Important factors a foreigner should be aware of in terms of Indian business etiquette / social etiquette

Like every country, India is unique with its diverse culture and the Indian business etiquette is with no exception different in many ways. There are various factors to be considered in the Indian business etiquette while doing business in India, and here we have listed a few major differences as compared to business styles in Europe / USA.

Although timings and routines vary greatly around the country, the work day in India typically starts between 9:30 am and 10:00 am (especially in the Northern States).

In major cities and particular company cultures, it can be considerably earlier, but if in doubt, schedule meetings no earlier than mid-morning. If you arrange a meeting with a new contact for 8:30 am prepare to wait for them as this is still very early for Indian working culture.

It is considered okay in India to be slightly late, and most people would try to arrive either at or after the appointed time rather than early.  Make sure you factor this into your schedule. However, you should also be aware that Indian business people who are used to dealing with foreigners will expect you to be punctual and may adjust their own practices to match this.

It is common to exchange business cards on first meetings so it is a good idea to have these to hand. The practice is not as formal as it is in cultures like Japan, but people will check your name and job title to try to understand more about where you come from.

Normal business dress for both men and women is ‘western’. It is common to see suits and ties on men, and pant-suits or long skirts on women.

When negotiating agreements, expect there to be many rounds of back and forth. In India business decisions are rarely made quickly or lightly, so it is important not to get frustrated by any delays you experience.

The Indian approach to business roles is generally formal and hierarchical and Decision-making in Indian companies tends to be top-down. There is little use negotiating with junior or middle management.  However when working long term with companies or Government institutions it becomes essential to ensure you have built appropriate relationships at all necessary levels to avoid obstruction by lower level executives.

Topics that show that you are interested in Indian culture are almost always welcomed and can therefore help establish a relationship.  Such topics include cricket, Indian food and understanding Indian festivals.
Be aware that Indians might ask you personal questions especially about your family. It is best not block this and share who you are as much as you are comfortable and thereafter ask your counterpart about his family.  This really helps you build relationships in India.

M+V’s primary aim is to protect the interests of our clients’ foreign shareholders. In our team in India we have expats who have lived in India for several years. They can help you understand more about the differences in business cultures, Indian business etiquette and business processes from a foreign perspective.