16 August 2010

Indians can’t say no, fact or fiction?

About Hugo Messer

Hugo Messer is a Dutch entrepreneur, distributed agile team specialist, and author. He is the founder and owner of Bridge Global, a software services provider, and ekipa.co., an agile coaching agency. He has been building and managing teams around the world for the past several years. His passion is to enable people that are spread across cultures, geography and time zones to cooperate. Whether it’s offshoring or nearshoring, he knows what it takes to make global cooperation work.

14 thoughts on “Indians can’t say no, fact or fiction?
  1. As always, an interesting issue is raised on this website….

    My personal experiences tell me there is by no means a monolithic statement to be made on this question, yet there is always something different in the “Yes” and “No” that one gets from people in India.

    Factors: If that person from whom you expect an answer is….

    ….your superior, a “no” can come with a high degree of clarity.

    ….your team member – where you are the manager – a “no” can come in an achingly slow, or even an inconclusive, manner.

    ….someone who has lived outside of India, especially the US or Europe, a “no” can come with great ease, in an almost refreshing manner that reflects their dual heart.

    In all cases, it is a unique experience to get a “no” in India, because many things other than the actual word “No” can actually mean “No”. And the movement of the head is of little help, as the “Yes” movement and the “No” movement are so similar that it takes about a year to see the difference.

    Finally, I also think many Indians being a level of deference to interactions with Westerners that is a) unmerited, and b) can serve to make the elusive “No” rears its head, where the same exact question might lead to a loud “Aaye yaar, nahi!!” between two Indians.

    A few thoughts, submitted for your consideration.

    Thanks for the food for thought!

  2. Interesting article!

    well, I would agree to Byl to some extent.

    I am 25 years old, born and brought up in India. I would not agree to this statement that Indians can’t say “NO”… infect they do :) many times :) It could be for personal or professional matter.

    For example, if you’re working as a developer and your team leader asks you to do a module by the end of the day, you might end up in saying NO – considering the amount of efforts required…

    Same way, if particular module can be done by the end of day, your answer will be YES :) It depends on what are you expecting from the other person. It could be feasible from you point of view but might not be from the other person.

    Taking into consideration as offshore relation, yes we as an offshore company, have many times said ‘No’ to our clients while taking projects. It could be any reason (size of the project, technology, budget, duration and what not!)

    So to conclude, I would like to put a statement: “It’s not easy to generalize behavior of an individual based on few experience as each and every individual will have their own characteristics!”

    Thanks Hugo for posting such an interesting article!


  3. A very intersting article, raising an important issue I think in outsourcing to India

    In my experience as business development executive I have learned that the unability of Indians to say
    no tends to be much higher in short term project to project relationships. I think it also has to do
    with the way the Indian company looks at the Dutch partner, in project to project based partnerships the Indian company will often tend to see the European partner as the ‘boss’ in the outsourcing project, and ofcourse it’s hard to say no to someone you see as a superior.

    However, when working in long term relationships based on equality it will be more and easy for the Indian partner to see no to the European company. In my eyes it all has to do with being equal partners in an outsourcing relationship. And yes, I think it’s a cultural issue that makes the Indian ‘look up to’ Europeans or Americans, something not only seen in business but in Indian society as a whole.

    Thanks for the intersting article, hope to share my thoughts on this blog with more people in the outsourcing business.

  4. The funny “Indian nodding” actually means – “I heard you”. It is a polite acknowledgment of your point of view. It is safer to assume nothing more.

    Here is another example:
    I had this conversation with a far-eastern national on phone. He could not see my nod. But accent was a problem on bad international line.

    Him: “Anil, your team must finish this feature by Wednesday”.
    Me: “Yes, I know you have planned a demo to the CEO and we are trying our best. It is a challenge to complete it by Wednesday. Can we not cut out a couple of small items from the scope?”

    …then we proceeded to “negotiate” on phone about cutting the scope

    At the end of the conversation, I was satisfied that we had identified “potential” items that need not be completed by Wednesday IF we were short of time. At the end of conversation HE was satisfied because I had said “Yes, I know you have planned a demo”.

    When only the cut-down feature was completed by Wednesday – he accused me “…but you said ‘yes’…”.

    I believe, sometimes “you hear what you want to hear”.
    You should visit Pune Hugo, and we will have an interesting conversation…

  5. Great article, Hugo. My 2 bits is that outsourcing low-level programming and repetitive admin and back office tasks will certainly give way to high-level design and innovation. So yes, outsourcing as the “experts” call it may end, but not innovative-sourcing which you aptly phrase it as “The right person at the right place!” Thanks.

  6. To start of… generalizing has its dangers ;-) IMHO the answer depends on the issue. I have heard Indian colleagues say no to an assignment or returning back to offshore some months earlier than planned. When it comes to projects that people believe their should be able to do, the answer is almost always “yes”, and they will ask in their network if someone knows how it is done. I always take into consideration the element that someone may “lose face” by saying “no”, and am very alert for the indirect “no”. A characteristic example: I asked an Indian associate if he could work through the weekend, because the project was slipping. He answered: “My father has a celebration this weekend”

    When it comes to landing new business, I have also seen Indian colleagues say “Yes” to a RFS, where I would have said “No” because of possible knowledge gaps that I deem may lead to project failures or higher number of hours. This has nothing to do with not being able to say “No”, but with an optimism that is quite strong among the Indians I know. Many believe that with the proper knowledge transfer, you can perform any task at hand. So their “yes” is often a question to ponder on… i.e. “am I being too conservative?

    Hence the advice that many give when dealing with Indian companies / cultures: start small and see how it works out (this applies both ways). Focus on building a good relationship. As the confidence on both sides increases, then expand the size of the engagement. After a number of iterations, you may be moving into an engagement that you may not have deemed possible a few years earlier…

  7. I’ve never heard about it! It means: never stop learning and admiring cultural diversity! Thank you, Ravi, for giving a good explanation. It is nice to know about this tradition

  8. There is some truth in this. It is considered impolite to refuse a request even when you know very well that it is impossible to carry it out. So we have a few standard phrases for saying no . Some of them are “I will get back to you later” (then we hope and pray that you dont remeber this promise), “Let me think about it” (this is a good one since the thought process can take as long as we want it to), “I am not the decision maker, I will need to consult” and a few others.

    When I started out in my business many of my clients where from the US where businessmen can be very abrupt. It used to hurt when they would refuse my proposals in under 5 minutes. But soon enough I realised that they were actually doing me a favor by dismissing me quickly as it gave me more time to follow up leads where I had a better chance.

    So my advice to you is to avoid putting your employee/client in a corner by demanding an answer right away. Give them time to collect their thoughts. And most importantly let them know that its Ok to refuse you. This way you have a better chance to get a reliable response

  9. I agree with Nico – starting small, slowly creating/exchanging trust, and then ramping up to major projects is the best way to create long term clients and relationships – no matter the country/culture. The same thing can apply to Indian companies dealing with Indian vendors! But the bottom line is – we are willing to work hard and look deep into the resources our network offers to deliver any project – so that attitude has to mean something!

  10. Fact..I think its not a quality…But its a demerit, because you have to learn to say NO for a thing you are not sure-of or an act which some one performs and you don’t like that…

  11. In my experience I would say we the Indians will not express their Yes’s and No’s clearly
    Here I would give an example of an Indian tourist who visited US
    He reaches his host’s home
    After all preliminary talks the host asks:
    “Would you like to have a coffee?”
    The Indian tourist: ” No… no” ( says in his false modesty. in fact he wanted a cup of coffee)
    After sometime the host says that he would have a coffee and proceeds to make his coffee
    As he sips the coffee the Indian tourist says that heI would also like to have a cup of coffee
    The surprised host says that in India we would not say “Yes” at the first instance as it seems against the manners…!!
    I would say we do not say when to say Yes or No

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