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October 31, 2014

Relationships are Key in India

When I told the audience in Kerala that I was an American married to an Indian, a Malayalee, and living in India, they stood with a thundering applause.  

Would such a thing ever happen in the US? Would a foreigner in the US get a standing ovation for being married to an American citizen? My husband probably would not, but then would there be such an opportunity where such an introduction in a public setting would be needed? 

In the article, 34 Tips for Training in India, the author's first two tips relate to the importance of relationship. While relationship is important in the US, also, hence the need for delivering trainings to Indians on meeting, greeting and making small talk with Americans, relationship building is a bit different in India. It often trumps task delivery in my experience. 

In the US, task delivery is paramount. If the task gets done, the customer, client or colleague is happy. If they like you, it's an added bonus, but if they don't like you it doesn't matter so much if you did your job properly and especially if you exceeded delivery  expectations.

In India, however, if someone doesn't like you, or you don't have an in through a mutually known mover and shaker, you may be out before you even were able to get in and prove your worth! I know friends in Kerala who were shocked to hear they did not need a known reference or go-between to apply for jobs in companies in Bangalore, or even especially companies outside of India. In India, while foreigners may find it possible to find a job without a go-between, the times I have had that go-between or personal introductions the outcomes were more fruitful. 

Secondly, small talk in India revolves around talking about your family, even in professional settings. I, as an American find it extremely uncomfortable to talk about my family at work. But, I have to do this in India. I have learned to feel comfortable doing it in India. Would I do it in the US? No! How do I do it in India? As soon as I start a training program, I spend 10 or so minutes introducing myself, mentioning my personal family connection to India, the particular part of India I live in or if I can, some personal connection to other parts of India I don't live in that I happen to work in. The only place in the US I have heard of this happening is with traveling musicians who mention the city name in their opening. While Americans do like this, Indians love it. When Indians find that personal connection to me, they start to like me, and the sessions go on more smoothly. In the beginning days of working in India I missed this personal introduction and the sessions typically did not go as well, even if the information delivered was the same as the later sessions with the more personal introductions. 

While I changed my approach to introducing myself, I have also allowed the participants to take a few minutes to introduce themselves. I usually keep a buffer of 30-45 minutes in the beginning of each session depending on group size for introductions.  

Participants often share their feedback about sessions by email or feedback form after the session is over. While many different elements of trainings may be criticized, no participant has ever mentioned that the introductory part was too long or boring. I would think this would be the exact opposite in the US. People in the US would prefer to get to the point, and may not be so interested in knowing all the people present (they may find only specific key people they want to talk to during breaks instead). 

The author also mentioned that trainers should take the time out to eat lunch with or meet with people between or after sessions. That is a valid point, especially if they are external trainers or coming to India from abroad. Don't eat alone. Don't take a break alone. While most of us Americans value and seek out 'personal time', and may desire it more in a foreign culture like India, I suggest to resist the temptation. Being on your own will have dire consequences. Indians will think you are rude if you don't join them for meals or breaks. They may feel personally hurt, as though you don't like them. But, don't worry. Because Indians feel bad to see people eating alone, I guarantee if you try to eat alone, any of the participants of your program or any other key people from the company who see you eating alone, will pull up a chair, try to talk with you and join you, without being invited! Just go with the flow. 

In addition to spending time with the participants or key people in the organization, the author suggests at the end to connect with them on LinkedIn, but be cautious about Facebook connections. Of course if you are coming to India on behalf of a big organization, you will want to follow their protocol. However, if it makes sense, create a professional profile for professional reasons on Facebook to make up for it if you do not want to mix your professional and personal life. 

So, to summarize, I whole heartedly agree with the author. When delivering training programs in India, focus on how to build relationships with the participants and outside the sessions as well. It will add value in ways you never expect. Plus, you can make many good friends.

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Authentic Journeys: Bridging Culture on Virtual Teams

We help build effective, culturally competent global teams with focus on the cultures of the USA and India. Jennifer Kumar, Managing Director, an American citizen, has almost 10 years experience living, studying and working (owning a business) in India. Authentic Journeys Consultancy is registered as a Private Limited in India (Kerala) and an LLC in the USA (Salt Lake City, Utah). We provide onsite and live-online instructor-led courses, facilitation and corporate coaching.