Differences AND Similarities: India & US Business Culture

Posted On: September 17, 2015

What Does the US and India Have in Common?

One of the main reasons professionals opt for cross cultural training is to understand what differences (and hopefully similarities) exist between their culture and the host country so as to avoid misstep, offending the other person, and to be able to relate with their international business associates in a culturally sensitive way. Not only does this help everyone feel more comfortable, but it can help with understanding different people’s motivation, business acumen, strategy and negotiation tactics

To end a recent session on US cross-culture training for virtual teams, the participants reviewed their learning for the day with these questions,

  1. “What are some of the differences that I did not expect between the US and India?” 
  2. “What, if anything, does the US and India have in common?” 

Here are some of the differences between the US and India that were new to the participants: 

    1. Time management. Americans prefer things in a linear way.
    2. Personal & Professional Small Talk – acceptable topics of discussion are different in professional settings in the US and in India. For example, it may not be common to ask if someone has had their food in the USA. 
    3. Starting “on time” (For a 9 o’clock meeting, 9:15 is too late to start with Americans, but starting as late as 9:30 is more acceptable for some Indians). 
    4. Showing their feelings at work. Americans are better at hiding their feelings at work. Americans are somewhat more apt at giving and accepting ‘constructive criticism.’ Indians, on the other hand, may avoid giving ‘constructive criticism.’ Many cite the reason for this as not being able to not take it personally. The most relevant example is how many Indians who have worked with US citizens are surprised when they see Americans give each other constructive criticism or project related feedback one day, but act normal or like ‘nothing ever happened’ the next day. 
    5. Asking for reasons. “Why you” questions should be avoided with Americans.
    6. Gestures and expressions. Some that are acceptable in India may be offensive in the US., and some that are acceptable in the U.S. may be offensive in India, including ways people make eye contact
    7. Quality control. Lack of quality is a serious flaw in the U.S., where as in India it may be seen in a more lenient light 
    8. Being on time. Americans are strict and give more value to punctuality.
    9. Asking questions. Americans prefer people to ask questions. Indians may find asking questions rude. This may even include the use of question marks. Though grammatically they are needed in written English, some Indians have told me that emotionally it’s hard to use a question mark because culturally they were raised to believe questions are disrespectful.
    10. Feedback & Updates: Americans prefer a hands-off management style, so it’s up to the ‘subordinate’ to keep his/her manager updated. However, in India, managers have more top-down control and because of this it would be considered rude or even disrespectful for the subordinate to give updatesto the manager without the manager coming to the subordinate and asking for the updates. Also, managers in India tend to be in more constant contact with subordinates than in the U.S. 

    While there are many differences, there are also many similarities. Let’s look at examples of some similarities…

    • have many holidays, and enjoy a lot in their holidays 
    • partially disagree in similar ways 
    • like to make small talk during business meetings 
    • have a diversity of people and cultures 
    • both classify their regions like north, south, etc.  
    • have manners and pleasantries when interacting with each other
    • give importance to family during their celebrations 
    • like to socialize with their coworkers and celebrate special occasions 

    What other similarities or differences have you noticed between the U.S. and Indian business cultures? 

    To learn more about the offerings and cross-cultural training programs for your team, see our Programs page.

    In uncovering some of the differences and similarities, we use mock situations, role plays and funny stories to highlight how to overcome culture differences to be more confident when working with Americans from India.

    Jennifer Kumar is the Managing Director and facilitator for US cross-cultural trainings that have been attended by over 3,000 professionals in India. Learn more about the US cross-cultural training for virtual teams or contact us for for training options for your dispersed and offshore teams today.

    Related Posts:

    When to apologize to an American
    Managing Meetings with American Clients 
    How Indians View Time  

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