Like it or not, more and more North American companies are choosing to outsource, triggering the need for effective communication with different people and different cultures. Cultural awareness is a topic that comes up frequently in my workshops, as many training professionals are asked to conduct training in foreign countries. Understanding other people’s cultures, etiquettes, and taboos can be of great value to the visiting training professional. In response to the “buzz” around cultural awareness, I decided to do a bit of research regarding work practices in different countries. I’ve chosen the two countries that I get the most questions about – India and China.
Do’s and Don’ts in India
- Do be punctual! Indians appreciate punctuality but may not reciprocate it.
- Do schedule training for late morning or early afternoon between the hours of 11 and 4.
- Don’t rush deadlines, as impatience is seen as aggressive, rude, and disrespectful. Making a decision is often a slow and thoughtful process in Indian culture.
- Do greet trainees with friendly small talk. In turn, you may be asked questions about your family – it’s seen as a way of building rapport and trust.
- Do wait for a female trainee to initiate the greeting if you’re a man. Ladies, Indian men do not generally shake hands with women out of respect.
- Don’t refuse any food or drink offered to you, as this may cause offense. In addition, Indians are traditionally vegetarians and do not drink alcohol.
- Don’t point your feet (or the soles of your shoes) at anyone. Feet are considered unclean!
Do’s and Don’ts in China
- Do give and receive business cards with both hands. One side should be printed in English and one in Chinese (present with the Chinese side facing up). Never place a business card that you’ve just received in your back pocket, as it is considered extremely disrespectful!
- Don’t give a firm handshake. While handshakes are the most popular form of greeting in Chinese business, make them limp and brief.
- Do expect punctuality from your Chinese trainees. Punctuality is considered extremely important and being on time is essential.
- Do maintain eye contact with your Chinese trainees. Avoiding eye contact is considered untrustworthy. Conversely, in crowded public places, the Chinese avoid eye contact to give themselves privacy.
- Don’t assume that a nod is a sign of agreement. More often than not, it signifies that the person is simply listening.
- Do address your Chinese trainees with a title and their last name (that would be very formal in North America). If they want to move to a first name basis, they will advise you which name to use.
- Do be conscious of your non-verbal behavior. Since the Chinese strive for harmony and are group-dependent, they rely on facial expression, tone of voice, and posture to tell them what someone feels.
It is sometimes the simple mistakes we make when dealing with other cultures that can ruin a relationship built on months of hard work. Learning the simple cultural do’s and don’ts can help you avoid this and help generate respect and understanding. I’d love to hear about your experiences training abroad. Feel free to share!