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Business is a global enterprise that may require adaptation to cultural variety throughout the world. It is important to be respectful and careful about business etiquette when working with people in other countries; in addition to showing respect to business partners, it can also help build relationships in the global business community. Business etiquette in India has some particular customs and concepts that may be different than those encountered in Western countries. Learning about business etiquette can help businesspeople from all over the world establish good working relationships with Indian partners.
For those used to strictly structured days of meetings and appointments, business etiquette in India may be somewhat surprising and even frustrating. Meeting times are generally relaxed in some parts of India, which is meant to allow for unexpected interruptions or other problems that could disrupt the visiting businessperson's day. It may be a good idea to call to confirm a meeting time before leaving for the meeting.
In many cases, foreign businesspeople may be surprised to find that meetings also include an opening period for casual conversation and personal questions. Building relationships is essential in Indian business, and in some places it may be far more important to find out about the person being dealt with than the actual business at hand. It is important not to seem standoffish or insulted by personal questions; this customary process of trust and relationship building is often vital to the future of the partnership.
Many experts on business etiquette in India suggest that it is important to be polite at all times. People are generally referred to by formal titles, such as “Mrs.” or “Doctor,” unless permission has been given to use first names. Some etiquette experts also warn against using strong words of refusal, like the word “no”, since it can be perceived as rude and unyielding. More passive forms of rejection, such as “we'll try” or “perhaps,” are generally seen as more polite ways to refuse.
Business etiquette in India usually requires relatively formal business wear. Men should wear clean, pressed suits in muted colors. Women generally dress conservatively, in business suits with longer skirts or pants. This may not be true everywhere; a hip, youth-oriented TV station in India may allow for more casual dress codes, but it doesn't hurt to be conservative.
Many people in India are either Muslim or Hindu, factors that may influence business etiquette. Consider avoiding leather clothing or accessories, as Hindus believe cows are sacred creatures and do not use them for food or leather. If hosting dinner or lunch for partners, bear in mind that many Hindus do not eat beef and may even be vegetarian, whereas many Muslims do not eat pork. Vegetable-heavy dishes or vegetarian options are a safe middle road in many cases.
@Pippinwhite -- I've heard the same kind of thing, in reverse. I think Americans, especially, need to send someone to do business in India who can be flexible and can roll with the punches.
My husband's company sent a representative to India, and even though he was great at what he did, he was the last person they should have sent. This guy got stressed out if someone was two minutes late for a meeting, and sharing personal information was alien to his nature. I don't know why the company sent him. He managed to get the job done, but it was because his Indian hosts were accommodating, not him.
One of our employees is from India and she said she thought American businesspeople were downright cold when she first got here. She said the climate is more relaxed, and friendships are encouraged in India, whereas they're not so much in the United States, where people tend to have their work relationships and their personal relationships much more compartmentalized.
She said as she became accustomed to the way Americans conduct business, she could see some advantages, like appointments that began on time and the way meetings started where the focus was on the subject at hand. She said it was more efficient, but she still missed the way many Indian businesses were conducted.