Business insight on an international scale

Valerie Berset-Price

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Dear Valerie,

My business partner and I just came back from Southern India, where we met with a potential client over the course of three days. The meeting went very well and the trip was productive. We, however, experienced a strange situation where in the middle of the discussion/negotiation, the entire Indian team stood up and left the room. Nothing was said to us, and we did not know what had happened and why they all left the room. My partner and I sat there and waited 90 minutes for their return, puzzled and concerned. When they came back, nobody said a word; no one explained to us why the team felt the urge to leave or what they did during that time. We, of course, did not want to pry and did not ask any question. Now that we are back, could you please explain to us what may have occurred and why they all left the room like that for so long?

Thank you!

Robert D.


Valerie Berset-PriceDear Robert,

I can only imagine how awkward their sudden departure from the room, all at once, might have felt to you. The good news is that you reacted appropriately by not standing up yourself and leaving the room; waiting for their return without asking any questions was the right choice.

In most Asian countries, there is a group-focus attitude. You probably had reached a level in the discussion where they felt that they had to regroup and discuss their next move together. It is thus such a normal need to them that they did not even think it necessary to explain to you why they had to absent themselves for 90 minutes. In their culture, it is a normal occurrence to regroup among team members and weigh their options, and it is not considered rude to leave without any explanation.

In contrast, business people in the United States tend to be more individualistic and the highest ranking individual within the group is the one who makes decisions without having to consult with all the members of her team. Team members in
the U.S. will embrace the boss’s decision and accept it as the
best one.

In India, China, Japan, South Korea, etc., there is a need for group harmony and consensus. This process is often lengthy and tedious to Westerners who don’t understand the need for consensus.  The flip side is that once consensus has been reached in a group-focused culture, the subsequent steps then take place very quickly.


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