Seven years ago, I visited India for the first time. After an IT adventure of 4 years in Brazil I crossed oceans and countries to land in India. What a change. From football to cricket and from Carnival with flamboyantly dancers to religious festivities as Diwali and Holi with many ceremonies. And … from a country with 200 million people to the second world nation with a population of about 1.3 billion human beings. It’s a nice fact that both countries have a common history of winning twice in the Miss Universe beauty contest.
The goal of my visit was to find developers for Internet projects for my new company DevRepublic. I contacted a software company in Indore, got invited, packed the bags and took the plane. India here I come! With my best friends Internet and Google all is at my fingertips.
I landed in Indore, a city in west central India. For the fact-checkers: around 2.2 million inhabitants, the largest Asian colony and the world’s largest Ganesha Idol of 8 meters. The colors, the different smells, the crowded traffic and friendly people overwhelmed me. After a good night and a (much too) spicy Indian breakfast, I took a rickshaw. With the address written on a paper note I asked the driver if he knew the place. ‘Yes, yes’. Great. The first driver was already a hit. After 100 meters, he stopped and started talking to some people on the road. They were pointing to different directions. Maybe he misunderstood my handwriting? After 10 stops and 45 minutes we reached the destination. Wait. Did we see our hotel just somewhat further in almost the same street? Anyway, I reached my destination.
Yes, yes, no problem
After a warm welcome and some chitchat the business talk began. I needed developers and asked if they have and specified the needed skills. ‘Yes, yes, no problem’. Wow. That’s good. I told them about a tight deadline for a project and asked if they can deal with it. ‘Yes no problem’. I asked for confirmation and got an ‘ok’. I was wondering about the typical head shaking while answering me. It was a movement in between ‘yes’ and ‘no’. The rickshaw driver and the hotel people did the same. Funny. We made the deal and I went home happily with an offsite team of 6 Indian developers. It’s a small world after all.
Journey just started
Back home I thought the travel was ended but soon I knew that the real journey just started. In some time, I discovered that not all developers had the skills I asked for. How is that possible? And why didn’t they meet the deadlines? I asked specially for it and they confirmed with ‘yes, no problem’. Lucky, with hard work, tight communication, many cups of Chai tea and lots of masala dosas (the Indian equivalent of Coca Cola and pizzas) we managed the projects. After some Google actions, I discovered that it’s a common ‘issue’ that Indians can’t say no. It’s embedded deeply in their culture.
To avoid saying ‘no’ is the cultural tradition of ‘face-saving’. Saying ‘no’ is considered rude and impolite. It’s believed also that by saying ‘no’ conflicts are provokes. They usually beat around the bush, instead directly and openly saying ‘no’. From early on Indians are learning to not say ‘no’ to an important person. How more important than a client if you are running a business? It might explain the mutual misunderstanding and the ‘yes, yes, no problem’ I got often.
What a contrast with our Dutch directness. We don’t mince words. We say it straight up and direct, whether it’s feedback to a manager or a simple ‘no’ when someone is asking you a favor. The contrast is even more with my nature of being impatience and talkative. That last years I learned to count till 10 before give a reply (verbal or non-verbal) however this is still number one at my list of personal improvements …
Good to know about those culture differences. It can be a threshold and an obstacle in the communication with Indians or other Eastern people if you are not aware of this. And I wasn’t aware of it before … For the next time, it’s better to go into the culture of the country before your first visit. Now I understood the uncomfortable situation of the Indian developers. They just didn’t want to be rude to me. However, it can be somewhat ‘unhandy’ when you agreed on deadlines with clients as BP and Wild Bean Café based on the ‘yes, we can’ of the Indian team.
Try to coin a yes sentence
Is there any remedy to avoid misunderstanding about a ‘yes’? Yes, there is. Ask open questions. Don’t ask if the other understood you well but ask if they can tell in their own words what they understood. By the way, this question is also the best to ask to persons of your own culture. You also can’t look into their head if they really understood you well. I know that the chance of misunderstanding might be smaller because they are in the same context but nevertheless. And if you ask a closed-ended question then try to avoid a usual ‘no’. Each time you would usually say no, try to coin a yes sentence. That will help also.
Learning every day
Since years we have an own development center in Ahmedabad. All the professionals are employed at DevRepublic India. This was a very good step to do. Communication is more open because we are all colleagues instead of client and hired workers. Together we are searching constantly for improvements in the quality of our software, people, processes and, last but not least, communication. We are all aware of the cultural differences and we try to make the gap as narrow as possible. Mutual understanding is the key.
A fresh blend of styles and combined experience makes for a unique and efficient mission control center: Sanjay, John and me. We combine years of experience working with India and Brail and possess the know-how to pierce through the cultural barriers. We use the knowledge and experience that helps us to modernise the cooperation with the offshore development teams and extract the most efficient ways to process the wishes of out clients. The bridges we have build for our clients are ready for use and the communication channels are open. It’s our proven way to do business, with happy clients and happy employees for reference!