Communicating with Indian Software Professionals – A quick primer for overseas SME’s

All of us have heard this time and time again that one of India’s biggest strength is that we have one of the largest English speaking population in a non-English speaking country. We have also heard that this is one of our differentiators as far as International business is concerned.


My thought is that it is both true and false.


Well, I am not trying to be diplomatic here. I am only trying to be real. Here are the explanations of both the answers and also so what should overseas company do.


The True part is easy, India does have a very high number of people who have either degree in English or have done their studies in English as the language of instruction. Also, in most of the Indian Offices and Business establishments English is the language of communication (partly British legacy, partly because we have so many languages and they are so different that English is the easiest common language for all).


Now, the False part. The false part comes from the fact that from my point of view, the issue is twofold, knowledge of language and ability to communicate using that language.


While Indians are decent in the first part but when it comes to the second part one has to go a bit deeper, understand the typicality’s and then adjust the communication approach and style accordingly.


Typical things to understand when dealing with Indian IT professionals (especially junior people):


1. Indians say “yes” a lot: For some reason Indians always say Yes, even if they know they can’t do it and when the time to meet the commitment comes, the customer gets the ugly surprise that the things have not been done we promised. At that time, a typical developers response will be but Sir, it was too much work, we could not have finished it


Solution (s):


a. Use your own judgment whether this can be done in the time promised or not? If your mind says it cannot be done, ask the developer how will he complete the work in the given time frame, take him into details. The real thoughts will automatically come out.


b. Talk all matters related to Project Planning with Senior People. They are much better communicators and will have the personality to say “no” when “no” is the right answer.


2. In a meeting, the Indian developer will not speak even if he has the solution to the problem, ask him when he is alone (in a one on one conversation) and he will tell you the solution. Reason, diffidence in front of “foreigners”, lack of confidence, would not like to take the risk of proven wrong.


3. Praise them when they do a good job. A praise coming from a “foreigner” means a lot more than local persons praise. They gradually open up more.


4. Communicate as much as you can in written form. Indians comprehend better in written form compared to when they have to talk/speak. This is because of the issues with verbal communication. Also remember most Indians think in their native languages and translate that into English, and a written communication with them gets a much more structured and well-thought response.


5. Have regular formal progress reviews over conference calls. Ask for a regular (say weekly) progress report and do a review based on that. Indian developers are honest, sincere but not organized. When one has defined goals, targets and expectations lined-up which are also reviewed every week, a typical Indian developer finds it easy to be on track.


The list I have given above is by no means comprehensive. A lot more can be added. Start with these and then add more as you experience them.


Also, please share your experiences; it will be nice to discuss them. Looking forward to it.

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