Is that a Yes that I hear??


A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble. – Mohandas Gandhi

Its 9:00 p.m in Mountain View, California (USA) and you are on what feels like a never ending teleconference call with your team in Chennai, India. After the presentation, you ask, so do we all agree to this deadline? Chances are you may get silence, and then again, chances are that you may just get a Yes. Does that mean Yes-I-agree? Maybe, then again, maybe not!

In almost 90% of the Working with India training sessions I conduct, this question/issue poses problems of mistrust and miscommunication in the team. A lot of the trainees feel frustration and confusion when they hear a Yes but don’t see the required action and follow-through. There could be a variety of reasons why this is happening like prevalent organizational hierarchy, propensity to please, insecurity regarding one’s role in the team etc.

3CsThe 3 Cs: Talking with Indian managers over the years, I’ve gleaned these 3C’s recommendations and best practices for you when working with Indians:

  1. Clarify, clarify, and clarify roles and responsibilities, available resources of headcount, access to tools, and dates for milestones and deliverables.
  2. Communicate expectations and give the Big Picture i.e., what happens when they miss a deadline and how that can impact the team and other stakeholders’ goals.
  3. Create a “safe” environment where risk-averse employees can “think outside the box”, provide ingenious solutions and feel protected even they make mistakes.

In a country full of paradoxes, Gandhi’s quote above is the inspirational ideal sparking millions of people to say No during the Independence movement. But deep set hierarchical values can give rise to Yes still producing misunderstanding. By being truly open to the cultural diversity impacting communication, and using the 3Cs, you can earn trust and a solid YES! commitment from Indian employees.


One thought on “Is that a Yes that I hear??

  • Bill Rice

    Excellent observation on the confusing meanings of “Yes.” The meaning is also related to the relationship. If we think of communication as serving at least two functions–information exchange and relationship building–then Yes and No mean different things depending on which need is dominant. Before trust is established, Yes may mean “I want to work with you” and No may mean “I want control.” The real business of the conversation is setting the relationship. After trust is established, Yes and No have something to do with the objective matter being discussed.
    Bill Rice

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