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Cross-Cultural Misunderstandings in US India Business Relationships

Posted On: October 13, 2014

Forming relationships between cultures is rewarding, and at the same time, challenging. Often times, going into another culture as an adult, we have to put all our assumptions aside about how the world works, because it will work very or totally different in another country!

There are several types of situations that may cause some misunderstanding between citizens from the US and India when building business relationships. Some may refer to these as barriers to doing fluid business as, at times, it can feel confusing or challenging to know what the situation is if we have not built a basic understanding of each other’s culture before meeting. 

Based on my experience as a US American living in India for 10 years, and doing business with India for more than that, I have compiled a list of some of the experiences that could cause confusion when working between these two cultures. 



Below, we can read some of the ways we can misinterpret each other’s good intentions as, in some cases, we may approach doing business a little differently. 

Americans may feel that Indians…. Indians may feel Americans…
Spend too much time on small talk




Aren’t serious about business because of focus on small talk (not true)
Are too business like and not approachable because of abbreviated small talk

Don’t care about them on a personal level because they may do business before pleasure, therefore Americans do not make small talk (not true)
Expose personal and intrusive information in small talk (family, relationships) with people they barely know.

Are cold, and unfeeling because they don’t talk about family at work with those they do not know very well.
Are reluctant to talk because they don’t say yes or no directly or in a way they understand. Or, that Indians tend to say ‘ok’ to everything, and Americans do not know what they are saying OK to.

Want instant gratification all the time because they may not want to talk about family and build relationships through personalized small talk.

Over involve their family in business interactions and decisions (even family members who do not work at the company are considered in some decision making, in some cases). Think only about themselves as they rarely involve their family in business decision making. (Large separation between work life and personal life.)

In India, work includes more cultural programs than in the US

Jennifer Kumar, Managing Director of Authentic Journeys (image to the right), helps your teams bridge cultural gaps while working from two or more shores to build better relations via virtual or in-person interactions. Contact her today for more information.

Related Posts: 
Indian vs. American English on College Campuses    
The Awkward Transition from Small Talk to Business Talk 
9 Tips for Expats Visiting India On Work
Onam Celebrations at Work in Kerala, India

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