You made a careless phrase.
…or you forgot to cc someone on an email.
…or you unknowingly made a senior person look bad.
…or the hint of sarcasm in your email wasn’t taken the right way.
…or you forgot to invite someone to a meeting.
If you stick around India long enough, it’s not a question of if, but when you offend someone.Therefore, instead of discussing how to avoid it, let’s talk about how to recover from it.
What not to do
Depending on your personality, your first response might be to do nothing. Don’t do that unless you are willing to bury that relationship and never come back to it again (rarely a good idea).
6 Good Options
1. Ask an Indian. Whatever your situation, it’s too complex for a simple article like this one to solve. Grab a trusted friend, tell them the story and the name of the person, and let them guide you. The advanced outsider will do this with at least two Indians and split the difference on their advice. The expert outsider will ask for help from someone within the circle of the person you offended. #See1See100
2. Spend time together. Remember that time is a currency of relationship in India. Stop by for coffee or schedule a meal. You don’t need to mention the cause of the offense. Just keep investing minutes into the relationship. This can have an immediate effect, but may also take some time depending on the severity of your offense. #TimeIsEternal
3. Ask for advice. This point is different from the first. Here, you are asking the person you offended for advice. Put yourself in a position where you need help, and allow them to solve your problem. Advanced outsiders may even be able to apologize through the request. “There is someone very important to me that I think I may have unknowingly offended, could you help me think through what I should do?”
4. Take the cultural exit. Outsiders generally have quite a lot of rope available to them under the name of ‘cultural differences’. When you talk to the person, admit that you really had no idea what you were doing and are very sorry that they were offended.
5. Bring in someone senior. If you’ve offended a client in the professional world (or you made the Babu mad), then you need to remember the hierarchies. Have the next most senior person in your department apologize on your behalf, say it was unintentional, and share a plan on how to move forward. If you are the most senior person…use one of the other options. #PowerPlays
6. Apologize. I’m assuming that if you understand how you offended someone, it’s something you’ve already done. This is the kind of apologizing where you have no idea what you did wrong and perhaps even think you didn’t do anything wrong at all. Relational ethics take over here. Sometimes the relationship is more important than your pride. Give an apology, allow them to respond, and then move on. #GreyIsWhite
Recovering from offending someone is a normal part of life in India. You need to have a set of tools available to you for those times when you serve chicken to your colleague’s wife who has never eaten an egg in her life. Learn to recover well, and become well versed in these methods.
Image Credit: challiyan on Flickr