Improving your communications with Indian developers

The South Asian head bobble has its roots in British colonialism when subjects were too afraid a “yes” or “no” answer would contradict the one asking a question. Today’s South Asians are more than willing to contradict you without fear of reprisal, but their cordial manners often hide their true feelings. Innuendo, after all, is where cultural divide wedges itself.

Where westerners perceive apathy in an Indian, the conversation should proceed until a firm “yes” can be established. “We’ll try” or “maybe” probably means “no”. And when communicating with anyone from a different culture, one should always avoid sarcasm or implying something. For instance, “Let’s get that project done Friday” will likely delay your project. Instead, “The deadline is Friday for that project” makes it happen.

Business conversations between westerners and Asians often break down because sensibilities are insulted by mistake and often without even knowing. Jumping into business before wading through the waters of cordiality is a frequent mistake. In other words, don’t “come out swinging” when you begin your conversation or meeting.

Here’s a few other things to consider the next time you engage your South Asian business resources:

  • Always talk about family
  • Always be specific
  • Be vegetarian unless you know they eat meat
  • Avoid using your left hand at a meal (that hand is used at the END of your meal)
  • Remove shoes when entering homes
  • Hindus don’t worship cows, but they do revere them in the same way a cowboy pays homage to his horse and would never eat it
  • Speak in your best Queen’s English
  • South Asia is not a transaction-oriented society, so remember that they’re used to bureaucrats slowing everything down
  • Competitive ethics are not important
  • Threats don’t work
  • Festivals are very important
  • South Asians are Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Jewish

4 Comments

  1. DB

    I am struck by how earnest a casual commitment is taken by them. On several occasions while in the region, I have tried to gently put off young men selling some good or service- only to be emphatically reminded of my “promise” on some subsequent day.

    1. I am amazed that they could catalog me…as I am sure that they meet and interact with far more candidate customers than me.
    2. That there is clearly no agreed upon “white lie” (maybe tomorrow) in place to allow for a graceful exit.

    • DB, I’m curious how much of this can be blamed on the British. The youtube video to which I linked seems to say that their communication style was a result of them. But the culture is also one of many contradictions historically, and not offending the many other religions, castes, etc. might be why they are less than straightforward at times.

      When I was in Northern India, I’ve never encountered such emphatic salesmen before that time. I wonder if you’re “promise” is a well-honed method for selling? I’m still struggling with my work managing developers in India, so I’ll let you know!

      Thanks for the comment!

      • DB

        Well….its always fun to blame the Brits. What- what?

        I do like the idea that the region is so cross sectioned with various creeds, beliefs, cultures, languages (etc.) that it has shaped a certain tolerance and “offence avoidance”.

        Of course the sales technique theory is probably the most likely…

  2. DB

    Good luck with the developers BTW-

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