In India, business is about building relationships and long-term trust. But these relationships are not quite the same as those in Western business-Indians do not distinguish between social friendships and business relationships. Developing a "friendship" is a necessary part of making a deal and forging a business relationship. When you meet your Indian business partners, be prepared for grand hospitality, and accept it on the understanding that you will be expected to return the kindness. You may be told: "you are like a brother/ sister to me"-this is a form of flattery called Chamchagiri, which binds business partners closer together. You too can play the game-call your partner Bhai-saheb, which means "respected older brother." The journey toward this level of intimacy may be slow but it cements an essential level of trust. Indians care deeply about how the world regards them and their country. As a business visitor you should show that you respect and admire India: contain some of your first impressions and avoid questions about social problems, which will make your Indian partner feel embarrassed. Focus instead on the growing number of positives. Ask about India's impressive Space Program, its pioneering role in IT innovation, its global takeovers, or its cricket team. Corruption is so widespread in India that the country is often described as "institutionally corrupt."
But it would be wrong to see the role of bribery as solely a monetary issue. India is a highly deferential society, and corruption is also a symbol of one's place in the hierarchy: the size of bribes offered to an official are yardsticks of his or her power. In a 2005 survey by the anti-corruption campaign group Transparency International (TI), more than 60 percent of Indian respondents said they had paid bribes to government officials. The police department was judged to be the most corrupt, followed by the judiciary, land administration, especially building plan approvals, and municipal services, such as electricity. As a foreigner, you may never actually see or know about bribes demanded for permissions related to your business projects in India-it may be handled entirely by your Indian partner.
However, if you are directly sounded out about a bribe payment, you have a tough decision to make. It is a fact of life in India that speeding your paperwork through the bureaucratic jungle often requires cash incentives for those who carry it through to the permission stage. Offering a bribe, or receiving one, is illegal in India, and may also be a domestic offense in your home country. However, it remains a very real dilemma for many foreign business travelers, especially when time is short and officials are obstructive. It is not uncommon for this dilemma to be "fudged" by the appointment of an agent who charges you a fee to process applications on your behalf and takes care of various "commissions." The good news is that while corruption in India is widespread, there is evidence that it is declining. Privatization of utilities and an increase in online applications for government services have played a part, and the introduction of the Right to Information Act has made officials more accountable than ever before. In India, haggling is a way of life, and everything works backward from the price you are willing to pay or accept; almost all strategies that serve that outcome are considered acceptable. There are some general principles and protocols that must be followed, but politeness and immense patience are the most critical qualities for successful negotiation. Indians expect negotiations to be personal, friendly, and positive. Language is more flowery, flattery is expected by both sides, and personal chemistry is a necessary catalyst in striking any deal.
Here are some ideas about what to expect in your negotiations: Multitasking is part of the culture; your meeting may be interrupted by phone calls or people walking in with questions. Do not allow this to affect you. Be prepared for your negotiations to take much longer than would be normal in your own country. The Indian team will subject your proposal to microscopic scrutiny, pointing out every weakness and flaw in the greatest detail. Do not show anger or impatience throughout this process: wait until you have an opportunity, then re-state your proposal with detailed justifications for each of your terms. Throughout this your Indian hosts will listen politely, and then, probably, reject all of your points. Keep the mood light and non-confrontational, but do not concede your position. The closing stages of a negotiation often come unexpectedly just as you are beginning to lose hope of any conclusion. The moment of agreement is easy to miss because there may have been many handshakes, but not a definitive one. Look out for a marked relaxation in behavior from your hosts, and a sudden sense of ease in the atmosphere. Indian companies will often expect negotiations to begin after you have accepted their tender to supply a service-only then will you discover that the tender was offered as an application to be a preferred bidder. Contracts themselves are not considered legally binding. Even if signed under a Western country's jurisdiction, your Indian partners will regard a contract more as a flexible statement of general intent. Be prepared for this and try to leave some margin for flexibility-it is a good investment in sustaining a longer-term relationship.
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