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The Smart Techie was renamed Siliconindia India Edition starting Feb 2012 to continue the nearly two decade track record of excellence of our US edition.

Bridging the Business Culture Gap with India

Anirban Dutta
Thursday, June 1, 2006
Anirban Dutta
So you want to get on the India train? You read about India in magazines, listened to both sides of off-shoring argument, got your blood boiled hearing Lou Dobbs just in time to calm it by digesting Friedman’s analysis of India in “The World is Flat”. The point of this article is to provide a crash course that will help you avoid a lot of frustration in your own personal sojourn.

India is a testament of extreme cultural diversity. Although it is one country, the regional, religious, socio economic differences create very different behavior patterns among Indians. This article will focus on the segment of Indian society with whom you will mainly interact in the business setting. This group typically defines middle to upper class Indians that have white-collar jobs in IT, finance or other private sectors. Although this group of white-collar workers is increasingly working with westerners, they will accidentally push your wrong button, maybe in the worst possible time. If you are aware of what to expect, you will respond better.

Time is not money yet
I am often on “over the phone” business meetings with Indian counterparts who join in 10 to 15 minutes late. India has always had a laid back culture when it comes to matters of time. I constantly see the time aspect improving as the attitude towards time is changing. Besides the cultural factor, in all fairness to India, there are a few reasons for the delay in punctuality. First, the traffic in Indian big tech cities is horrendous especially during office hours. Often people get stuck and cannot make to the office in time to attend the meeting. Second, the telecommunications infrastructure is still not very developed in India. A lot of the Indian business organizations only have ‘so many’ active lines through which the employees can dial an American number. It is not uncommon that these lines are all being used at the same time and it is very difficult for the people to attend the meetings.

Don’t judge solely by initial quietness and lack of participation

In the heydays of the dot com boom, our organization used to get a lot of programmers from India who came to work on a work visa. One such member was Sri (real name not used). The guy was extremely reserved. People initially viewed his shyness and non-participation in team meetings as a lack of knowledge. Soon, we found that he was a true J2EE rock star. We also discovered his hidden sense of humor. Sri is not unique in showing this type of behavior. You will experience many Sri’s especially in technology or quantitative fields, who take time to open up at first.

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