"Ok" & "Yes" - How Indians Can Improve Communication with Americans

Americans do not really know what Indians mean when they say 'ok' and 'yes' in conversation. When Americans hear 'ok' and 'yes,' they think the Indian team members are:
  • Agreeing to do something
  • Saying YES to their question or request 
  • Agreeing with their methodology
  • Agreeing to whatever they are talking about, including setting deadlines, resources allocation, or other project planning details
  • Ready to do whatever they are asking / talking about
While sometimes this is true, often it is not. American counterparts reading this, note that Indians often say 'ok' and 'yes' to acknowledge that they are listening, similar to American's use of "uh-huh" and "mmm-hummm"). As most conversations with distributed teams take place over the phone, "ok" and "yes" could be used more than in face to face conversations where "ok" and "yes" may be combined with the "Indian head nod." 

In training programs, I help Indian developers, managers and team members realize if they overindulge in saying 'ok' and 'yes,' while helping them to respond more assertively and politely - regardless if they want to actually say yes, no or partially agree with you. 

Some examples may include: 

For example, rather than just saying "yes" or "ok," explain what you are saying "yes" or "ok" to.
US manager David asks, "Can you finish this by Friday."
Old answer: "Ok" 
New answer: "Yes, David, we will finish (project/task name) by this Friday."

However, if you really want to say yes to part of what they are saying and no to another, that's a different skill.
US manager David asks, "Can you finish this by Friday."
Old answer: "Ok"
New answer: "Yes, David, while we can finish three key elements of this by Friday, can we discuss the remaining two elements to prioritize the work according to your delivery schedule?"

Simply saying "ok" would tell the American that you are ready and able to finish everything on time, and that you have no questions, objections or feedback.

Even if you can do everything by Friday, "ok" really is not a good answer because it doesn't inspire a conversation. Remember you are working WITH your US counterpart not just FOR. ("With" is a two way give and take, where as "for" is a one-way, directive interaction.")

While these tips apply to native speakers of English in Canada, the UK, and Australia as well, the good news is that improving vocabulary with US Americans is easy because simple English is required. Don't worry about using fancy, long vocabulary words. The simpler and more descriptive your English is, the more personality it has, and the more convincing it can be.

For more ideas on words to avoid and replace while giving simple answers to questions, watch the video below.


Jennifer Kumar helps enthusiastic Indian team members to communicate more impactfully across cultural borders in business. Contact us for more information. 


Related Posts: 
Asking questions to encourage conversation 
What Happens if I Interrupt?  
Advice on Saying "No"  
When Yes Doesn't Mean Yes 
Conversation Connector Phrases & Cues in English

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