Business practices in India

Do’s and don’ts

Helmsley Palace Hotel from New York had a failed advertising campaign in regards to Indian cultural heritage.

Their promotion included the slogan "In India it's the Taj Mahal.

In New York it's the Helmsley Palace.

Service and appointments fit for royalty - you - our guests."

Unfortunately, the organisers realised only later that they were actually inviting their guests to enjoy "royal"

customer service and conditions in a mausoleum.

Business Mentality

– In India you are likely to encounter two types of companies. The first is a traditional, family-run business, the second being a more modern hi-tech operation working with western business methodology.
– Being the boss usually means ‘the boss’ in India. As the boss you are expected to ‘play the part.’ Senior managers are not expected to engage in work which could be done by somebody lower down the organisation.
– Most decisions are made at the top of an organisation and it can be a waste of time negotiating at the middle levels of a company if top level approval has not already been given.
Working hours in India usually start from 10am. However, some companies in large cities such as Mumbai are known to start as early as 7.30am. This is an attempt to avoid congestion.


– There is and has been a hierarchical culture in India for a long time. Therefore greeting the eldest or most senior person first is usually most common.
– Indians consider it important to use a person's title wherever it is possible, titles such as "Doctor" or "Professor" etc. Use courtesy titles such as “Mr”, “Mrs”, or “Miss” for those without professional titles and wait to be invited to use first names.

The Art of Conversation

– The official languages are English and Hindi. English is widely used in business, politics and education.
Popular welcome topics include politics, cricket, films and, in recent times, Indian Economic Reforms. Take some time to do some preparation on these subjects, as it can be very helpful in building a positive relationship and gaining one's acceptance. It is important to appreciate that India is an ancient and rich civilization, of which most Indians are proud and happy to discuss.
– Although Indians are tolerant people, avoid discussing religious beliefs. Stay clear of the topic of their country's poverty and the relationship to Pakistan.
– Indians don't like using the word "no" as it is considered negative. Instead, what is common is to use something more acceptable like "maybe" or even just telling the individual whatever they want to hear. In terms of body language, if they say "yes" to a question while bobbling their head (a mixture between a shake and a nod), that generally signifies "no".

Body Language

– Sustained eye contact is not generally the norm, especially for a woman looking at a man.
– Indians do not generally touch as part of communication.
The distance between people is usually 3 feet apart.
– Standing with your hands on your hips will be interpreted as an angry, aggressive posture.
Never point your feet at another person as feet are considered unclean.
– Do not touch someone else's head, not even to pat the hair of a child. The head is considered the seat of the soul.

Business meetings and meals

Normal business dress for men is suit and tie. Since India has a warm climate, often just a full-sleeved shirt with a tie is also acceptable. It is also important to select neutral colours, which are subdued and not very bright. For foreign women, pant-suits or long skirts are appropriate, which cover the knees, are more acceptable to wear.
– Indians appreciate punctuality but may not reciprocate it. It is advisable to make appointments at least one month in advance and confirm them when arriving in India.
Business cards are commonly distributed. There is usually no need to translate part of the business card if it is English as it is widely spoken by many business men and officials in India.
Status is determined by age, university degree, caste and profession.
– It is quite common to carry flowers or even sweets to give to the host as a gift. Gifts are not opened when received, instead the recipient of the gift will put the gift aside and wait till the person who gave it has left.
– Never give leather as a gift to Hindus, as many are vegetarians and will consider the skin of a dead animal offensive.
Always eat with your right hand. In India it is considered inappropriate to eat with your left hand. It is usually considered unclean or quite offensive.

Other fun facts

– Some Indians believe that giving gifts eases the transition into the next life.
– India experiences six seasons: summer, autumn, winter, spring, summer monsoon, and winter monsoon.
– The country is one of the largest producers of tea in the world.
– The game of chess originated in India.
– Snakes and ladders also originated in India.

Indians tend to make business on a personal and very friendly basis. If you’re not used to this rather laid-back atmosphere, you need to be very patient and flexible.
Business practices in India
Business practices in India

English is used as a business language in India. Therefore, it isn´t necessary to translate any company materials or business cards. This would be hard anyway since there are many Indian languages spoken in India, besides Hindi.
India’s society is very hierarchical and, since roles and status are extremely important, you should be respectful towards higher-ranking people. Always use academic titles when addressing Indians.

Planning business meetings

Planning business meetings in India can be a long process as there are many national or regional holidays that might get in the way. You should start organizing meetings well in advance since they will very likely have to be postponed to later dates at least once. Keep in mind that even though Indians tend to show up late for meetings, they will expect you to be punctual.
Business dinners are quite common in India, but they are more used for establishing contacts than for making business decisions.

Greetings and small talk

You will encounter cultural differences between India and Western countries already when you first meet your business partners. Many expatriates will try to shake hands when greeting, which might lead to some confusion among your Indian business partners. The Indian way of greeting each other is placing your hands in front of your chest and bowing forward.
Business cards are commonly used in India and you should always exchange them using your right hand, since the left hand is considered unclean. Since mutual respect is important in India, you should take some time to read you business partner's card.
Every meeting in India starts with some small talk. You will talk about weather, sports and movies. Indians are also very interested in the person they deal with, so be prepared for the fact that quite personal questions about your family will be posed as well. This is a bit strange at first but you will soon realize that also being open to personal questions will help you gain the trust of your Indian business partners. Good personal relations may even be more important than economic factors.

Business gifts in India

When meeting business partners it is common to exchange little gifts. You should wrap them in red, green, yellow or blue, as these are the colours of luck in India. The gifts themselves play a rather symbolic role. They are only a gesture and should not be too expensive. It is always a good idea to give away something typical from your home country. Keep in mind that Indians are very religious people. Presents such as leather bags might be considered an offence by many Hindus! The gifts are usually opened later at home in private and you should call your business partner thanking him.

Social protocols at business meetings

During the meeting it is important to stick to social hierarchy protocols. You should, for example, always address most senior people first. Don't be shocked if your meeting is interrupted by callers or even postponed.
The way of communicating at Indian business meetings is something expatriates need time to get used to. Indians often try to be very indirect because they want to avoid the shame of losing face through direct refusals. Try to adapt to this way of communication quickly as it will help you a lot being accepted and respected by your business partners.
Making business decisions takes much time and personal effort in India. Quite often the process is slowed down further because your direct contact is not authorized to make decisions and has to consult with his boss. For this reason, you should always try to get in contact with the most senior managers at business meetings. Their influence will speed up the process and help you save valuable time.

Corruption in India

Even though there are many government programs against corruption, it is still an issue in India. Though corruption is now rather the exception to the rule, it is still important to know how to deal with it.
Especially when you are making business decisions, you may encounter people asking for presents. To keep your chances of making a deal you should provide the gift. If your present is regarded not worthy enough, you may be asked to present another one. Only when your business partners are satisfied, are you are going to be able to conclude your deal.

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«На языке хинди слово «кал» может означать как «завтра», так и «вчера». Слово «кал» стало символом Индии, страны будущих трудностей, создаваемых волокитой прошлого»