Tuesday, August 26, 2008

When yes may mean no

My hunch for some time now in working with my colleagues in India is that folks always want to be accommodating and positive. This means that pretty much no matter what I say, my colleague in India--I'm thinking in particular of the editorial manager most parallel to me in the food chain--will agree with me. And then he starts talking. Rapid-fire, India English. A very specialized dialect, discourse. It's hard to track in detail. But invariably I come away with the deep hunch that this yes was a yes, but. . . . . . A qualified yes. Perhaps very close to a no.

Communicating with a team in India is a challenge. Some things to know about India. All of India is in one time zone. At a general level this means two time zones have been combined and halved. This accounts for why meetings with India or either 12.5 or 13.5 hours off times in Pacific Standard Time--Seattle or San Jose or San Francisco ( the main crowed I'm dealing with right now). The .5 is accounted for by the fact that India decided they wanted the country on one time zone, took the two main ones and cut them in half: that's the .5. And then the 12.5 or 13.5 hours--that's because India has no daylight savings times. At the equator this makes sense. There really isn't time to "save" with the seasons.

So communicating. It means that in meetings with India you can meet 7:00 a.m. PST (which is night time in India) or 9:00 p.m. PST (which is morning in India). I found that my colleagues, as a rule, arrive at the office between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m. (India time) and leave between 6:00 and 7:30 p.m. (India time). My colleagues in India want to be home by 9:00 p.m. or so--when the evening meal generally occurs in homes in India, so I'm told.

Lots of details here. But realize that the bottom line means that there is basically an hour at about 7:00 in the morning and another hour at about 9:00 at night that a person on the west coast of the USA can communicate in real time (meetings, back and forth with e-mail) with colleagues in e-mail. Other than that you send an e-mail--get an answer 24 hours later.

So here's the trick. Communication is very indirect. Yes probably means no. You need to negotiate. Figure out where you are. Be positive and supportive. (Not particularly direct.) And you have an hour a day to do this. Not particularly quick.

And so my trip to India Amazingly useful. 7 working days, face to face, 8+ hours a day. What an useful, productive run of hours, discussions questions, answers, concerns. I think my company probably got it's money worth.

And I had this amazing encounter with this weird, scary, wonderful country.

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