Recently, I coordinated a pretty large-scaled family event held in India. Being in Chicago, all my outreach was done via email, phone and Skype. The technology enabled seamless back-and-forth communication with the vendors and really reinforced what a well-connected world we live in today.
English is one of the official languages of India and many Indians speak excellent, almost perfect English. It would be pretty unusual to meet any business person engaged in international trade who wasn’t able to converse in the language.
Armed with technology and command of a common language, I was all set to deal with my Indian vendors and get the job done, yes? Not quite.
As seen in many Asian cultures, Indians find it very difficult to say “no,” feeling that doing so would be offensive and lead to difficult ongoing relationships. So when faced with disagreement around price or timing of deliverables, I encountered vagueness and a lack of commitment. I quickly learned that “I will try my best” actually meant “not possible;” we didn’t have a deal and I had to go back to the drawing board. I also learned to be specific when asking questions: “So we are OK with the price?” would simply get me a “Yes.” Instead, I would ask, “Please tell me the final price we are agreeing to” and this would force my vendor to spell out our deal.
Having moved around quite a bit, I know when living in a foreign country, it’s important not to be ethnocentric and respect others’ cultural norms. However, this experience taught me to put what I knew to practice when doing business transactions as well. Nowadays, multi-national companies are expanding to every corner of the globe. So it’s becoming increasingly important for communication professionals to study business norms and communication styles in foreign countries before assuming what worked in the U.S. will go over in Malaysia or Russia as well. The answer, more than likely is no.
Have you conducted business abroad? What were some of your key takeaways?Back