Adapting to India’s combination of “direct and indirect” culture

Most cross-cultural trainers will tell you India is an “indirect” culture, meaning it does not say things bluntly, goes around the topic rather than directly to the heart of the matter.

This is one of those generalisations that is only partly right – and if you rely on it you will be in for surprises in India.

The reality is that India combines direct and indirect communication.


At the point of meeting you, Indians can be very direct – “are you married, why is your husband/wife not here with you, what do you earn, can you find me a job, will you distribute my product”. For most westerners this is confronting, because our style of meeting and networking is very gradual.

But at the point of issues arising, this is where Indians can be very indirect.

If there is a problem with what you are wanting or what India promised for you, the communication becomes more obscure. India’s indirect communication can be hard to spot, even for India trade veterans. Some tell-tale signs are when the India side says “we will try to meet your deadline” – this generally is leading to the heart of the problem which is that they cannot deliver.

This indirect communication is not motivated to deceive or make your life difficult. in fact, it is based on the value India places on its relationship with you and a desire to keep that relation intact. This is why Indians rarely use the word “no” – the relationship is more important than the truth.

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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