Why do Indians fail in business


Think English, act Indian

If you want to be successful in India, you have to understand the country's economic culture. In this business etiquette, you will find out why a paternal, strict superior is an advantage.

Expateer's Insight:

This “Business Etiquette: India” and the conversation with the author and expert for intercultural communication, Waseem Hussain, inspired me to reflect on my experiences with India. I have to admit, the result is devastating. Many India projects that I have observed already failed in the preparatory phases, numerous ...
... more within the first year. And no, it wasn't me. The excessive and inefficient bureaucracy and corruption is simply becoming too much for many companies. The good news: Around 400 Swiss companies were successful and have gained a foothold in India.

Is India on the radar of your company? Then you are interested in this business etiquette. Even better: Register for the free “India Business Culture” webinar offered by MARWAS AG. These 50 minutes are well invested.


India, the third largest economy in Asia after China and Japan, is the land of opportunity. The potential of the Indian economy remains enormous despite excessive and inefficient bureaucracy and corruption. Even in times of crisis, the economy grows faster than in Europe. Around 400 Swiss industrial companies and over 5000 German companies have already gained a foothold on the subcontinent - and the number is growing.

But entering the Indian market also has its pitfalls. In addition to the basic requirements for business success, the greatest challenge in India is cultural competence. "We think in English and act in Indian", says the managing director of the industrial group Tata, and thus sums up the Indian business mentality. The assumption that India is very western due to British colonial rule and the English language that is common in business life is misleading. India is completely different from anything we know in the west.

The fact that you can communicate with Indians in English does not mean that the messages really get through to the other person. If you want to be successful in India, you have to understand the country's economic culture and know the factors that can make business relationships flourish or fail. Europeans and Americans who have not prepared for the step to India and only have business in the back of their minds often fail to find their way around India.

In the Indian chaos, westerners lose patience first, then their nerves. Western companies that want to establish sustainable business relationships with Indians in India and have long-term success should prepare their employees for the most important customs in dealing with Indians. Faux pas lurk everywhere in India. The cultural effort in micromanagement can be massively reduced through training and preparation.

Here's what you need to know when dealing with Indians:


  • Quality and performance have a similar status in India today as in the western world. Don't sell yourself based on price, but rather on the value of your work or your products.
  • The supposed chaos in negotiations is not at all. The Indian is always concerned with weighing price and performance. In doing so, he puts his own arguments, but also those of the opposing party, to the test by making an interpretation of partly contradicting ideas, opinions and criticisms.
  • The Indian boss wants to negotiate with his own kind. Try to adapt to the hierarchical order - everything else is pointless.
  • Greet the oldest member of a group first. When it comes to clothing, men should wear a white shirt and trousers, never jeans, if possible. For official appointments, a suit and tie is mandatory.

Communication and collaboration

  • Be clear in what you say. "Could you please do this by Tuesday?" Is not understood in India. Instead, say: "Deliver this report to me by 12 noon on Tuesday."
  • You will be successful in dealing with Indian subordinates if you show yourself to be a compassionate fatherly but strict superior. Team members trust that the boss will show them the way through life, work and career.
  • Saying "no" openly is not appreciated.
  • The display of disagreements weakens your position.
  • Address positive topics in the conversation and also talk about family matters. Avoid talking about negative topics like poverty and the caste system.

Experts agree that trade between Europe and India can still be expanded significantly. Intercultural know-how and management will then become even more important in order to overcome rifts and build bridges.

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