With a population of 1.2 billion and one of the fastest-growing global economies, India is a prime place to do business. Business relationships are typically built on a foundation of personal relationships, so having a third party introduce you to possible connections gives you an advantage over the competition. Prepare for a successful business trip with Swift’s guide to business etiquette in India:
India’s workday typically starts around 10 a.m., although larger cities may start notably earlier to avoid traffic congestion during the commute. Both men and women tend to dress in western business attire, with suits and ties for men and long skirts or pant suits for women. Lightweight fabrics can help offset the heat of India’s tropical climate.
Handshakes are common when meeting for the first time, as is exchanging business cards. Address people formally by their titles and surname, only using a person’s first name if he or she expressly invited you to do so.
Respect India’s hierarchical social structure by greeting the eldest or most senior person first, then working your way to the youngest and least senior. Greet people individually, never as a group, even if they are assembled as a group when you first meet.
Even if Indian business people are typically late to meetings, they may expect their western counterparts to arrive on time. What you say at a meeting is just as important as the body language you exhibit.
Avoid aggressive poses, such as putting your hands on your hips. Steer clear of sustained eye contact. Refrain from initiating gestures using the left hand or feet, as both are considered unclean. Touching can be perceived as rude and only acceptable at the initial handshake.
Business hierarchy is very formal, with each role only expected to perform activities associated with that role. A boss, for example, will never engage in activities reserved for those in lower roles. Doing so can damage your credibility and reputation.
Taboo small talk topics typically include India’s caste system, poverty, or immigration. Safe topics include India’s history, culture, and sports, especially cricket.
Because decisions are only made at the top, it’s useless to try to negotiate with middle-staff members. They only have the authority to act on behalf of the boss’s decision. You can also expect negotiations to involve several rounds of discussions, as decisions are neither made rapidly nor lightly.
The word “no” is considered negative by Indians, so they prefer to say things like “maybe” even if they mean no. Saying “yes” while bobbing their head from side to side can also mean “no.”
Small gifts are common when first meeting, with sweets as a welcome choice. Avoid giving anything leather as a gift to Hindus; many are vegetarian and would be offended receiving cow skin.
In addition to solid knowledge of business etiquette in India, a trip to the country also requires an updated passport and Indian business visa. Get help with your passport, visa or any travel-related questions from Swift. We’ll do what we can to make your business trip to India more efficient, effective, and stress-free.