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Cultural Differences When Working with Indians


Do you work with or do business with Indians? Do you sometimes find it confusing?

Well, believe us you're not the first or the last.

Working with Indians can be confusing for foreigners, mainly due to some acute cultural differences.

What’s important to always remember in any cross-cultural situation is that people are not trying to be confusing – what’s happening is that one side is usually not interpreting another’s actions or words correctly. This is what leads to cross-cultural challenges.

For foreigners working with Indians, it is critical not to make the mistake of stereotyping Indians as a result of these challenges. This leads to more problems.

What foreigners need to do is take a step back, reflect on their own behaviour and cultural preferences and then try to and understand the Indian point of view. This will lead to finding more common ground and overcoming challenges.


What's Important to Know About Working With Indians?

We’re going to be giving you our top tips on Indian culture and specifically what foreigners need to be aware of when working with Indians in a professional setting.

These are based on common experiences faced by, mainly North American and European, foreigners shared in cultural awareness training.

a. Hierarchy

If you don’t understand hierarchy in Indian culture, you’ll never understand Indians. Hierarchy impacts everything from behaviour to decision making. It’s crucial foreigners appreciate how respect and deference are shown to superiors and how they control the flow of information.


b. ‘Yes’ Culture

Indians try to please people when they communicate. As a result, they have a tendency to say what they think will please someone, even if it conflicts with the truth. On top of this, losing face is a serious no-no in Indian culture which means that people will say ‘yes’ to try and save face.

Do you know that India is ranked as one of the most complex business cultures?

Among the top 50 economies of the world it's ranked 49th by

The Business Culture Complexity Index™!


india bcciheatmap

c. Sticking to Your Job

Indians have a reputation among some foreigners for sticking to their roles and not showing initiative when needed. Well, this is a stereotype based on a cross-cultural misunderstanding. In India, doing something outside of your role/job/project description is not doing your job – it’s the opposite.


d. Relationships Matter

Indians tend to get very close to people they work with very quickly. Asking someone the first time you meet them what their qualifications are, salary is and how many kids they’ve had is normal in India – they are not prying. Indians want to like and trust people they work with, so investing time in building relationships is essential.


e. India Stretchable Time

Indians are not as time-sensitive as in some other cultures. This should not be confused with tardiness or a lax attitude; again, that would be lazy stereotyping. What you need to appreciate is that, in the Indian mind, time is a flexible concept. Things happen when they should happen.

iaea indians

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Click here to learn about the Indian negotiation style

Photo by IAEA Imagebank on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

f. Conflict Avoidance

Indians will do anything to avoid conflict, even in private. As a result, their communication style can be very indirect and relies on listeners reading between the lines. Some foreigners rely too much on what is said and miss clues when Indians are trying to give negative opinions or share sensitive information.


g. Business Meetings

From the start, foreigners need to understand that in Indian culture the meeting is not a place for open and frank discussion. This risks conflict which risks losing face. Meetings are more about giving information to subordinates or sensitively testing out ideas. Foreigners need to address tricky topics before a meeting, during intervals or at another time.

Take a Professional Course on Working with Indians

video training


Would you like to learn more about Indian business culture and get more in-depth information about working with Indians?

Then sign-up for our India Online Cultural Awareness Course which is jam-packed full of fantastic insights into the people, culture and communication style.



 Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

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