What does 'yes' mean, please?

Updated on Mar 17, 2005 08:15 PM IST

For Americans getting to know cultural nuances in verbal communication is a big bottleneck, writes Shalini Narang.

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PTI | ByCALIFORNIA DIARY | Shalini Kathuria Narang

Does a 'yes' by a java developer writing code in Bangalore, in reply to a query on the code status by a manager in Bay Area translate to "Yes, the code will be ready by the evening of July 25, 2005 or "Yes, I hear your requirements."

Such and similar communication concerns are being addressed in Inter Cultural Training sessions on India by companies doing cross-cultural training on India.

One of the modules in the course titled "Working With India" discusses topics such as 'Issue of Hierarchy: The Multiple Meanings' of "yes" in India by Meridian Resources, an Inter-cultural training company based in San Francisco Bay Area.

Understanding cultural and social nuances in verbal and written communication of co-workers working across cultures, countries and continents is pertinent to the success of people and companies.

While English lingual command is one of the big pluses that has given Indian workers an edge over professionals from other nations in getting cutting edge offshore assignments, the totality in understanding of socially transmitted behaviour patterns will help cement the bond of Indian and American cross-continent colleagues.

"In our training session on India, to American employees we emphasize the need of relationship building. Indian employees find that their American counterparts are very abrupt and pushy. American workers find their Indians co workers to be indirect and indecisive." says Natasha Crundwell of People Going Global, a communications consulting firm based in Washington DC, specializing in cross cultural management, global diversity and relocation training.

"In our course curriculum, we suggest to our American clients that they need to provide a cushion time during phone interactions for inter personal relationship building while soliciting information from their Indian colleagues," adds Natasha Crundell.

Companies like Meridian Resources, People Going Global, Charis and others offering cross cultural training sessions on India, not only include the basic vanilla curriculum in their India related courses to improve effective communication between workers in India and America but present specially tailored customized courses based on business focus.

Diana Rowland of Rowland & Associates has held cultural training on India for companies with call centres in India. She opines, "Some points of frustration for Americans in working with people in India, is inability to get clear, direct feedback.  The American culture is very explicit, so Americans are not used to looking at the context or subtleties to understand a message, especially when those subtleties are different from what they are used to. 

They expect someone to tell them directly if they don't understand or don't think that something will work or if there is a better way to proceed.  They believe this as being honest, which, is more important than being deferential.  Someone not speaking up can be considered unreliable. But polite, honest feedback, even if it is negative is appreciated and expected in the United States."

"Our Indian-cultural training sessions are broadly targeted at familiarizing the participants with the broad Indian culture and specifically with improving working relationship and performance of employees," says Ashok Mathur, India Instructor and Consultant at Charis Intercultural, another Bay Area company.

"The biggest issues that American workers have reported in relation to their Indian co workers are around communication." He adds, " Indian employees indulge in people pleasing behaviour. Their responses are not well analysed especially around project dates and deadlines." The cultural response of "yes" to an unrealistic deadline is detrimental in the long run when projects are not completed on promised dates.

"Indians employees need to learn to say "no" or take more time before committing to deliver on dates and deadlines that seem too aggressive" feels Ashok.

Lisa Breazeale, branch manager at Republic Title in Fremont, a hub for Indians in the Bay Area says, "I took the training to learn more about the cultural nuances that govern the behavioural patterns of our Indian clientele. My biggest challenges in dealing with Indians have been around communication, not keeping timelines for appointments and negotiation on title fees for real estate."

"In our cultural training for employees working in US and in India we talk about taking a balanced view on managing time differences and varied styles of interaction," says Peggy Schaller, training manager, Meridian Resources. "One of our consultants is working in India for the past six months and experiencing the pain points that Indian employees face due to time difference and varying communication styles."

With New Delhi being added to New Jersey and Bangalore to Bay Area on the branch office maps of multinationals and others, a need for understanding the local culture and customs has become more vital than ever before for the happiness of the diverse work force and consequently for the bottom-line of a business.

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