Business practices in India

Do’s and don’ts

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.

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.

Does this article help?

Do you have any comments, updates or questions on this topic? Ask them here: