My office life in India (2): professional know-how


From the first meeting to the follow-up of a project, it is a question of creating confidence with your colleagues, your customers or your Indian business partners. I share with you my experience. that readers of Expat Mail having worked feel free to enrich it with theirs!

Business cards, do you want some here

Are you going on a business trip to the subcontinent? Don’t forget your business cards, otherwise you’ll come across as unprofessional. And plan wide!

Unfortunately, have you forgotten them? I recommend the little sentence: “I’m sorry, I ran out of visiting cards” (I’m sorry, I’m out of business cards), the Indian equivalent of very Parisian “I am completely overwhelmed”. The main thing is to certify that you are someone important, so important that everyone jumped on your cards.

Also, if you have special qualifications, such as a doctorate, do not hesitate to mention it. As I mentioned in my previous post, Indians are particularly fond of honorary titles, and higher education is deeply respected.

The Indians distribute their business card sometimes even before shaking your hand. While it’s all about the hand, be sure to always give and receive cards with the right hand, the left being reserved for impure tasks.

Greet with a soft handshake

The handshake is the most commonly accepted way of greeting each other at work in India, although in formal contexts a Namaste (hands joined in front of the chest) will be well received.

However, there is no risk of having your knuckles crushed, the Indian handshake is generally soft, even slippery. I had always noticed it without knowing the explanation. In fact, it was a friend who taught it to me, this lack of firmness marks, not weakness or the absence of frankness, but respect.

Become a master of “small talk”

At work, do you like to be direct and straight to the point so as not to waste time talking? Well, in India it’s the other way around. All appointments begin with a small session of small talkwhich could be translated as “talk about rain and shine”. And not complying with it could be considered as a lack of consideration towards one’s interlocutors.

On the subject side, you have the choice between the news of your sector of activity, cricket if you understand something about it (not me), your first impressions (positive, of course) on the city… If you already know your interlocutors , you can even ask about their family. On the other hand, avoid politics.

But the most effective, especially if it is a first meeting, is to exchange knowledge in common. If someone has introduced you, do not hesitate to pass on their greetings to your contacts, for example. Indians like more than anything to find shared relationships: it is one of the key ingredients in building a relationship of trust.

This first phase makes it possible to create a friendly atmosphere, but also to situate each other on the hierarchical and social scale.

Get fat at the office (or not)

India certainly does not have a monopoly on treats shared among co-workers. But let’s say that, calorie-wise, the sweets, Indian sweets have nothing to envy to our pastries. Indians bring it to the office to celebrate births, weddings or even their own birthdays. And it would be very inappropriate not to accept it.

My technique if you want to pass: help yourself, thank and say that you will eat it later. Then, it’s up to you: donate to another colleague, keep for a snack or go to the toilet bin, the possibilities are endless.

Concerning the chai, the spiced and very sweet milk tea, it is systematically offered in meetings or appointments. However, you can easily escape it if you are not a fan by asking for a coffee or a glass of water. The main thing is to honor the hospitality of the organizers by accepting something.

Prefer phone to email

Unlike French office colleagues who send you e-mails while you sit two meters away in an open space, Indians continue to show an all-consuming passion for the telephone. A question, an answer, a doubt, additional information to ask or to provide? They grab their device and call you.

Of course, nothing beats a face-to-face conversation when you have to resolve complex situations, but when all you have to do is send a link to provide clarification, it often annoys me… The pinnacle (which happened to me so times) is probably to receive a call from a contact saying: “I just emailed you about such.” Without, of course, giving me time to read the message. What to do? Apart from not picking up, I don’t see.

Don’t say no straight up…

A French friend who worked for several years in India told me that she had learned to decode expressions of refusal in India. Because Indians, like other Asian peoples, don’t like to say no. If the interlocutor answers: “Let me ask my team” (let me ask my team), “I’ll get back to you on this” (I’ll get back to you on this) “Possibly” (possibly) or “We will try” (we’ll try), it’s likely that he didn’t dare give you a negative answer.

For my part, sometimes – I say sometimes – I manage to read the « Nope » in the eyes of my Indian interlocutors. I get this superpower from frequent interactions with taxi or rickshaw drivers, when I ask them if they know the address I’m going to. Over time, I’ve learned to recognize that moment of uncertainty in their eyes when they have no idea where to go, but still say yes.

… and say yes temporarily

In general, the consent of the Indians does not bind them as much as a « yes » European. He just manifests their desire at the moment “t” to get started, regardless of subsequent obstacles. While we in France would tend to make sure that the obstacles are removed before responding positively to a request, the Indians will see no problem in retracting later, since life is an eternal change.

These reversals of the situation can turn out to be formidable for keeping a calendar… But that will be the subject of the next episode, where I will look at the Indian conception of time at work.

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