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