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Intercultural trainings will always have an added layer of difficulty compared to training in your home culture. For those of us that aren’t Indian, training for an Indian audience does have a special flavour (as does training for Australians, Argentinians or Danes). I’ve held quite many on-site trainings in India and even more remotely and thought I’d share some tested tips on what to remember when training Indians. Many of these tips are applicable to just working with Indians as well. Of course your experience may not be exactly the same, depending on what area of India you are in and the company culture. If you want to compare Indian culture to your own, I recommend Hofstede’s research.

Nurture the relationship

What?

India is a relationship-oriented culture, as opposed to task-oriented cultures. This means that maintaining a good relationship with your colleagues may at times be more important than achieving a task.

How does it affect me?

Remember to always start conversations with a “How are you doing” and some small-talk. Also make sure to use names in communication, “Hi Susheel” instead of “Hi”. It is considered rude not to offer a good greeting and to get straight to the task at hand. Shake hands with everyone you’ve met previously, even if you are just passing in the office.

Watch your questions

What?

Indians don’t like to disappoint. Thus they try their best to avoid the answer “No” and will go at lengths to say “Yes” to your questions, even if it isn’t correct. I like giving the example of an Indian friend who was visiting me in Finland. We were going to the sauna, which was a first for him and I knew he was hesitant about it. When it was time to go, I asked him if he was ready. His answer was impressive: “Yes Gustav, maybe tomorrow ok?”. He was using the words Yes and Ok to say No. Being able to do so is a skill I don’t possess but that in his case comes from a culture where it is impolite to say no directly.

How does it affect me?

You need to know how to ask your questions. If you ask “Did everybody understand this?” you’ll get everyone saying Yes. Instead, asking for a repetition will show you if everyone understood: “So tell me, how did changing this setting affect the outcome?”. When doing exercises it is better to ask “At what stage are you now?” rather than “Do you need any help?”, as the latter will likely give you a non-disappointing reply.

Know the hierarchy

What?

In preparation for a training, I sent an email to all 60 participants to send me answers to some questions. I did not get a single reply, even though I sent out a reminder. The reason none did what I asked was that hierarchy-wise I was a peer or even subordinate, the task hadn’t been explicitly approved by a manager. Compared to many western cultures, India is more hierarchical. For some tasks to be accomplished, you will need manager approval for it to happen. The reason for this is that if an employee takes a task from you then he/she is going against the orders of their manager, who has given them another task. Although the manager has asked the employee to take part in your training, the pre-work you are asking for may not be clear to be part of the training.

How does it affect me?

To overcome this problem you’ll need to always include the manager in whatever you are asking. This means that instead of asking the employee directly you may need to ask the manager first, who will then assign the task. Sometimes you may also have to involve your own manager to ask the Indian manager, as the manager may not take tasks from lower ranking employees. Hierarchy is very different in different industries and companies, but factor this in if tasks/requests are not being done.

Understand time

What?

I grew up in Sweden and live in Finland. Time is important here: You are not supposed to be late, nor early (to the point that you will stand outside your host’s door and wait to ring until it is exactly the time agreed). India is different. When something happens is not as important as that it happens.

How does it affect me?

Adapt to your surroundings and don’t plan by the minute. Be prepared that the training may not start at 0900 but at 0945 because participants are missing or the beamer cable is missing. This means you have to be flexible but also that the people around you are likely to be flexible as well. If your room isn’t working it may very well be possible to check with the adjoining room’s participants and find that they are happy to trade rooms. A footnote: An hour lunch break is usually had around 1300-1500, so plan accordingly.

Shaking the head

What?

The first time I held a training in India I asked my participants if they understood. They all shook their heads, which prompted me to explain the topic anew. Again I asked if they understood and again I was met by a head shake. I explained a third time. Only then did I realise that the head shake I interpreted as negative was actually affirmative!

How does it affect me?

Check this video and know that the head shake may mean several things:

 

Image credit: Diwali sweets – Sweet India by avlxyz