You repeatedly email and call an old contact who won’t reply or pick up.
The manager of your Indian operations suddenly quits for no apparent reason.
You get a legal notice in your office mailbox.
Even though Relational Capital can be straightforward to build, it can be a pain to maintain. And worse, it can all come crashing down very quickly. Months or years of effort can be reduced to nothing in what seems like an instant.
Sometimes it is necessary to intentionally end a business relationship in India, such as calling out a vendor who is using unscrupulous practices. But more often, you will find yourself bankrupt in Relational Capital with someone without a clue as to why. Relational Capital is high-risk/high-reward and can be a dangerous game to play.
Thankfully, there are patterns in the ways that outsiders lose all their relational investments, and you can learn from those of us who have lost more than we have gained. The following items are character traits that most Indians hate about other people, particularly outsiders.
10 Easy Ways To Ruin Your Relationships in India
1. Be pushy.
Wait! You keep talking about hierarchy and power. Don’t Indians expect people in leadership positions to be pushy?
A Parent Leader is both strongly hierarchical, and strongly group-minded. Their pushiness is either softer, or masked (albeit thinly), and it should ideally be balanced with care and concern in the next action – not a consistent trait.
Also, outsiders and Indians will be judged differently. An Indian might feel obligated to put up with more pushiness from an Indian leader, whereas he may feel resentful if it comes from an outsider.
2. Be sneaky.
Indians are always on the lookout for an ulterior motive. If they find anything that smells of it, watch out, because everything you do will be filtered through that lens.
As an example, Meredith was headed to Delhi for a job in a large MNC. Before she left, her British manager informed her that the marketing head would be transferred within six months and would be replaced by his associate. Meredith wanted to build goodwill with the incoming head and made sure he was marked on cc for her emails, especially about future plans.
This became a conversation piece between the existing head and the new one, who felt like they were being played by Meredith and/or the head office. From that moment on, they worked to block her ideas and made her position ineffectual.
The key thing you are trying to avoid is that one person (or a group of people) should never get the feeling that you are always working another agenda when you are with them.
3. Be aloof.
When you don’t intentionally connect with someone over several months, your Capital dwindles quickly. This applies to all levels of the hierarchy, but will have the most impact on relationships up the chain.
If it’s been at least a year between connections, you should consider your capital nonexistent A best practice is to make a list of the people who are most important to your success in India, and mention the last time you connected with them. If it’s been more than 2 weeks – it’s time to pick up the phone.
4. Be disrespectful of authority.
No one intends on being disrespectful, but you likely have no idea what ‘being respectful’ means in India. What you would consider appropriate in your culture might be the bare minimum here.
When in doubt, you should always default to ego massaging. Use titles of respect, talk about the glory of their past work, and how grateful you are to be a part of their team/project/network. #PowerPlays
5. Be arrogant.
This is mostly in terms of how you talk about your home country. Are you always comparing things? Do you endlessly refer to the traffic being ‘hellish’ and the infrastructure being ‘hopelessly outdated’? Do you talk about the ‘dirtiness’ all around you and how incredibly ‘corrupt’ the government is? Be sensitive to how often you use these words in front of Indians.
To combat this, consciously validate elements of Indian culture. This could be India’s history, its financial achievements, its scientific achievements, its contributions to the world economy, or even just how great India is at cricket.
6. Be inflexible.
In such a large bureaucracy, a jugaad mindset is necessary to function. People will respect your convictions, but many times outsiders drain all of their Relational Capital by making a stand on an issue that isn’t that important. A manager saw a drastic difference in his relationship with a key employee after she refused to backdate a compliance report that would have put him in line for a promotion. #GreyIsWhite
7. Be impatient.
The Babu will be very pleasant with you until he notices that you are starting to get jittery and push the process; then he starts to get indignant at your attitude. Be very careful with outward signs of impatience. #TimeIsEternal
8. Be completely contract-based.
I was working on a contract with a good friend who is also a client. I had sent him about 4 pages of clauses that would dictate our business relationship. While he appreciated the clarity, he was very clear that I should be very careful in sending these kinds of detailed contracts to Indian businesspeople, as it is a sign of mistrust for them. He agreed to the contract only because of the existing Relational Capital I had with him and my commitment to deal with things as they came up on a personal level.
9. Be negative.
In countless large debriefing meetings after big events that were seriously flawed, the focus was always on the positives. Only a passing comment would be given to the mistakes. These things are dealt with privately. If it is your nature to be ‘critical’, you need to balance that with a consistent and very healthy dose of praise.
10. Be colonial.
This could be the worst one. Indians are more sensitive than ever to the feeling of being treated like second-class members of a larger organization. Expunge from your vocabulary anything that suggests that your home country is the boss with all the experts and Indians are the cheap labor.
Have you ever ruined a business relationship in India other than the ways mentioned here? Share your story in the comments below.
Image Credit: Gopal Aggarwal on Flickr