Small talk, Indians, and attracting US clients

I remember that a year ago I wrote a blog entry calledAre Indians too uptight in business?

The answer is that they are.
However, I just read an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review blog about American Culture. Since I live in America, I am oblivious to American Culture. It is just around me and I don’t notice it. It just seems “normal”. But, Americans have a culture of making small talk. People are usually informal here. We are not British after all. Other cultures have too many rules for us, and might seem uptight. Even hispanic cultures have too many restrictions about what you can talk about for our standards. Despite how open the Latinos seem, they are quite restricted socially in many ways. Many just clam up when something is wrong, and they refuse to talk about it.

Indians are great at small talk. Wherever I go in India, people like to chat. Kerela and Mumbai are the friendliest places in the country, but even in less friendly places, people still chat and make small talk. So, what is the problem then? Indians are good at small talk, right? Sometimes — only!

Indians are great when you meet them on the street — assuming they can speak English. Okay, they might be great TO YOU if they only speak Marathi with a Thane accent, but to me, they are only great if they speak a language that I also know — at least enough to chat! Indians are fun at parties, unless they are the snobby types. Indians can sometimes be fun to work with too, if they know you a bit. But, when doing business, the best characteristcs of Indian culture get swallowed up by their uptightness.

When doing business, Indians become rigid. Social butterflies suddenly feel awkward when entering the workplace and don’t dare say anything. Information about their company becomes impersonal and is reduced to a list of percentages of various inconsequential statistics which are supposed to make them look business like. To Americans this is distasteful. We don’t want to hear a bunch of empty statistics that can’t be backed up. We don’t like uptight people either. We like Indians when they are NOT trying to be businesslike.

If Indians who catered to American clients were told that they could meet with the Americans, but ONLY if it were off the clock, they would be a different person. They would loosen up. They would unbutton the top button of their shirt. They would sit a little bit more relaxedly. They would become so much more pleasant to be around now that they are not trying to impress upon you how “businesslike” and professional they are. In short, they would suddenly become exactly the type of people that Americans would LOVE to hire — assuming their technical skills were up to par which is another serious issue often lacking in India.

So, when you are talking to American clients, pretend that you are not at work. Pretend you are meeting them for a beer. Of course, while you are discussing the beer, make sure that you can give professional sounding answers to all of their questions without delay, so that they know you are someone hireable. But, be a little bit friendly and casual — and we will like you more — perhaps we will like you a lot!

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