My book How India Works: Making Sense of a Complex Corporate Culture explores the nuances and complexities of working in India. For instance, how the personal connect impacts working (or not working!). But are these traits uniquely Indian? Well, yes and no. They may be prevalent in other countries and cultures, but, they are definitely present here in a manner, shape and form unique to the Indian context.
While personal connections are important universally, the degree and manner to which they matter in India is different. Whether it is with colleagues, the boss or the client, trust is an important factor in workplace dynamics. Knowing the ‘right’ person or having a personal connect can help in getting things done faster and better – or just done! And unlike in countries where processes are in place to be followed, here they can be tweaked slightly and worked around. Indians with their ability and need to connect, engage and network have mastered the art of managing the heart at the workplace!
Broadly speaking, work takes up a large part of the mind-space and time-space of an average Indian. Indians work hard though not necessarily smart; work and personal life often blend. Westerners prefer not to work on days beginning with a ‘S’ but Indians may not mind working on any day ending with a ‘Y’!
Hierarchy – the silent operator
Hierarchy exists in organizations universally but in India it is complex. The boss placed on a pedestal, is expected to have the knowledge, the experience and the answers. Often, he is expected to take decisions even when his subordinates have autonomy for decision-making. And communication gets impacted depending on one’s position in the pecking order. However, unlike some countries in South East Asia, employees express their opinions if they feel comfortable to do so, sometimes taking it to the next level!
Lost – and found in translation
Crystal clear, black or white is how many prefer to communicate. But here, what’s said is not necessarily meant and what’s meant may not be said. In meetings, people often say more than they need to and listen less than they should. A ‘yes’ can mean ‘no’ so one needs to read between the lines – even if everyone is speaking in the same language, things can get lost in translation.
Approach to time
Unlike much of the Western–and Eastern world, time is viewed differently in India. Here appointments may be approximate, meetings may not begin as scheduled and deadlines are often stretched. Processes aren’t as structured or streamlined but there is a silver lining to all this- Indians are ready to go the extra mile.
The enterprising Indian
Indians can cope well with ambiguity better than many other cultures. Where many people prefer things to be black or white, Indians can operate comfortably in the grey. Resourceful and resilient, they can be enterprising and come up with creative solutions in the face of constraints.
The art of negotiation
Being cost-conscious is a universal trait. That said, Indians have an inherent tendency to focus on the price in a negotiation. Often, the tone and tenor are impacted by how well or how little one knows the counter-party. Negotiations can involve much deliberation and discussion. While the Indian is argumentative, is he also aggressive in negotiations?How India Works: Making Sense of a Complex Corporate Culture fleshes out all this and more!
Aarti Kelshikar is an intercultural consultant and coach with over fifteen years of work experience in India, Singapore and the Philippines. She is a certified facilitator of Cultural Intelligence from the Cultural Intelligence Center in the US. She is also a certified executive coach from the international Neuro Leadership group. Since 2008, she has been associated with two US-based global mobility companies, for which she has delivered customized intercultural training programmes for professionals relocating worldwide. She has trained senior executives from multinational corporations like Nestle, Unilever, Proctor and Gamble, Colgate Palmolive, and Texas Instruments. She is also a consultant with a leadership development company in India, for which she has conducted workshops on building a global mindset and enhancing executive presence.