There is such a thing as “Indian Time”

Different cultures can perceive time in different ways. In the west we see time as sequential, a straight line, whereas India sees time as synchronic, they see the past, present and future as interrelated.

Why do we need to know this? Knowledge of the culture of others is not about making judgments of others – rather, it helps us adapt to differences.

In a nutshell, this western approach to time explains why we are always rushing about, completing one meeting and rushing on to the next, while your Indian host seems relaxed, not in a rush, dealing with many other things while meeting with you and so on.

The Indian view of time partly explains the seeming “chaos” of Indian conferences – people constantly leaving or entering the room, private meetings can distract your attention and of course mobiles will ring and will be answered. All of this can be confusing for westerners, yet for the Indians, this is just a normal situation.

In a business meeting, the Indian you are talking to might also be signing letters, taking messages from staff, handling calls and seemingly not paying attention – but in fact knows exactly what you are saying despite what westerners would see as interruptions.

It is important for the visitor to adapt to this difference – especially on business visits. For example, filling your day with meetings could mean you miss the real opportunity, such as towards the end of a long meeting, your Indian host might want to introduce you to a superior or a friend in another company – this is a sign of your acceptance, the meeting has gone well, and they are honoring you. Without understanding this difference, you rush off and miss the opportunity.

Author: Stephen Manallack

Former President, Australia India Business Council, Victoria and Author, You Can Communicate; Riding the Elephant; Soft Skills for a Flat World (published by Tata McGraw-Hill INDIA); Communicating Your Personal Brand. Director, EastWest Academy Pty Ltd and Trainer/Speaker/Mentor in Leadership, Communication and Cross Cultural Communication. Passionate campaigner for closer western relations with India. Stephen Manallack is a specialist on “Doing Business with India” and advisor/trainer on “Cross-Cultural Understanding”. He is a Director of EastWest Academy Pty Ltd which provides strategic advice and counsel regarding business relations with India. A regular speaker in India on leadership and global communication, his most recent speaking tour included a speech to students of the elite Indian university, Amity University, in Noida. He also spoke at a major Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) global summit, the PR Consultants Association of India in Delhi, the Symbiosis University in Pune and Cross-Cultural Training for Sundaram Business Services in Chennai. He has visited India on business missions on 10 occasions and led three major trade missions there. He provides cross-cultural training – Asia and the west.

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