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Global Business: India Typical Cultural Beliefs

June 4, 2008

Preserving Honor and Not Conflicting with the group “Harmony”

Most of what is done and not done in Indian society—and especially what is said and not said—comes down to the need to preserving honor and group harmony.

Most of what is done and not done in Indian society—and especially what is said and not said—comes down to the need to preserve harmony, one’s own and, even more important, group co-operation, in particular one’s seniors and elders. It is the driving force behind and the single greatest influence on the Indian style of communication.

What exactly is “Preserving Harmony”? It is what makes it possible for people to keep their honor and dignity, what saves them from embarrassment, and what preserves their self-respect. Face is perhaps best understood in terms of what causes people in face-saving cultures to lose face. If done in front of other people (such as at a meeting), all of the following have the potential of causing someone else to lose face, the speaker to lose face, or both:

· Openly disagreeing with what someone else says, especially if he or she is senior.

· Correcting what someone else, especially a senior, has said.

· Criticizing someone else who is present.

· Challenging something another person says.

· Making an overtly negative comment about what someone else has said.

· Giving negative feedback.

· Not being able to answer a question one should know the answer to.

· Not being prepared in circumstances where one should be.

· Saying something is not possible.

· Admitting a mistake.

· Admitting one does not know something that one should know.

· Admitting that one does not or did not understand something.

· Admitting that one is not on schedule, is falling behind, is not going to make a deadline.

· Asking for help or for more time.

All these things can be done in Indian society, of course; indeed, they are essential for efficient operations in any workplace. But as far as possible they must be done consistent with the requirements of face, which means they have to be done discretely, politely, and very carefully, which is not a bad three-word summary of the Indian style of communication.

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