reassure them that even though what you're asking would feel uncomfortable in their culture, it's OK in yours
4. repeat the advice a number of times
5. give them time to practice
6. immediate positive feedback
To get beyond the "doing only what's told":
1. encourage them to apply the instructions to an entire category of things, not only what's said
2. encourage them to be more direct in questioning innaccurate or wrong instructions
3. encourage them to be more direct in suggesting a better way of doing something
The more guidance, the better. Explicit, detailed, specific instructions.
Indians don't admit when they don't understand, because saying they don't understand would be like saying the person giving instruction did a bad job.
So, when done, say, "What would you like me to explain again?"
Addressing questions or remarks directly to subordinates is likely to be seen by Indians as an attempt to circumvent the chain of command. Everything must go through the manager/supervisor.
Praise the team, not the individual. They regard themselves as family, collaborating, not competing. Praising one subordinate in front of the others is an insult to the rest of the group, and an embarrassment for the person singled out.
BEST PRACTICES : MANAGEMENT STYLE:
- Encourage Indians to use their own judgement and make their own decisions in areas you have delegated to them. They do not always have to check with you before acting.
- Encourage Indians to approach your subordinates directly about matters you have authorized them to handle. Indians do not have to approach your subordinates through you.
- Encourage Indians to question instructions they think are inaccurate or wrong, and praise them when they do.
- Encourage Indians to speak up if they know a better way to do something.
- Explain to Indians that you regard them as your equals in the relationship, not just hired hands. That you are relying on them to act as expert consultants.
- Explain to Indians that you fully expect them to ask questions if they have not understood you.
- Instead of asking Indians if they have understood you, volunteer additional clarification and see if they accept it.
- Encourage your Indian subordinates to speak up at meetings whenever they have something to say.
- Try to praise the whole team, not just one individual.
- Don't be surprised when younger Indians can be very Western in their behavior one moment, and very Indian the next.
In conversation : Indians are waiting for Westerners to interrupt them in the customary places, and when Westerners don't - (because to interrupt is rude in West) - the Indian assumes the Westerner has nothing to say, and keeps on talking.
Because of the expected overlap, Indians tend never to put anything important at the beginning of their remarks, because the other person isn't listening. They begin with ritual comments and then, when the other speaker has finished, and is paying attention, move on to the substance of their message.
MEETINGS : Indians meet not so much to discuss and deliberate, but to present the results of their discussions and deliberations.
Weaker relationships, such as virtual ones, buckle more quickly under the strain of cultural misundertstandings, and collapse much sooner when the going gets tough.
What creates trust?
- we know the person from extensive interaction
- the person is technically competent
- the person is reliable, follows-through and does what they say they are going to do
- the person gives you honest feedback, including correcting you when you're mistaken
- the person admits mistakes
- the person admits when he/she doesn't know or understand something
- the person is not afraid or too proud to ask for help
Pursue opportunities for virtual interacting:
- hold more virtual meetings that everyone attends
- make sure people identify themselves when they talk on a conference call
- use video-conferencing
- encourage team members to contact each other by phone, not email.
- create a website where you post pictures and personal information about team members