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Importance of verbal & non-verbal business communication in India

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India has two official languages English & Hindi. Hindi is spoken by more than half the population but still mostly in the Northern States. English is spoken commonly in international business communication but only about 10% of the population (130 million) actually speak English (to varying degrees of fluency). In addition the Indian constitution recognises 22 languages officially (having more than 1 million speakers), and there are 122 ‘major’ languages (spoken by more than 10,000 speakers) and 1599 other languages & dialects. In such a diverse linguistic environment, and age/hierarchy based culture non-verbal communication plays a critical part in Indian business communication.

The Greeting process in India is an example.  It starts with folded hands and a nod of the head to signify respect. Although Indians are “big-talkers” they are also very expressive non-verbally in business communication. The biggest example is the famous ‘Indian head wobble’. Not just your normal back to front nod or side-to-side shake but a movement more like that of a bobblehead. In a culture that does not accept definitive refusals or the word “No”, the wobble also comes allows a welcome ambiguity and can mean – yes, maybe, ok, I agree or just an acknowledgement – whatever the situation warrants.

Make sure to be aware of your body language, as a lot of significance is attached to it. Avoid “aggressive” postures. Be aware that sustained eye contact is not necessarily usual.

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