Business etiquette largely reflects cultural norms of a particular country. How does etiquette look like in India – a country so far from Poland?

Our manners may be perceived as rude by people from the other side of the world, and likewise we may be prejudiced against behaviour of people from a different culture. “They are as odd to us, as we are to them,” said Wojciech Giełżyński, a Polish reporter. However, without overcoming this barrier, it is impossible to enter distant markets and, for example, fully exploit the economic potential of India.

Friendship and business in India – inseparable

A European does not have to be a friend with their supplier or respect their boss’s life choices – it is sufficient that they accept each other in a professional sphere. In India, different spheres of life are not separated: a person is perceived as a whole, and if some parts of their life are not accepted, then the business becomes a struggle.
Therefore, a 40-year-old bachelor will not inspire trust and may have some problems establishing relationships with Indian customers. On the other hand, by criticising work results of an Indian worker, we also evaluate them as a person, undermining their status and risking offending them.

“Where does your father live?”

This is a question Indian businessmen ask during the first meeting. In this way they confirm the consistency of the rules, according to which they act; an appeal to family honour may also help later in the event of any disputes. When cooperating with a partner outside India, the sense of belonging to one community is usually replaced by a local person or institution that allows you to open up lines of connection.
This happens because, in India, both business and relationships are governed by completely different rules than in the Western world. Marriage is often concluded by strangers whose feelings are to wake up in time. It is the opposite in business – a deep bond must be created before a transaction is concluded.

They will keep their word not because of the agreement, but because they respect us

Investing in a lasting relationship with representatives of our business partner in India will pay off in the future. We should constantly show our interest, ask personal questions, discuss previous topics (e.g. son’s education), and visit each other.
In that way, our partners will be loyal to us and will do their best not to cause us any problems. They will do this not because of contractual penalties, which are fairly difficult to execute in India, but because they will not want to lose face. 

In “no problem” culture, we will not hear “no”

Since a definite refusal or denial may destroy harmony in a relationship, opinions are not expressed outright in India. If a supplier does not have what you are looking for, he will not respond to the request or propose a similar product or service. If difficulties arise, our partner will try to make that clear to us by saying: “We will see”, “I will do my best” or “It may be
difficult”. Therefore, when establishing a friendly relationship in business, we often have to read between the lines. It is also important to carefully express views; otherwise, we can be recognized as aggressive. Besides, if we express our opinion, we will not know what our Indian partners think – they will not challenge our opinion. 

Time is a circle, not a line

We should also remember that Indian people think of us as slaves of time. For them a deadline is just a suggestion, and meeting hours are flexible. Family or religious matters will always take precedence over business and we should not be surprised, if a meeting is called off or a delivery delayed because of them.
. We should be very careful during holidays and festivals; on the other hand, a meeting just before an important feast may lead to the finalization of a transaction. Furthermore, astrology may play an important role in the fulfilment of commitments by the Indian partners, as Indians are very superstitious, as well as the weather, which can be unpredictable.