8 Unwritten Rules for Doing Business in India

The country of India, with its mushrooming economy and strong position in Asia, has enacted dynamic changes encouraging international investments and trade with the west.  As such, it’s a hotspot in the world of enterprise, and plenty of companies are rushing to establish relations on the ground level. Despite burgeoning modernity, India remains a highly traditional country, which comes into play in their business exchanges.  Here are some key rules to follow as you conduct business with Indians in order to make the best impression:

Image 6Avoid wearing leather.  India is a highly religious country, with the majority of the population practicing Hinduism.  As cows are considered sacred in the Hindu tradition, make sure not to wear any leather accessories to avoid offending any devout colleagues you may be working with.

Watch what you eat.  Similarly, if you’re going out for a business lunch, don’t order beef.  To be extra-safe, avoid dishes with pork also, as Islam is India’s second most common religion.  Chicken is fair game, but many people in India observe a vegetarian diet, which you may wish to practice while there.  It goes without saying that anything you order will be delicious.

Address people by their titles.  Proper titles hold great significance in Indian culture, due to their caste system, which still dominates much of the social and business world.  If someone introduces themselves with a certain title, always remember that.  Also, be sure to defer to elders and senior colleagues.

Greet colleagues appropriately.  It is the culture to shake hands upon greeting, though Indian women generally don’t shake hands with men; if you’re a woman, it is appropriate to offer your hand to an Indian man to shake, but not the other way around.  Greeting with a small bow and hands pressed together prayerfully is also appreciated.

Have business cards at hand.  Exchanging business cards is a very key protocol in Indian culture, so make sure you have yours ready.

Image 7Don’t rush into business.  Indian business proceedings only come after a relaxed session of small talk, so be patient.  It is considered polite to ask about colleagues’ family, hobbies, and so on and let the conversation organically progress into official dealings.

Be aware of your body language.  Indians like their space; be sure to keep a respectful two to three feet between yourself and whoever you’re talking to.  A person’s head is considered highly spiritual, so make sure you don’t touch anyone’s head or hair.  Feet are considered unclean, so never point your feet or shoes at someone.  If you touch someone with your feet by accident, apologize.

Drink the tea.  If someone offers you tea or coffee, always accept, even on a hot day.

While this is certainly a lot to remember, you will find your Indian colleagues very warm and hospitable, eager to welcome you and thrilled when you demonstrate an understanding of their culture.  If you are able to speak to them in Hindi, you will go far towards cementing a good relationship.  Contact us for information on beginner’s Hindi courses, and be on your way to learning a new language!