- Indirect Communication: The communication style of Indians tends to be polite and indirect. They may try to speak appeasingly to those they are not close to in order to avoid conflict or confrontation. People often exchange opinions or viewpoints through negotiation rather than arguing that their perspective is definitively correct. This communication style can come across as ambiguous. Direct communication is reserved for relationships with a high level of trust or crucial situations.
- Refusals: Direct refusals, such as ‘no’, may be considered to be too harsh and open disagreement is likely to be interpreted as hostile or aggressive. Therefore, Indians tend to give evasive refusals and indirectly express disagreement. Indians may use phrases such as ‘maybe’ or ‘I'll do my best’ as a way to express ‘no'. Moreover, ‘yes' has various connotations that differ from the word's usage in English-speaking Western cultures. For example, an Indian may say ‘yes’ to indicate that they are listening to the speaker, whilst indicating disagreement or refusal through their body language.
- Silence: Sometimes people will remain silent rather than provide a direct ‘no’. Thus, it is advisable to pay attention to what is not said, as the absence of agreement may be an expression of disagreement.
- Questioning: The cultural preoccupation with politeness and modesty can sometimes mean that some Indians automatically answer ‘yes' to direct questions that require a yes or no answer. For an Indian, a flat ‘no' may indicate that you wish to end the relationship. One way of navigating around ambiguity is to check for clarification several times using open-ended questions. For example, rather than asking “Is the shop this way?”, it is better to ask “Which way is the shop?”.
- Hierarchy: The social hierarchy of Indian society often influences communication patterns in many scenarios. Respect and deference to authority figures in and outside the home are prevalent in various ways, such as being sensitive about how one refuses requests and disagrees with a senior’s opinion.
- Physical Contact: Indians prefer not to touch people when it can be avoided, but they may touch someone's arm or hand when speaking so long as they are the same gender. Body contact between the genders is kept minimal throughout most of India. For example, hugging, kissing and holding hands are not customary.
- Personal Space: Indians generally respect each other's personal space and an arm's length of distance is common during interactions. This is usually similar proximity to what Westerners are familiar with. They may stand further away from those who are of the opposite gender.
- Eye Contact: In general, Indians prefer to keep eye contact minimal or avert their eyes from the opposite gender rather than sustaining eye contact. Some women may avoid eye contact altogether. Direct eye contact is generally appropriate so long as you divert your gaze every so often.
- Whistling or Winking: Both these actions are considered sexually suggestive in India.
- Head Tilt: People may tilt their head to the side or shake it to both sides to indicate agreement and understanding. This head movement is similar to the Western gesture indicating “I don’t know” with a shrug of the shoulders and tilting one’s head to the side.
- Nodding: Indians will often nod to acknowledge what is said out of politeness. However, this does not always mean they understand or agree.
- Pointing and Beckoning: Pointing the index finger towards someone is considered to be accusatory. A more polite way to beckon or refer to someone is to use your whole palm facing down.
- Body Language: Standing with your hands on your hips suggests that you are angry or ready to argue.
- Ears: Holding or pulling on one's ears is a gesture that indicates sincerity or repentance.
- Head: The head is considered to be the holiest part of one's body. Touching someone on the top of the head is deemed to be insensitive and offensive.
- Feet: Feet are thought to be the dirtiest part of the body, and displaying the soles of one’s feet or touching people with one’s feet is considered rude.