Global Leadership Blog

Cross-cultural Differences Between India and the United States

Q: It’s obvious the US and India have cultural differences, but what were most striking to you on your last visit to India?

A: When I was at the gym in Mumbai, I was the only one in there, so I played music aloud on my iPhone. The person (from India) who oversees the gym came in, grabbed my iPhone, took it into another room and hooked it up to the main speakers so I could hear my music better. He then came back and smiled, “Better?”. Of course his intention was to make my workout a more pleasant experience, but it surprised me he felt fine taking my phone without asking me first…

Physical space is also different. People in the US like more distance, more space, between each other. USers feel uncomfortable if someone you don’t know well touches you or stands close to you. In India it’s quite normal.

Q: What do you like about the way Indians do business and what can the US learn from them?

A: Business moves very quickly in India and people are quite spontaneous. There’s not much time spent on analyzing a situation. This allows for a lot of innovation in solutions.

What struck me most is the brain-power combined with the soft skills. Education is such an important value in India, even for those who are quite poor, so the average person knows quite a lot about many subjects. It’s not uncommon to talk to someone who has tremendous intellect, technical skills, and can relate or converse in an easy-going, sociable manner. In India you’ll see that quite often and the mixture is powerful. I think it’s a real asset in business.

Q: What would be some advice you would give to someone before they do business in India?

A: Make sure you establish contacts at your final destination ahead of time. Get phone numbers and emails and contact colleagues a day or two before your trip to remind them you’re on your way and looking forward to meeting them. They are used to being in regular contact with colleagues or visitors, if you don’t make contact they might think you’ve changed your plans.

Give yourself time to get places as the cities are quite crowded during the day and be prepared for extra security, bureaucracy, etc. Keep your IDs and paperwork with you in order to show to authorities, even at the entrance of office buildings.

And finally, sometimes discussions are lengthy and decisions come from the inside out. Listen carefully and weigh options, then follow-up with an email confirming any decisions before taking action. Because they are very accommodating and flexible in India – and less direct in their communication style culturally – sometimes they hesitate to say what won’t work. Try to gauge whether one option is preferred over another.

Q: What is the business etiquette in India and what is considered polite, rude, etc?

A: Giving negative feedback in front of a group is considered rude. Being loud or garish isn’t appreciated. Appreciation and “thank yous” will get you far in India.

Q: What regions of trade (continent, country, city) are interesting for India to do business with?

A: The UAE and Europe are India’s top trading partners. The UAE is the largest trading partner with more than $150 billion total in trade and Europe comes in second at $100 billion in total trade. The top goods and products that are imported and exported are pearls, stones, mineral fuel, and oil.

Q: What are special considerations for women in India?

A: There is a push for more women in management in India. The topic of equality in the business world at least is top of mind, similar to the US and Europe presently and many firms have active recruitment and promotion strategies.

Melissa Lamson

About The Author

Melissa Lamson, Founder and President of Lamson Consulting, is an author, consultant, and speaker who accelerates the business expansion goals of today’s most successful companies by developing global mindset, refining leadership skills, and bridging cross cultural communication. More About Melissa Lamson