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India Business Communication Secrets

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Learn the language used in offices in India, and you’ll have a greater understanding of business relationships there.

Two years ago, I had an impromptu meeting with someone at my company I had never met before. The last 30 seconds of that meeting changed my life forever: Two months later, I sold almost everything I owned and moved from a small surf town in Southern California to New Delhi, India, to help start up a branch of the premium sporting goods company I worked for.

When people ask me about my experience working abroad, I say, in India, when you take an action, you have no idea what the result will be or how long it will take to get it (five minutes or five days), if any result at all. In addition, at least 10 major things go wrong a day, and approaching a project with only a Plan A won’t cut it (plans B, C and D are necessary, and you usually end up utilizing Plan C).

But, with all of its challenges, working in India provided an amazing opportunity to learn to work with a new set of rules, adapt to new communication styles and experience what growth and opportunity feel like firsthand. Here are some communication lessons I learned along the way.

Tell Me! The phone is commonly answered with the phrase “Tell me!” To the unaccustomed, this may seem rude and abrupt. But considering the hectic pace of life in India, it makes sense to get right to the point of the call. Conversely, two to three “Byes” is standard procedure.

Leave a Message? Voicemail is rarely used in India. The phone will ring until an obvious message is played, such as, “The person you are trying to call is not answering.” Instead of leaving a message, most callers will call nonstop until they reach you.

I Don’t Mind When you ask a colleague if they want to go to lunch and they say, “I don’t mind,” don’t think they are accepting grudgingly. “I don’t mind” actually means, “Yes, I would like to do that.”

Do the What? “Do the needful” (and sometimes “Kindly do the needful”) of course means “Get it done”—but get what done? Well, any potential task that was mentioned in the email or conversation. (Keep in mind that it’s probably going to take two to five more reminder emails before the needful is actually done.)

Greetings, Email Style The use of “Dear” is common in email communication and is usually followed by one of the following options: “Greetings of the Day,” “I trust this email finds you well,” “I trust you are having a great week” or “I trust you received my previous email.”

You Can Bet On a “Win Win” One thing can be counted on during your first meeting with a potential business partner: The term “win win” will definitely be used.

The Regards Game

Email closings reveal subtle clues as to how your business relationship is progressing.

Regards—This is commonly used in an initial email when the sender doesn’t know the recipient very well. (However, it could also be the sender’s template closing—in which case, no need to be sad if never making it past the regards phase.)

Kind Regards—The recipient has made it to the second level.

Warm Regards—It usually takes about two months to get to the Warm Regards level, but be proud: The relationship is going places.

Warmest Regards—The recipient is in!

Thanks or Cheers—The person sending this email most likely corresponds frequently with multinational corporations and doesn’t play the regards game.

Traci Wallace is an independent consultant, coach and writer and continues to work in the U.S. and India (traciwallace.com).

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