You Can’t Do Business in India
Challenges of Doing Business in India
India is a country intent on carving a place for itself in the global market. Economically, there’s no question that India is on the rise. In fact, it is thought that by 2050, India will be the world’s largest economy, giving rise to tremendous business opportunities. However, according to the World Bank’s 2012 report “Doing Business,” India ranked a disheartening 132nd in terms of ease of conducting business. Among the reasons for this are issues of culture, language, and time. Understanding these is crucial to embarking on a business venture there.
Breaking the Cultural Barrier
To begin with, Indian culture is unlike any other. It is a society with deep roots in a caste system. In terms of doing business, it means that Westerners, who may be used to more informal relationships with colleagues and supervisors, may be in for an eye-opening surprise. They won’t see, nor should they expect, a low-level employee engaged in a casual chat over a chai latte with a member of the management team.
Breaking Through the Language Barrier
Secondly, communication is an important part of all business relationships. In India, language can also pose a whole other set of challenges. India officially has 22 languages and over 4000 dialects. Though English is widely spoken in India, it’s a heavily accented English with numerous variances in dialects and connotations. Communicating ideas from Hindi, for example, to English may not work perfectly and misunderstandings can arise.
Differences in Body Language
Non-verbal communication also plays a large role in business dealings. Unfortunately, people tend to evaluate the body language of others based upon their own cultural references. This is a mistake, as many cultures have body language that conveys messages exclusive to them. India is no exception. For example, Indians have a head gesture that is a cross between a nod and a roll. To them, it signifies an acknowledgement or affirmative response. However, it could easily be misinterpreted as a negative response. It is therefore always wise to clarify the intention before making assumptions.
India Time versus Western Time
Finally, time is a relative concept in India. Western companies, used to strict adherence to deadlines may find it difficult to cope with constant delays. Time is cyclical in India, not linear. That means that it is very difficult to adhere to a specific time for any one event, because other events occur along the way. Rather than completing one task before moving on to the next, Indians may be engaged in several tasks at once, each being completed in due course.
Indian society can be difficult to navigate from a business standpoint. However, for those budding enterprisers willing to invest a little time and effort in some cultural awareness training, it can be highly rewarding. What about you? what’s been your experience?