In order to have a successful business venture in India, you must understand when traveling to India for business how to address both men and women, cultural protocols, business protocols, and even how your body language may affect your dealings.
Meetings and Greetings
It is always important to make a good first impression; however there are several everyday greetings that as an American may seem normal, friendly, and acceptable in our society, but may come off to individuals in India as rude or insulting.
It is typical in America to shake hands with the individuals as you meet them, and in India it is not frowned upon for men to greet other men by shaking hands. It is important NOT to shake the hands of the women when meeting. Men are not allowed to touch women in the Indian culture and doing so may insult your hosts. Women from America may offer their hands to an Indian man who is familiar with western cultures, but it is still advisable to use caution as to whom you offer your hand to in greeting. Traditionally, it is acceptable for women in India to shake the hands of foreign women.
It is typical in America as you are approaching an individual you would like to greet by waving your hand from side to side. In India the motion of waving your hand from side to side as someone approaches you indicates that you do not want to speak to them and may be considered rude.
The best greeting for you to use while in India is to place your hands together, slightly bow, and greet individuals with “Namaste” (Na-Mas-TAY).
It is said that over 90% of communication that happens between individuals is non-verbal, meaning that how you hold your body, move your hands and head, and the expressions on your face may convey more to others than your words.
Personal space is very important to those in India, and so you should maintain an arm’s length between yourself and others as much as possible.
ALWAYS use your right hand to touch anything and anyone (i.e. pass items to someone else, or pick something up.) The left hand is seen as unclean and using it in any of the above mentioned ways will insult those around you.
Feet are seen as unclean, and so pointing your footwear at someone will insult them.
It is very important for you to exchange business cards with the business contacts that you meet. Indians are very particular of this practice and may be insulted if it is skipped. Decisions are mainly made by one individual at the top of the company hierarchy. Try to conduct business with the most senior person possible.
When meeting a business counterpart it is rude to jump right into business. Ask some personal questions first before jumping into the business discussion.
If you are offered tea or any other type of drink, it is rude to refuse.
Business sometimes runs slowly in India so be persistent. Don’t get angry, state your requests firmly, but in a friendly manor, and expect several attempts before any business may be concluded.
As with any culture that you may need to go into for your business functions, it is important for you to understand the cultural and social expectations of that country. Be polite but firm, greet individuals properly and ask them about their personal lives before business, and most of all be sure to respect personal space and be aware of your body language.