Why do westerners sweat so much over plans and deals? It’s all about “culture”

Why do westerners fret so much over contracts and project plans? Why do they become angry and agitated if things have to change? And why do their relationships end when the other side has a different view of planning? Why do westerners and Asians struggle to understand each other?

The answer can be found in one word – culture.

In writing about cultural differences, I do not mean to give offence, criticise, imply one is better or create division – my aim is understanding.

For Asia and the west, culture can be “make or break” in business, yet most of us are not even aware that the way we think is largely determined by our culture. This lack of awareness is poor preparation for global business and trade, where knowing culture is king.

With Asia, culture becomes complicated for westerners and many give up on it.

With India, cultural understanding becomes even more complicated, because it is a land of many cultures, different ways of seeing the world and is rich in diversity. For me, this is one of the great attractions of India. It is also why I go to Asia a lot. But for others it can become a deal breaker.

So, how can we bring an understanding of cultural differences to our business and trade negotiations between westerners and Asia? How can we find acceptance and understanding even when there is difference?

That answer can be found in two words – understanding culture.

Why contracts and project plans end in disputes

Most westerners place a high importance on rules, laws, regulations and contracts. They are almost “set in stone” and apply without exception. Most importantly, rules come before relationships – even if it is a family member. Variations to agreement cause confusion and even anger.

In Asia and especially in India, there are all the rules and contracts and so on, but the common view is that each circumstance and each relationship is different, so the rule may or may not apply. It becomes a moment by moment thing. Variations to agreements are taken for granted and fully expected to happen.

How does this work in business? For many westerners, any change to a contract becomes a time to consult the lawyers and can be a relationship ending event. For Asians, change is expected and accepted.

Why western individualism hits the collective wall

Even children are encouraged to make their own decisions in the west – including on courses, careers and most definitely on choice of partner. Under individualism, you make your choices and must take care of yourself – and in some countries this is harshly applied, in others there is a more compassionate welfare safety net.

Most Asian families make decisions for their children, including courses, careers and partners. The view is that the group – the family and so on – is more important than the individual. In return, the group looks after any member at time of need.

How does this work in business? An American is ready to sign the deal now – but the Asian partner wants time to talk to colleagues and ensure a group decision. Pressure versus group consultation.

Why westerners misunderstand indirect communication

In the west people can work together without having a good relationship and direct communication is highly valued. In fact, any indirect communication – going around the bush – creates mistrust in the other or is simply missed by the westerner. They just want the facts – a simple “yes” or “no” will do.

In Asia there is an overlap between work and personal life and they choose indirect communication because their major concern is to keep the relationship. Being direct such as saying “no” is difficult.

How does this work in business? People in the west keep work and personal lives separate so are less likely to socialise with Asian colleagues – or any colleagues – after work.

Why some hide face, while others save it

Most westerners make a big effort to hide emotions – this varies of course. They see “reason” as more important than “feelings”, so they often keep thoughts to themselves.

In Asia, spontaneous emotional responses can break out and this often surprises westerners. Saving face can become the most important thing.

How does this work in business? An Asian colleague will give or expect some emotional outbursts but is also looking for the following harmony.

Why becoming someone clashes with born something

Westerners value people by what they do or what they have achieved. Performance is king, no matter who you are.

Asian culture generally values people for who they are, so power, title and respect matter greatly, but of course the person should behave according to this status.

How does this work in business? Westerners will often “high five” with everyone including junior colleagues and everyone gets in to share the celebration, while in Asia the leader might receive most of the credit.

Why order dominates the western mind

“Order’ is highly prized in the west. That means doing things on schedule, being punctual, sticking to your plans and a “time is money” view of most things. They react badly to any disturbance to the smooth schedule.

“Time” is viewed differently across Asia, with the past, present and future seen as interwoven and so plans and commitments are more flexible.

How does this work in business? This different view of schedules and time causes relationship breakdowns and can see the end of the deal.

Why westerners feel in control of everything, including climate change

“Control” is big in the west – to the extent they see people as controlling nature or the environment, down to how they work with teams and with the organisation. Conflict is fine so long as the job gets done.

Asian cultures see nature and the environment more as controlling them – events, circumstances are in control more than the team. Conflict is avoided even at the expense of timely delivery.

How does this work in business? Westerners will need to give more reassurance and feedback to their Asian teams and setting clear objectives becomes paramount for both sides.

Adapting

These cultural differences can have big impacts, but with learning and adaptability, both sides can find they quickly work well, understand more and feel better about how things are going. Cultural understanding provides quick and positive results. Cultural ignorance can be the deal breaker.

India attracting investment during the pandemic and USA is the largest trading partner for a second year

Since March, India has received over $20 billion of new investment from Western companies despite the pandemic.

Thanks to John Bell, Client Relations, Amritt, Inc, Malibu California for this information.

Here are  four examples of significant improvement in bilateral trade between the two countries (India and USA) during the pandemic:

Dozens of large and small organizations depend on Amritt as their trusted advisor to succeed in India, whether selling, sourcing or leveraging talent.

You can Email John Bell at johnb@amritt.com

 

Google backing India as it becomes cautious on China

Google plans to invest US$10 billion over the next five to seven years to help accelerate the adoption of digital technologies in India.

Mr Sundar Pichai (pictured below), who was born in the country and is currently chief executive officer of parent Alphabet Inc., made the announcement at the annual Google for India event via video conference.

google3

He said, “This is a reflection of our confidence in the future of India and its digital economy”.

The US$10 billion funds are expected to be invested in partnerships, operations, infrastructure, the digital ecosystem, and equity investments. Google will focus on several key areas:

  • Providing affordable access and information for every Indian in their own language, including Hindi, Tamil, and Punjabi
  • Developing new products and services focused on India’s unique needs
  • Encouraging businesses as they continue or embark on their digital transformation
  • Utilising technology and artificial intelligence for social good, in areas like health, education, and agriculture

INTO INDIA can report there are more than 500 million internet users in India, second only to China, with growth that has attracted all the American technology giants.

google 6

Google is already using AI to predict floods in India

For those watching political and strategic shifts away from China – earlier this month, Google stopped its plans to offer a new cloud service in China and other politically sensitive countries.

tradewar3

India has had a surge of foreign interest in its digital economy. In the last few months, investors including Facebook Inc., Qualcomm Inc. and Intel Corp. have put around US$16 billion in the digital services unit of India’s largest conglomerate, the retail-to-telecom giant Reliance Industries Ltd.

Google, Facebook, Amazon.com Inc., and others are investing billions into the market.

As China seems less attractive for investors, India has the opportunity to shine and show its true attractions to investors and business.

 

India and Australia set a course to lead in the Indian Ocean

Last Thursday a “virtual” meeting set the course for the Indian Ocean region.

Australia’s PM Scott Morrison and Indian PM Narendra Modi met online.

Both shared the same problem – how to ensure security in “our” Indian Ocean region when China is becoming so active there.

These two leaders have ensured that for decades the two countries will become even closer strategic friends, and that both will lead in determining power in the Indian Ocean.

indiaaust2

Neither country ever expresses expansionist plans. Both just want the freedom and security they cherish.

This is a real boost to the India-Australia relationship because, let’s face it, there has not been much spark of interest between the two countries. Lots of words, but nothing tangible. Modi and Morrison have changed all that. Now it is real.

indianocean

What security deals came out of the meeting?

First, allowing reciprocal access to each other’s military bases for logistics support such as refuelling and maintenance. Sounds mundane, but it is a key step to closer military exercises and training.

Second a maritime cooperation agreement supporting the “rules-based” maritime order in the region, founded on respect for the sovereignty of all nations and international law, particularly the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. “Rules based” means “not China”.

Third, an agreement to cooperate on critical cyber and other technologies.

There were six other agreements and commentators are saying the two leaders found many ways of implying that “this is all about China”.

But I think it is really about the future of the Indian Ocean.

The two countries – India and Australia – have middle level defensive capacities and could unite a string of countries in the region in some form of security net. Likely additions would be Vietnam and Indonesia.

It will be values based. Modi told Morrison, “it is our sacred responsibility to uphold and protect values for global good like democracy, rule of law, freedom, mutual respect, regard for international institutions and transparency.” These values, he said, were under challenge.

This Indian Ocean deal could make the region one of stability at a time of China’s rise to power and the unpredictability – and decline – of the USA.

 

Stop seeing India through the lens of someone else’s trade war

Things get a bit biased in the west, and right now China is seen by politicians as a negative – even if most western economies rely on China trade.

The mythology from politicians is that their country – including Australia – should look at “diversifying” trade targets away from China.

Thinking of India as an “alternative” to China is a bit disrespectful of India and setting up for failure. Seeing India for what it is – a really good opportunity but on a different scale to China – will lead to better commercial and political decisions.

Let’s not look at India through the lens of someone else’s “trade wars”.

tradewars

When it comes to the world, China is the big game. India and Indonesia are also in the game and worth playing with, but each needs to be respected for what it is.

Take the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper which reported that growth in demand through to 2030 from China would be greater than that from the US, Japan, India and Indonesia combined. China’s rapidly expanding middle-class market is the big market.

ChinaIndia2

Even the Peter Varghese report on India’s potential showed that by 2035, Australia might export $45 billion of products and services to India. That would be great news! But compare that figure of $45 billion (and it’s 15 years off) with last year when Australia exported more than $160 billion to China.

When we remove the blinkers of politics, we can treat each country with respect and see the actual opportunity they represent.

We can open our eyes to a better view of trade – seeing it as part of the overall relationship of friendship with trading partners.

ModiMorrisonSmile2

Why Australia makes diplomatic errors in Asia – Article 1

Australia’s biggest challenge in relating to Asia is culture.

OUR culture, not theirs.

We have seen it recently with China and our call for an inquiry into the origins of Covid19 – surely a topic for behind the scenes diplomacy but it became a public fight and still bubbles along.

diplomacy

In our culture “if I am right, I will speak up, name and shame”.

In Asian culture, if I am right, I might speak but only “around the bush” and in a way that “saves face” and preserves relationship.

This is no small difference – it is the gulf that divides us from reaching our potential in our region.

“Saving face” is a part of Asian culture – so pointing the finger when something has gone wrong is the last thing we should do – better outcomes come from cultural awareness.

diplomacy3

We all know the best diplomacy happens behind closed doors. The above might explain why so much of Australia’s diplomacy is conducted on the front page and the TV news.

This is the first in a series on “Why Australia makes diplomatic errors in Asia”.

Will Australia’s vision swing to the Indian Ocean rim after Covid-19?

Australia is torn between two worlds – it has an unchanging alliance with the USA, but it is placed in the middle of a massively changing region, the Indian Ocean. The two can make life uncomfortable.

We are all expecting life to be somehow different after Covid-19. Perhaps one of the differences will be Australia looking more to the west – to the Indian Ocean.

If so, there will be a lot of diplomatic wriggling to be done, with China and the USA looking on.

Why does the Indian Ocean matter so much?

One third of the world’s population (2.5 billion) live around the Indian ocean rim. Their average age is below 30, making it the youngest region on earth.

This ocean is critical to global trade and food and energy security.

There are a dizzying array of global strategic and regional military and security interests.

It is at the crossroads of how the world works. Global trade and economic growth flow in and through it.

But it is also a region where instability and conflict can quickly arise – badly drawn borders create disputes, internal conflicts are rife and competing national interests make for a volatile region.

Why is the Indian Ocean so important for Australia?

First, it’s our neighbourhood.

Second, we are starting from way behind for we have long ignored this region and only recently have been building solid bridges.

Third, one-third of Australia’s coastline borders the Indian Ocean.

Fourth, our future depends on security of lines of trade and the development of both on-shore and off-shore assets – these hold the key to our economy and development.

Fifth, when you look at this Wikipedia map of the “western world” you might wonder why we have not looked to the Indian Ocean before.

westernworld2

Best of both worlds?

Looking west to the Indian Ocean does not mean we have to ignore our powerful friends – China to the north and USA to the east.

Changing our view while keeping our old friends will take diplomatic skill.

And probably it also takes time.

 

India – how Australia’s trade will change and how we should communicate

In the 1990’s, Australia sold India coal and LNG. We also sent over copper, lead and gold, along with unprocessed foods such as chickpeas, lentils, almonds and oils.

According to India veteran Michael Moignard (pictured) of East West Advisers, it was the beginning of our trade relationship with India – so that makes it very recent.

MikeMoignard2

In the 2000’s our trade has shifted – uranium is in there but taking the prize has been education in the form of fee-paying students in Australia. Along with this has been IT and processed foods, with wine and packaged goods finding a market. Finally, Indians discovered Australia as a tourist destination.

So, what will the 2020’s look like?

Michael Moignard was our Senior Trade Commissioner in Delhi for 7 years, so it was good that he gazed into the crystal ball at a recent India seminar at BDO. This is what he saw:

“Sustainability” will become a big theme, covering services and products around water, waste, renewables and smart cities. That’s a big shift.

Education will continue to dominate but with a move to skilling India’s workforce – in India. And IT will blossom into IoT, Ai and more.

Continuing strong will be wine, packaged goods and tourism.

In short – it’s a good picture for Australia. Hope you are ready to participate!

Mike’s advice on how to approach India:

  • Don’t just think about selling your product and services to India (just sales and profits should not be the only motive)
  • Work together to create relationships, trust and mutual value (Indians value trust and personal relationships)
  • Ensure Indian counterparts understand you are there for the long haul…and not just for short-term profits
  • Don’t give the impression that your India strategy is just a diversification from China (and India is definitely not the next China)

Oh, and his final tip, use the phone much more and the emails much less.

 

“Namaste Trump” good diplomacy for India but differences with USA remain

Can India make the most out of US President Donald Trump’s visit?

“Namaste Trump” this week been a great visit for India and looks to have been celebrated across the nation. Two leaders of great democracies.

But differences still exist, and the question is can India and PM Modi build on President Trump’s historic visit which took place this week?

PM Modi will drive the relationship, but he is not alone.

One man in South Block — Harsh Vardhan Shringla, India’s foreign secretary – will make a big contribution to the outcome.

India’s foreign secretary is seen as a calm and composed officer, and he has handled bilateral ties even during turbulent times as the Indian ambassador to the US.

It was he who dreamed up and led the “Howdy, Modi!” event in Houston.

trumpmodi6

Now he has a lot of the responsibility of making “Namaste Trump” a success.

What will be the big issues? Top of the list is a free-trade agreement and disagreements on intellectual property rights. Plus how both countries feel about and react to China.

But clearly Namaste Trump is a big win for India and PM Modi and a mark of the increasing respect India has on the global stage.

trumpindia8

Indian PM Modi and US President Trump – two men who enjoy centre stage and get on well

How Indian use of English can show cultural differences among English speaking nations

A recent headline in the Economic Times read: “India budget – what all has the Government promised”.

For western English speakers, the “what all” demonstrates a slight difference in how English is used in India. I am not saying anyone is right or wrong here, but language can remind us that although we might speak English, we think first as a westerner or an Indian or other part of Asia. Western media would say “what has the government…”

At the least it is entertaining – at most it provides cultural insights.

At functions in India you will see two signs “Veg and non-veg”. This shows how important food choices are over there.

veg

Pictured is the vegetarian Jumbo King Food outlet in Mumbai

Young Indians will often refer to non-relative individuals as “Auntie” or “Uncle” as a sign of affection.

“Timepass’ is a terrific Indian-English creation – used to describe a Bollywood movie or TV show that was just OK. How was the movie – Oh you know, timepass.

When an Indian talks about “mugging” it is generally not about thugs or criminals – it describes rote learning, memorising, cramming.

In a crowded country, “kindly adjust” is a common phrase which means “sorry about any inconvenience but there is not much I can do about it now”. Especially useful on trains.

railwaystationahmedabad

Pictured is Ahmedabad station where “kindly adjust’ comes in handy

Conversations can often include “rest is fine” which comes after a short description of what is happening in your life and “rest is fine” is an all purpose summary of the rest.

“What is your good name” is one I love – such a respectful way to ask a person’s name.

Brian Johnston recently wrote in this topic in Traveller.

He said a simple sign in a Delhi temple said “Ill manner of all kinds is intolerable”. Admonishment or observation? Intolerable, but is it tolerated?

Indians, he says, have a Shakespearean knack for new variations of words – upgradation, pin-drop silence, and “Mention not!” when you offer praise.

More – she is pulling your legs. Pay attention on. Discuss about. She’ll be knowing the answer.

How about “Don’t prepone it – do the needful!” By the way, “Prepone” is much shorter than “”Do you want to bring our meeting forward a day?” Prepone is now in the Oxford English dictionary.

Words such as hullabaloo, hoary, gallivanting, thrice and scurrilous continue to thrive in India.

Johnston says: “Indian English conforms to its own proper rules of grammar and vocabulary”.

He makes the point that English is no longer controlled by the small number who originally spoke it. Native speakers of English (450 million) are way outnumbered by non-native speakers (at least 1 billion).

In India you can order “hot hot coffee”. A travel guide might refer to the wonderful India Gate in Delhi as “big and enormous” – that is huge!

indiagate4

(I am pictured in November in front of the “big and enormous” India Gate in Delhi)

China of course has its own English, often dispensing with subjects (can or can not!) or verbs (this chilly crab delicious).

India and China both use “is it” in questions – “you are leaving now, is it?”

On the road in India is entertaining – “Horn please!” is the instruction on mountain bends and on the back of trucks. “Faster will see disaster” it a beautiful use of English as is “Always alert, accident avert”. Also – “Road is hilly, don’t be silly”

hornplease

Pictured above – colourful back end of a truck in India

My favourite is the sign off used in emails and letters – “We will revert with the necessary”. Says it all.

(Thanks in part to Brian Johnston and Traveller 1 February 2020)