Key US-India Culture Differences that can Impact Your Ability to Qualify for an American Client-Facing Role
If you are an Indian professional and you dream of working with Americans, you will need to learn how to behave more like Americans. Doing so will increase trust among potential employers that can earn you an interview, and hopefully a new position. Why is that? Learning how to adapt and tuning your behavior to Americans will make it easier for them to work with you, because it will save them time and avoid potential embarrassment for everyone.
If you missed it, you can catch up for more background, by reading my blog about How culture sensitivity can improve Indian job qualifications to work with Americans.
Key US-India Culture Differences
In my experience, let’s explore a few key culture differences between how business is done in the United States and India.
Time - fixed and linear vs. fluid and cyclical
For Americans, time is literally equal to money. This is because time is fixed and linear (you don’t get another chance to live your life again). This means time is life and shouldn’t be wasted. Indians who want to work effectively with Americans will need to become more precise when setting times to meet or deliver information, and planning ahead so you can be well prepared and on time (early is better) - every time.
Communication Style - direct vs. indirect
Americans prefer a more direct style of communication with more context and less social discourse. It may be challenging for Indians to switch from a more indirect style that defers to authorities, and figure out how and when to add more context, and skip some of the social niceties that makes India a warm culture. This is especially critical for anyone who aspires to be a consummate consultant - you can’t wait for your client to tell you what to do, you will need to challenge your client’s assumptions and guide them on the best course of action - that is why they pay consultants.
Social Status - meritocractic vs. hierarchy
The United States is considered a ‘meritocracy’ (despite actual prejudice and bias to the contrary in some places). Both India and the United States share an unfortunate history of class discrimination and fortunately, both are making strides towards a society of equal opportunity (okay, India is probably doing better now comparatively while the U.S. seems to be going backwards but political debates is not the focus of this blog).
One key remnant that I’ve observed from a few people is treating administrative staff or support people as ‘inferior’. Perhaps these were isolated situations with individual personalities so take it with a ‘grain of salt’ (fyi, this is the American version of ‘pinch of salt). One thing you will learn by working with Americans is that administrative staff, especially Executive Administrators/Assistants can save your project. Plus, you can’t assume the eldest male dressed in a suit is the boss. The actual decision-maker may surprise you, so it’s best to treat everyone with respect.
Information Sharing - written vs. oral
India’s rich tradition of oral storytelling seems to play a role in how information is documented. Americans expect important information, as well as the details, to be delivered in writing. Written documentation allows everyone to share a common understanding of who will do what and when.Indians who learn how to take detailed notes, and share the right level of information, with both internal and external parties, will reduce their client’s fear that your project will run amok. So document and follow up on what you agree will help your project run smoothly and increase your client’s satisfaction, and your project rating!
These are the key differences I’ve learned in my experience as an American executive working with Indians. Do you have examples where these issues have impacted you?What other culture differences are creating challenges for you?
Take control of your success and command career by learning the basic business protocols used by Americans. Check out my other blogs:
- How culture sensitivity can improve Indian job qualifications to work with Americans
- How to increase customer satisfaction with Americans by reducing friction
- How to demonstrate you are a ‘Professional’ to Americans
- Strategies to Land a Job with Americans
Happy job hunting!
Careen Foster is the owner and educator at American Business Basics who provides online courses to help Indian professionals learn how to effectively work with Americans. You can also follow me on Facebook at American Business Basics.