Business Mistakes: 10 Cultural Faux Pas You Should Never Make in India

Sure, you know a bit about Indian culture, but do you know enough to NOT make a mistake that could ruin your big business deal?

It's been 12 hours since your last bite to eat. Your stomach growls angrily as you meet the host who will take care of all your needs while you prepare to sign a big contract with his company. He takes you out to dinner at a nice restaurant—please tell me you didn't just order a steak!

Yes, you're a carnivore and it is on the menu, but consider that your host may be higher caste Hindu and that to them eating cows is a big religious no-no. (And yes, contrary to other popular opinion, Indians do eat beef.)

Where deals are struck with partners in other countries every day, an awareness of potential cultural issues can help you close the deal. Below is a list of 10 common faux pas that you shouldn't make when in India as submitted by international business people.

  1. Don't assume you can use a person's first name—in many parts of the country it's considered rude.
  2. Take off your shoes at people's homes, places of worship and even in some shops and businesses. Rule of thumb: If you see shoes near the door, assume you should take yours off too.
  3. Don't eat beef.
  4. Don't accept or give anything with your left hand. (For reasons that I'd rather not go into here.)
  5. Don't expect people to disagree. "Indians generally don't like to accept that they don't know/understand something...and agree to all that we say" says Pooja Shah. So make sure to dig deeper to make sure you're understood and that what you're asking is doable.
  6. Don't refuse hospitality.
  7. Don't be offended by debate. "We really like to argue and debate every small point in any topic/conversation, says Manish Mehta. "It's especially important that people end the conversation feeling they made a few good points."

And when looking specifically at the business side, some cultural differences are critical:

  1. Don't ignore hierarchy in the workplace.
  2. Failure is not accepted as a part of trying to do something and learning in the process, as a consequence, doing something or recommending something out of the norm may often not go well.
  3. Write down your instructions. Verbal communication is treated as uncertain.

Obviously, this isn't an exhaustive list. Tell us about the cultural mistake you made—or observed—in the comments section below. Don't you wish someone had shared their experiences with you before you became the laughingstock of the water cooler brigade?

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