India and the United Kingdom have a shared history dating back to the 17th century with the democratic ruling, connected cultural institutions, and, most importantly, the English language in common. However, cultural differences are more complicated than just speaking a country's language or celebrating their festivals. To give an example, the most significant distinction between Indian and British working cultures is that senior executives in the UK are not always required to be addressed as 'Sir' or 'Ms.' or 'Ma'am'. Regardless of job title or age, every colleague is treated with respect in UK companies.
The list of differences is substantial, and understanding and appreciating the country's corporate culture in which you work is essential for professional success. As a result, cultural differences must be recognised, embraced, and valued. Failure to do so may result in significant consequences and roadblocks to achievement.
Our feature article, "How UK Work Culture Differs From Other Parts of the World", discussed how the UK work culture differed from the US, China, and India and highlighted the key distinctions that make the United Kingdom a highly desirable place. However, this article inspects some common working and professional spheres where Brits and Indians don't always agree. Moreover, unfolding the differences in the work culture between the two nations while drawing inspiration from Erin Meyer's research and publication "The Culture Map - Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business".
What role does Culture Play in Effective Communication?
When cultural diversity is neglected in communication, it can lead to inefficiency, misunderstanding, irritation, anxiety, and stress at work. People are more likely to misunderstand others when they do not recognise cultural differences in expressing and processing information.
What happens when people from different countries do not follow the cultural norms of visiting countries? People make the fundamental attribution fallacy and link their actions to their personalities. They also find it convenient to accept cultural stereotypes without making an effort to comprehend how Culture influences their communication approach.
"Subtle differences in communication patterns and the complex variations in what is considered good business or common sense from one country to another have a tremendous impact on how we understand one another, and ultimately on how we get the job done", says Erin Meyer, professor in organisational behaviour and specialist on cross-cultural management in The Culture Map.
Let's learn factors that impede or enhance communication between people from different cultural backgrounds using low and high contexts.
Low context and the high context in communication
"In a low context culture, If I give a presentation, I should tell you what I am going to tell you, then I tell you, and then I tell you what I have told you. Why do I tell you the same thing three times? Because everything is about the simplicity and the clarity of the message. In a high context culture, we assume that we have a much larger body of shared reference points. In these cultures, we believe that good effective professional communication is much more sophisticated, more nuanced, implicit and layered", states Erin Meyer.
In a nutshell, low context communication is precise, simple and straightforward where messages are understood at face value. High context communication is where messages are not clearly expressed and are often implied.
India falls under a high context where messages are often conveyed implicitly, requiring the listener to read between the lines. In comparison, the communication process in the UK is relatively low context. For example, in the UK, recapping a meeting is a must, including a written recap of what has been decided and individual action items with more clarifications. Another example can be replying to an email when one doesn't have the answer at their figure tip and explicitly spelling out when they will have something to respond to. Whether sure or not, the best communication style is to follow a low context communication, especially in the business setting.
Evaluation refers to whether one prefers to deliver negative feedback directly, discreetly, or indirectly. Direct Negative Feedback and Indirect Negative Feedback are two types of evaluation. Direct negative feedback is given to individuals directly and in front of the team, and indirect negative feedback is delivered privately and subtly, which needs the lister to read between the lines.
For example, a British manager might say, "I suggest that you think about doing something differently," and the interpretation is, "change your behaviour right away, or else I will fire you". While in India, managers typically use strong words when giving negative feedback or criticising to make sure the message registers clearly.
On any feedback at all, regardless of negative and positive, the UK follows a more direct approach. Though British people are typically polite, they are also more prone to express their feelings. In comparison, Indian office culture adheres more closely to the attitude of "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."
The best strategy is to balance positive and negative comments; a sandwich method in which a negative response is sandwiched between two positive ones softens the punch of the criticism.
Persuading refers to the process where individuals prefer to discuss/hear projects and cases, or they prefer a detailed explanation of the different subjects. Arguments that persuade or convince bosses are firmly established in their Culture's philosophical, religious, and educational beliefs and attitudes. Persuading can be divided into Principles First Persuading and Applications First Persuading. In the principles first approach, individuals are trained to begin with a fact or opinion and later justify them using concepts. The discussions are approached practically. While in the applications first approach, individuals are trained to first develop the theory or concept before presenting a fact or opinion.
In the UK, you first learn theory and then go for practical application; India is precisely the opposite. British are principle first in comparison to India. Therefore, what is persuasive in India may not be convincing in the UK. Application first thinkers like to receive practical examples; they will extract learnings from this example. Principle first people also like practical examples, but they prefer to understand the basis of the framework before moving to the application.
If presenting to an audience of principles-first, the best practice is first to show the parameters and methods and introduce specific data and reason before presenting conclusions and recommendations to get much buy-in. In contrast, when submitting an application, the manager or team first gets to the point and supplies more practical examples. However, if you are presenting to a mixed group, the best practice is to cycle back and forth between theoretical principles and practical examples.
Leading and Deciding
The leadership strategy that works in Delhi may not be effective in London. Leaders who want to succeed should adapt. Power distance, the level of respect and reverence paid to authoritative persons, defines if a country is egalitarian or hierarchical. In egalitarian leadership, the ideal distance between a boss and a subordinate is low. Boss facilitates equality in the office; therefore, the organisational structure is flat. But in hierarchical leadership, the distance between a boss and a subordinate is high. The boss leads the organisation from the front; hence, the organisation structure is not flat but multilayered. In this case, status is critical.
In India, the top-down approach is usually where the boss decides, and the subordinates are made to follow the instructions. The UK follows a mutual path of a consensus decision-making process and a top-down approach to decision making. Even if you have been a highly successful leader in your own Culture, you will need a comprehensive strategy if you want to encourage and engage people in a different world.
United Kingdom: Top-down and egalitarian
Speak out before a decision is made, regardless of your rank. You may not be expressly requested to participate, but you may show initiative and self-confidence by making your voice known. Provide your position politely but clearly, even if it differs from what the employer appears to be thinking. Once the issue has been handled, rapidly align with the employer and support the conclusion, even if it contradicts your earlier position. If you express your dissatisfaction at this point, especially in front of others, you may be perceived as tough to deal with. Maintain your flexibility once you've made your decision. Decisions in this quadrant are rarely final; most may be altered or reconsidered later if required.
India: Top-down and hierarchical
Keep in mind that the boss is the director, not a facilitator. If you're the boss, you'll be deferred to in public and, more than likely, in private. Don't be afraid to tell your staff how to show you respect. Be specific about your expectations. Tell your team that you want them to offer you three ideas before asking for your opinion or providing you with feedback before you choose. Old habits die hard for us, so reinforce the desired behaviour with clarity and precision. Take caution with what you say. You could discover that an off-the-cuff remark is read as a decision. Everyone is suddenly building that factory or restructuring that department when you thought you were merely offering an idea to consider.
Trust plays an essential role in the workplace as work and trust go hand in hand. The person you trust will always be the person with whom you can work and share ideas. Trusting can be of two types: Task-based trusting and Relationship-based trusting. Task-based trusting refers to where a person enjoys the trust and reliability of their boss or co-workers depending upon the work done. If you have completed your work on time, you are reliable. But in the case of Relationship-based trusting, trust originates irrespective of work relations. It is built through travelling together, sharing meals and drinks etc. Sharing a personal space with someone develops trust in this case.
In the UK, trust is developed based on work done, consequently a task-based trusting work culture; however, in India, it is Relationship-based trusting. Relationship-based trusting workplaces like India prefer long lunches where teams socialise and show they value their colleagues—inviting colleagues and their family to home for dinner or festivals. Whereas in the UK task-based trust culture, people prefer to go to a pub with colleagues after work rather than invite them for dinner at home. Relationship-based trust originates from sentiments of emotional connection, empathy, or friendship and comes from the heart. On the other hand, task-based trust is founded on the belief in another person's abilities, talents, and dependability; this trust comes from the brain.
Those from relationship-based societies who are working with task-based counterparts should keep the following points in mind; Don't abandon socialising entirely. Plan a lunch, but prepare your co-workers ahead of time if it is expected to last 90 minutes or more. Set up an evening supper or drinks, but don't be offended if your competitors depart early to relax or catch up on work. While a personal connection may be beneficial, the business is more likely to arrive with cognitive proof of a high-quality product.
Disagreement in the team is a hindrance to work. In this case of disagreement, we will see whether people tackle it directly or try to avoid confrontation. Disagreement is of two types: Confrontational and Avoid confrontation. One group believes debates and disagreements are healthy for the team as it helps to share ideas, but the other believes that confrontation needs to be avoided at any cost as it breaks the harmony in the team. Britishers avoid conflicts, only do confront to address an issue that is of high importance. Where in India, maintaining group harmony by saving face for all members is of the utmost importance.
Organisations worldwide follow agendas and timetables; however, in certain cultures, individuals rigidly stick to the schedule, whilst in others, it is treated as a recommendation. The UK organisations follow a set timetable and agenda where each project is divided into sub-parts. After only completing one task, they move on to the next part, which helps avoid interruptions. In such cases, everything is planned in advance, and any behaviour that disrespects the plan is just considered rude.
In India, a flexible schedule is the norm. Because the country's currency is constantly changing, government laws are not stable, and adhering to flexible timetables helps maintain efficiency. To illustrate, a project is approached in a fluid manner, and tasks can be changed as and when opportunities arise. Flexibility is desirable for organisations.
Indians often feel the British are rigid with their scheduling. In the UK, for example, if you have a meeting at 9 am and are 5 minutes late, it is expected that your phone or leave a message. If you don't do this, the person waiting for you will be annoyed and assume you won't show up. In India, however, being on time, sometimes early and sometimes 15-20 minutes late, is considered 'on time', and everyone graciously accepts it.
In summary, cultural differences are not always easy to reconcile as leadership styles are built throughout a lifetime, making them tough to change. To succeed in the UK work culture, one should adapt and avoid common misunderstandings while learning to comprehend the behaviour of UK work cultures on all dimensions.