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The Great Indian Nod

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Feb 16



Harish Sadasivan 

During the two decades that I worked for an American MNC, I realised that having good cross cultural sensitivity played a very big role in my career growth in the company. It also helped me make friends in the US and various Asian countries. While it takes many years to learn about the cultural nuances of different countries and adapt one’s responses to them, one can always begin by doing simple things like being polite in our personal and email interactions.

Understanding how our non-verbal cues are perceived by other cultures plays an equally important part in building relationships. I remember one very amusing habit of Indians that almost all my American colleagues found very confusing. I call it ‘The Great Indian Nod’.

If my American colleagues clarified a point with members of our Indian team and wanted a confirmatory “Yes” or “OK” reply, the Indian team members would usually reply with a non-verbal cue  in the form of a “head bobble” or “head wobble”, which is a side-to-side tilting of the head in arcs to mean “Yes” or “OK”.

I remember that my American colleagues used to find this very confusing and frustrating, especially when they were conducting training programs for the Indian team. Therefore, before any training program, they would always tell the Indian team to say “Yes” or “OK” rather than wobble their heads. There are many such non-verbal cues that get misunderstood or don’t get understood in the global context. In such cases, it’s better to clarify verbally rather than to shake your head.

Harish Sadasivan is the former VP of a leading American MNC. 

Posted by : Sharmila Gautama

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