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Business prof in Wall Street Journal

“Indians hate to say no,” said Anant Sundaram, a professor at Dartmouth University’s Tuck School of Business. “They sort of hesitate and they say ‘uhhh yes,’ and they mean no. You make the person uncomfortable if you press.” Saying “no” is a nonstarter in lots of cultures.

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“Indians hate to say no,” said Anant Sundaram, a professor at Dartmouth University’s Tuck School of Business. “They sort of hesitate and they say ‘uhhh yes,’ and they mean no. You make the person uncomfortable if you press.” Saying “no” is a nonstarter in lots of cultures. In parts of the Mideast it is considered inhospitable to refuse someone outright. The sensitivity stretches eastward, even to China. It’s a sharp contrast to blunt-spoken American business culture. But the deference that runs deep in Indian culture makes getting to “no” especially difficult, some experts say. “The Indian psyche is very submissive,” said Soumen Basu, executive chairman of the Indian arm of the U.S.-based staffing firm Manpower. Rather than clearly refusing something, many Indian workers will acquiesce or simply stay silent. A Hindi phrase, “it will be done,” politely postpones an undesirable task to the distant future. Mr. Sundaram said the general idea is not to disappoint. “They don’t want to say they don’t have the resources, they don’t have the time,” he explained. “They don’t dump their problems on you, they just sort of say ‘yes’ and see what happens.” Vijay Mahajan thinks the phenomenon may have more to do with the job market than with the country. Mr. Mahajan, a business professor at the University of Texas at Austin, sees India as a place where opportunities to succeed are more limited — and where saying “no” can be viewed as a deal-breaker.

The Wall Street Journal
How to Tell When Yes Really Means No
(Oct. 31)