I read with interest Stan Gibsons March 6 column, "Bridge Cultural Differences for Better Business in India" ("Understanding the Indian yes", Outsourcing & Services), and I sympathize with all those who have not taken the time to fully understand this issue. These differences are actually more widespread, applying not just to India but to much of the Asian continent.
When I was a senior technical officer in a large banking IT department in Houston, my reports spanned many of the Asian cultures. After a particularly bad misunderstanding, we initiated a series of 1-hour "role-play" meetings, wherein each member of the group was obliged to say "no" or "I cant do that." The Asian members of the team found this very difficult.
We eventually adopted a policy of "positive choice" to overcome the problem. This involved the "lead" phrasing crucial questions in a way that would give individuals response options.
Heres a simple example:
Wrong: "Can you finish this coding by Tuesday?"
Right: "When do you think you can finish this coding?"
The difference appears at first simple, but the effect on the team was dramatic in that they began to realize that the urge to please did not necessarily involve blind agreement with everything asked.
It just goes to show that knowledge, tolerance and understanding of these cultural differences doesnt have to impact deliverables.
Delivery Director, Software Quality
Spherion Professional Services