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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Some tips on etiquette for business travel to India

With India now having a strong global business presence, which is expanding continuously, it is crucial that as UK business professionals, we are aware of how to behave and interact appropriately with fellow business professionals from this continent.

The subject is huge, and with cultural differences within India itself, it could easily fill a volumes.

However, let me give you my top tips for successful business interactions:

  • Never touch a person’s head, even to pat a child, the head is the seat of the soul
  • Beckoning someone with the hand or finger is insulting as is standing with your hands on your hips
  • Never point your feet at someone. If your shoes or feet touch someone else, make sure you apologise immediately.
  • The word ‘no’ is considered harsh in Asian culture. Evasive refusals such as ‘maybe’ or ‘I’ll try’ are preferred and regularly used.
  • Always use formal titles when interacting with Asian clients, however many times you’ve met them.
  • The use of leather products including belts, handbags and briefcases may be considered offensive.
  • It is generally not socially acceptable for Asian women to be touched by any male other than husband or child. This is obviously changing as more and more Asian women are entering the corporate world and travelling globally for business, but if in doubt only shake hands with an Asian woman if she offers her hand first.
  • Asians take themselves very seriously so the UK dry sense of humour and gentle banter that we take for granted is unlikely to be well received.
  • Be aware of the deeply established caste system and understanding dharma and karma
  • It is inappropriate for a man to make any comment about a woman’s appearance.
  • It is considered impolite to address a person who is older or holds a higher status by their first name. In Hindi, the first name is usually followed by “ji” to show respect.

The business etiquette within India is changing rapidly as more and more Asian people are entering the global business arena. But be aware that the above points are very well ingrained in their psyche so always err on the side of caution and be led by your client/colleague. You are far more likely to need to adhere to letter to the above if you are visiting the Continent as opposed to receiving visitors in the UK.

Picked these tips up from Katie Day who is a people changer at personal development consultancy Unlimited Potential. She is also guest lecturer at Warwich Business School. She worked with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development from 1995 to 1999, advising on cross-cultural exchange.

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