For many associations growth is a key priority urging them to explore new market opportunities. India ’s pluralistic population consists of 80% Hindus, 12% Muslims and 8% members of other ethnic groups. The business culture is diverse and varies depending on the region. Another factor which influences the style of working is whether people work in the government (public) sector or traditional manufacturing sectors, versus the more flexible and faster-moving technology and service sectors.
Here are a few tips for associations trying to do business in India:
Relationships and respect
Indian culture is generally group-orientated, so asserting individual preferences may be seen as less important than having a sense of belonging to a group, conforming to its norms and maintaining harmony amongst its members. Building lasting and trusting relationships is very important: Indians usually want to do business with those they like and trust.
Although Hindi is the official language across India, many of the states have different local languages, some more than one. English is the most widely-used business language. Being friendly is important in Indian culture, and communication is generally indirect. When responding to a direct question Indians may answer ‘yes’ only to signal that they heard what you said, not that they agree with it! Open disagreement and confrontation are best avoided, so you may not hear a direct ‘no’.
Gestures & body language
Avoid physical contact with people except for handshakes. Hindus (in southern India) and Muslims consider the left-hand unclean, so use it only if unavoidable. When pointing at people use your whole hand. Indians may shake their head in a movement similar to a western ‘no’ when they are signalling ‘yes’.
Expect negotiations to be slow and protracted. Delays are often inevitable, particularly when dealing with government. Be prepared to make several trips to achieve your objective, be patient and accept that delays occur. Indians view impatience or pushiness as being rude. Indians love bargaining and you need to leave room for concessions.
Initial contacts & meetings
Before initiating business negotiations in India, it is highly advantageous to identify and engage a local intermediary, to help you bridge the cultural and communications gap and manoeuvre you through India’s intricate bureaucracy.
The article authored by MCI Delhi’s Managing Director, Samir Kalia, was published in the latest issue of MCI’s owned publication for association news and global trends, FOCUS magazine. Download your free copy and get more insights on the how to grow your business in India, as well as the areas for further consideration here.
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