People do not exist in a vacuum and everything they do, say, or think is somehow related to the environment they live in and the culture they have been growing up in. The past events serve as the determinants of the current state of affairs and together they are the most influential factors that define a person and affect their behavior, communication style, and ability to adapt to new cultures. The role culture plays in communication can be best seen when being exposed to a new set of values, especially while living in a new ethnical environment. It is experienced every day by scores of Indian people in the United States as well as Americans visiting India as their cultural backgrounds play an important part in defining ways of communication with friends and relatuionships in a professional setting. This paper will analyze Indian communication styles, specific characteristics that define it in Indian culture, and how knowingor ignoring this can benefit or complicate personal and professional communication among people from different cultures. Another purpose of the paper is to imporve the professional communication patterns while ackowledging the background of the people one integrates at work.
Sharing Thoughts, Exchanging Opinions, Clarifying Taboos
Indian culture has a set of different norms and rules which influence the relations between people, the way they communicate, and the manner in which people express certain emotions and respond to them. Indians tend to be formal and very respectful. If they have just met a stranger, they will make everything to make the person feel comfortable. It is normal to ask about family and whether everyone is doing well. This question is important because in India family plays a tremendous role and everybody is treated depending on the family he or she belongs to. Also, it is polite to ask a person about current matters. Anyway, it is of prime significance to rememeber about the formality of communication in business situations. However, various cultures have their own views on formality as well as on what is personal and what is not and in India these notions are different from what the Westerners are used to. Therefore, Indians may ask many personal questions, but they would rather not enquired about anything directly. In other words, when a person is interested in something, the question should be vague unless it is about a general topic. Even in business, it is important to keep in mind this cultural pratice. A taboo in Indian culture is to say no. People never disagree or start a confrontation. Rather, they avoid giving a clear answer when they know it will be negative. Also, because it is rude to ask direct questions, when a speaker violates this rule and asks the question anyway, the other person needs to find a way to respond positively without showing ones discomfort. Starting a verbal conflict is another taboo; people do not express their thoughts directly. However, despite the formality and traditionalism, communication patterns transform, especially among young people who become more Western-oriented, less formal, and conventional.
The Role of Touch in Indian Culture
Touch in Indian culture shows the bond between the people using it, especially in a religious sense. People in India seldom touch strangers and in order to be able to touch, a person has to belong to the same caste or family. It is advisable not to touch anyone unless a person knows him or her well, otherwise it may be considered rude, especially when the speakers are from different age groups. It is common to touch people like hugging or kissing when they are members of the same family, for example, sisters, but that is not common when greeting acquiantances. In a business context, people often shake hands. Nevertheless, due to sexism and cultural characteristics, men rarely shake hands with women and it is more accepted among people of the same gender. Also, due to religious beliefs, it is extremely disrespectful to touch a persons head without permission. If a person does that, he or she is regarded very rude. Even in nursing, the professional needs to ask to touch the head first and the patient has to respond positively. It is also viewed as rude to touch anybody with ones feet because they are considered dirty parts of a body in the Indian culture. It is also wrong to touch another persons feet. A left hand is also believed to be dirty, so a person should avoid touching others or taking food with it, especially when eating out. Lastly, in India touching someone affectionately in public is not appropriate at all.
Strategies to Distance Oneself
In India, personal space is very little because people often talk about personal things, so unlike in the US, even physically they stand close to each other. Extreme politeness can be a way to distance oneself from others. For example, a person can thank others many times to show the hightened formality of the situation. In India, people rarely use the word please and when they thank others, they do it in more vague ways. They do not directly thank a person for a favor, but rather state that they are very happy that something like that happened to them. This makes the communication less formal. Indians believe that thanking or asking for something directly embarasses both parties, puts a distances people from each other and makes the relationship more complicate.
People generally tend to maintain eye contact when speaking, especially when someone more senior is talking. Maintaining eye contact is a sign of respect, so a person tries to demonstrate a high regard about the speaker and particular interest in what they say this way. However, eye contact is less common when men speak to women, especially girls from conservative families. They may avoid direct eye contact or be covered with a veil in order to minimize it which is considered appropriate due to family specifics. In general, communication among family members is far less formal, so girls have more freedom to maintain an eye contact.
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Gestures and Mimics Explained
In India, it is extremely important to know the meaning of different hand gestures because some can express respect while others are used to insult someone. Namaste is an important hand gesture to greet people and it is one of the basic forms to show respect towards an individual. It is made by putting two arms together in front of chest/head. It can be accompanied by a slight bow. Indian people are emotional and often use mimics to show their feelings, For example, they express sadness and hapiness using different facial expressions without saying words. In general, however, although ceretain gestures can have semantic variations among different social groups, they are mainly used to accompany the words and do not carry an independent meaning themselves.
Acceptable Ways to Stand Up and Greet People
Previously, it was mentioned that people often do namaste, which is a traditional greeting in India and can also shake hands, as it is done in business. However, it does not concern evryone and when greeting people, it is important to understand the hierarchy in Indian relations. For example, a senior person is supposed to talk first as the persons age and role in the family are the most important indicators,that show who needs to be greeted first and acknowledged the most. When there is a group of people who do know each other, it is advisable to wait for a person who knows one or all of those present better. In other words, a person should not start speaking in a group of strangers and is expected to wait for a friend, a colleague, or a relative to show up first in order to start a communication. When people greet each other, they tend to make long pauses, but they do not necessarily mean that the people have finished speaking. Therefore, when greeting someone, it is respectful to wait for a person to finish saying what they intended to and take turns to greet one another even if it may take a while to do it. As was mentioned earlier, this process depends on seniority and until people get to know each other better, they stand at arms length from one another.
Temporal Relation in Indian Culture
People of India tend to be past-oriented because they value their family history above everything and treat others based on their background. This shows an essential part a persons past plays for his or her social standing at present. Even caste division still has a significant role in the Indian society, and it is a part from the past. Religiousness of many people is another reason they value past so much. Since most of the traditional beliefs come from previous centuries and they define many roles, relations, and communication patterns in modern India, they are of papramount significance in this country. Although the nature of the nation is changing, especially among the youth who are more globalized and Western-oriented, the prevailing role of family bonds and traditions of the past remains dominant.
Nursing Experience vs. Indian Culture
There are certain benefits of being a foreigner when it comes to communication. People tend to be extremely polite and respectful in professional and personal coversations and often ask strangers about their culture. The negative sides of any culture are the stereotypes and prejudices that almost all nations inherit due to their historical background. In India the medical system is going through difficult times and that is why it is rather difficult to get a decent care. The majority of the students who can afford medical education in general try to obtain it abroad. Reasonably, they want to stay and find their place in the sun there. Thus, the percentage of healthcare professional who return to India is not so high and the local education cannot satisfy the needs of the population both interms of quality and the quantity of providers involved. Another problem is the poverty level in a great number of Indian cities, towns, and countryside. Sadly, many people who address for help are either ignorant about the basic hygiene and preventative measures or cannot afford these. Speaking of doctor patient ethics of communication, it is basically the same as in other countries of the world, with the special attention on the importance of touch for Indian people. Males of higher social ranks and females are particularly sensitive to check ups involving physical contact, with touching head being a special taboo with the patients permission.
In conclusion, in understanding both sides of the international communication pattern, it is important to work on them and turn drawbacks into advantages as the fact that someone is different may be a distracting factor for one person and a major attractant for numerous others who are not encapsulated but rather open to discovering something and someone new. While in the West, I act as Westerners. I follow professional practices, ethics, my own experience from professional interactions, and common sense. This helps me to perform my duties and communicate effectively with people. At the same time, I respect my cultural heritage and am willing to discuss it whenever am asked about it. Also, I am not offended by stereotypical questions or remarks when they are unconsciously made in a conversation. Instead of starting a conflict, I try to create a common ground and help a person understand more about my culture so that such situations can be avoided in the future.