I knew I had to have a lot of Relational Capital with this guy.
As a foreigner coming into a new company who was likely to shake things up a bit, it was imperative that I had a large pool of Capital coming from the CEO.
We sat down at a coffee shop. I guessed from his name that he was the kind of South Indian that only ate vegetarian, so I refrained from the Spicy Chicken entrée. He casually mentioned that he had visited an Ayurvedic retreat center with his wife, and I mentioned all the ways that the ancient Indians seemed so much more advanced than us today. I asked what his kids were studying in college and what he hoped their futures looked like. When talking about ethics, I mentioned a few things I had learned in a book about the Mahabharata.
Sooner or later you will realize that building Relational Capital is essential for doing business in India.
Although Relational Capital is present in every culture, different cultures put different weight on how important it is to do business. There are some pockets in my home in the US where Relational Capital means a lot (getting a job through an alumni network at a business school) and others where it doesn’t mean as much (getting a job at Walmart).
Also, there are different rules for how you build Relational Capital. If the CEO was German, I might have talked more about how the CEO’s favorite football team was doing, and would not have touched the topic of family in an early meeting.
Because these rules change from culture to culture, you usually need someone to tell you what they are. But don’t misread the following strategies as trying to ‘game’ the system or trick people into thinking you are a nicer person than you actually are. Being inauthentic is a sure way to lose any Relational Capital you have.
Here are ten of the best methods for building relationships in India (and also getting inside someone’s circle of obligation):
1. Get to know the family
You should know the names of this person’s spouse and children. You can bring up how the family is doing in nearly every conversation you have. Check how the kids are doing with their studies. Ask how their parents are doing and make sure their health is good.
2. Share your family
If you are serious about building Relational Capital, then your family must also be an open topic of conversation. Bring photos with you on your first trip, use them in slides if you are doing a presentation, and hang pictures of them in your office so that your colleagues can see them.
3. Never turn down tea/coffee
You are never too busy to take tea and coffee with someone you are trying to build a relationship with. In the world of time as a currency of relationship building, when tea/coffee is present, you earn double points.
Meals are triple points. You build Relational Capital in the cafeteria, at a restaurant, and especially at someone’s home. Allow them to order the food and explain the delicacies of their region (even if you already know them). You won’t likely offend anyone if you order meat with your meal, but there are some who you’d gain a lot of Capital with if you order vegetarian.
5. Attend family functions and festival celebrations
There will be life cycle events like weddings, housewarming ceremonies, and one-year birthdays, and also regional festivals that you may be invited to. The biggest key is to show up and eat something before you leave.
6. Go on a trip together
If you are leading a team in India, plan an outing out of the city. If you are in a senior leadership position, think about visiting a resort or hill station together with families (just bring it up casually and they will have lots of suggestions). People with close relationships often travel together.
7. Chat early and often
Good friends in India message each other every day. There is no such thing as a close friend that you haven’t spoken with in a few months. Use a messaging service like Whatsapp to stay in touch across continents.
8. Visit their home, invite them to yours
The guest is god in India, and by visiting, you are giving them the honor of hosting. If they visit your home, be careful not to even suggest the evening is over until they say something.
9. Give gifts
Anytime can be a good occasion for a gift, but especially remember the major festivals for their region. Don’t fret about what you will give. I like to say ‘It’s the gift that counts’ (not the thought).
10. Request favors
This is often the fastest way to build a lot of Capital fast. When you put yourself in a position of need, they will be happy to come and offer their help.
Which of these have you not tried yet while building relationships in India?
Stay tuned for next week when we discuss how to take all the Capital you have and lose it.
Image credit: mynameisharsha on Flickr