Newcomer’s Guide for Working with Researchers from India

August 29, 2019 Hoglah Dasari

The current publishing landscape in India and its importance to the global research community

  Total article output from India for the past five years showing a steady Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of +8% (Scopus)
  Chemistry, Engineering, Clinical Medicine and Life Sciences lead the CAGR (Scopus)

India is the second most populous country after China, the third largest in terms of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the fifth largest in Research and Development expenditure (94 billion USD), and is home to 25 universities in the top 200 of the Times Higher Education Asia University Rankings (2019: 47% increase). The country is anticipated to be a research powerhouse for decades to come. As such, it is important for Wiley, as a global publisher, to ensure that it captures the increasing research output from this key market. As a result, we have been proactively working to increase our engagement within India. This includes the creation of a team of editorial colleagues within Wiley’s India office, who are primarily responsible for the development and curation of content from within the region. These colleagues have worked with Wiley’s existing journals to increase the proportion of content from India via the publication of regionally-focused Special Issues, appoint Editorial Board members and editors from India, and network through local outreach initiatives to help promote Wiley’s journals. This article provides tips and guidance to help Editors work more effectively with Indian authors and collaborators.

An overview of Indian culture

Indians place great value on professional relationships, and so it is essential to understand their rich and diverse culture, from the complex politics to the importance of family–and, of course, how to interpret the famous head wobble. India has more than 23 official languages; it is almost impossible to learn them all. The easiest way to avoid communication issues is to speak either Hindi or English as both of these languages are used most frequently in India. English is used as a corporate language in India, so most Indian businesspeople know it well and use English for the majority of their communications. From email to advertising, English and Hindi are highly acceptable and adaptable by Indian people, but since professional terminology is in English, this makes it the natural choice for everyday written communication.

In India, there is vast cultural diversity in everything from language to ethnicity and religion. It is important not to generalize and assume that everyone thinks and behaves the same way. There are differences between traditional India, rural India, and fast-paced, urban India, where there is a lot more social mobility, more opportunities, a whole new generation of entrepreneurs, and contemporary influences from popular culture and Bollywood stars. If you're visiting India for the first time, you're probably feeling a bit apprehensive, not knowing what to expect. This is completely understandable and is something that everyone who travels to India experiences, as India is quite unlike anywhere else in the world. It's part of what makes India such an interesting and important place. Smart dress is preferred over casual dress as a sign of respect.

Conversing with Indian editors, authors, and reviewers

Although they tend to be indirect communicators, Indians can seem very direct in their questioning. Do not be surprised or offended if you are asked what your qualifications are or how much you earn. This is just part of polite conversation. Indians can be very formal in their approach, using language that may sound old-fashioned to a native English speaker. You will be addressed in a relatively formal manner until you are on much more familiar terms with your counterpart. Greet people with a handshake, but do not be surprised if your Indian counterparts use ‘namaste’ as a greeting, accompanied by a slight bow with their hands in the prayer position.

Personal and social titles are vital in India. The common title is ‘Sir’ or ‘Mr.’ for the male and ‘Madam’, ‘Ma’am,’ ‘Mrs.,’ or ‘Miss’ for the female. Academic titles such as ‘Dr.’ or ‘Prof.’ should be used when applicable. Indians tend to use first names quite early on in business relationships, so it is appropriate to call them by their first name preceded by their social or academic title. You may also refer to an associate’s email or business card to find out how to address them properly.  Academic and hierarchical titles are highly recommended when talking with someone senior to you.

Be sociable. Business is based on relationships and it is important to get to know your counterparts. Deals will not be done until trust has been developed. You are quite likely to be invited to large gatherings and parties, so accept invitations and try to reciprocate. Understand their attitude toward time: Indians can be very flexible and take on last-minute projects without complaining.

Indian people generally appear formal and are very verbal. They like having discussions on cultural and historical topics. It is advisable to avoid bringing up issues pertaining to culturally sensitive topics such as Kashmir, religion, and Indian politics unless these topics are raised. It is then advisable to speak with caution on these kinds of sensitive topics.

A good starting point for conversations can be a comment on the variety of Indian food, the Indian cricket team, music, or Indian history. Indians can spend hours talking about their country’s long and rich history, food, and cricket. Indian people are very expressive in their use of body language—facial expressions and gestures are crucial to convey messages. Below are some specifics which may be useful to know:

  • Nodding the head by lifting the chin up and down is a sign of positivity and indicates agreement
  • Shaking the head from left to right is a sign of disagreement
  • Raising the eyebrows slightly upwards may infer a question or confusion
  • Learn to interpret the Indian head-wobble, which has many meanings. A repeated nod can mean ‘yes’ and a shake, ‘no,’ but wobbling one’s head while listening to someone can be a sign of respect and tilting it repeatedly from side to side can mean ‘maybe.’
  • Constant touching is not common and can be seen as an inappropriate gesture

Depending on the size of the business, it is usual practice to consider a deal incomplete until it has been acknowledged and confirmed in writing. Thus, it is crucial to ensure that all the conditions and characteristics of a deal discussed during a meeting are included in a written document. Expect a great deal of written communication, both to back up decisions and to maintain a record of decisions and discussions. Even if you have a friendly or casual relationship with colleagues, you should remember that on-the-job correspondence means that an email is a business letter, in which salutations and greetings should not be forgotten.

Meetings and Conferences

Indian people use every possible type of communication. They prefer face-to-face contact to telephone or written communications. As an effect of British influence, business meetings start (and often end) with a firm and friendly hand shake. However, be aware that, because of religious influence, it is not always customary for men and women to shake hands with each other; in this case, it is polite to wait for a woman to extend her hand first.

There is a strong sense of ‘face’ at all levels of Indian society. An Indian person will often find it difficult to say a straight ‘no,’ as this will cause both them and you to lose face. Learn to read between the lines and study body language. Answers like ‘we will try’ or ‘maybe’ usually mean ‘no.’

Top Culture Keys
Indians tend to be indirect communicators but will be direct in their questioning.
Always address people with their correct title unless otherwise indicated.
Be sociable but avoid certain sensitive subjects.
Learn to interpret the Indian head-wobble.

Indian people like to discuss important business issues in person rather than by other means. An initial face-to-face meeting is then often followed by regular business visits and phone calls. However, in meetings, they are likely to get down to business right away and are generally conservative and efficient in their approach. Maintaining eye contact is crucial for Indian business communication. If you are meeting with a group of people, be certain to greet each person separately instead of greeting them as a group.

Reference the culture tips and communication styles outlined in this post to guide your next meeting or communication with editors, authors, and editorial board members in India. For additional information you may also read: Communication styles of Indians, 5 facts about religion in India, and  Indian Culture, Customs and Traditions.

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About the Author

Journal Development Manager, Wiley

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