Why an Indian nod creates confusion?

Why an Indian nod creates confusion?

An American, James and an Indian associate, Rohit are in a discussion over a video conference. James is referring to a keynote and explaining a critical Business change, and Rohit is listening to it with rapt attention. Rohit is nodding his head slightly forward periodically signalling ‘he is with the speaker, he is attentive, he is following the discussion, he is on the same page’. He was told to do so while attending college lectures.

James read the nodding of Rohit as – not being excited about the matter. Rohit hasn’t understood the explanation, is not with him or worst, he disagrees. The half nodding sent confusing signals to James.

Both are right as per the interpretation in their culture, yet there is a considerable miscommunication! 

Indian culture: A lot of communication with Indians (and the Asians) is implied or implicit: body language, blinking eyes, hand signals. Tone, variation in voice need to be interpreted. The meaning of same action may also change as per the context. In short, one has to read between the lines. One has to be an observant.

American culture: Americans are explicit. They will say everything that they want to communicate explicitly. It may be felt ‘repetitive’ or ‘you being considered naive’ at times, though that is not the intention. Nothing is left for interpretation, no reading between the lines, clear communication. So much so that after cracking jokes, they may say ‘just kidding’ in case anybody didn’t get it! In the Indian context, it is not even a worthy joke, if you have to tell that explicitly!

The misinterpretation of Indian nodding is one of the few cultural differences that came out while writing my book ‘7 Untold Secrets of Living Abroad’; not just by the Americans but by most of the European nationals too. Implied communication is common among the Asians or the Eastern part of world!

When was the last you had a miscommunication due to cultural differences? 

Get through the cultural maze of 12 top nationalities around the world: read the Amazon Bestseller: 7 Untold Secrets of Living abroad

The article is part of the ‘Culture maze series’.

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What is the one thing that reduces your efficiency?

What is the one thing that reduces your efficiency?

Yesterday I was playing Chess with my son, and he advised me not to play the same piece twice consecutively. If you do, that means your first step was ineffective, you are inefficient. You are one step behind me, he shared. I took note.

The same strategy applies in the corporate world too!

Sending reminders to get things done at the workplace is the single most act that reduces your efficiency.

You cannot move forward if there is a dependency. Part of your energy is engaged in getting the task done. If there need to be a rework, you are racing against the time. It introduces uncertainty in your plan of action. It results in a chain of reactions, ultimately you may fall one step behind!

Quick action or reply to email or calendar-invite brings certainty. More work gets done in less time, everyone’s time is valued, nobody chases anybody! This strategy helps in building an efficient culture. It develops slowly, but once you know everyone is part of the culture; you can build your pieces with every forward step like in the game of Chess.

When you move abroad, knowing work-culture can give a jumpstart to your journey!

What affects your efficiency, and how do you go about it?

If you don’t greet them, people from this country may get offended by you!

If you don’t greet them, people from this country may get offended by you!

My grandfather taught me to greet the elders by touching their feet whenever I met them. A Namaste too would work many a time, but he would insist that there is no harm in giving additional respect. Though some of the rituals became modern with time. 

If you shift abroad, knowing how to greet people could give a great start to your journey! Some cultures believe specifics. 

In South Africa, you are expected to greet the locals explicitly in the office every day, as you see them. If you are going for lunch or tea, asking them is expected. Even in the daily walk of life, expressing greetings before getting into conversation works best, as if ‘declaring’ it! South Africans would respect you equally, if not less. They may take it as an offence if you do not greet them, though it may be unintentional! 

Do you have any tale about greetings worth sharing?

You may experience a cultural shock in meetings; while working in this country!

You may experience a cultural shock in meetings; while working in this country!

The first corporate meeting I had was with a Canadian logistics client for a Consulting project. I had prepared well – the topics to cover, the processes to understand, my initial findings, and keeping it within the scheduled time. I stuck to the agenda and ensured that the time duration is productive for everyone. ‘Keeping it to-the-point and wrapping up early if possible’ are efficient business etiquettes, I was told then. 

If you move to New Zealand with this expectation, you may get a cultural shock during the initial meetings! Brief small talks, an element of humour, sharing what you did over the last weekend is common depending on the familiarity of the attendees. The meetings are taken seriously and are as much productive; but the atmosphere in the meeting room is relaxed. You may require additional efforts to appreciate the culture and be participative; more so if it is your first exposure outside the country! 

Have you encountered any cultural shock during business meetings away from home country?