Managing Power Distance: The Dreaded No

by Brandi Moore on September 25, 2009

“I don’t know”

“I am not sure”

Here are two phrases you will not hear often in India.  Whether its a customer service representative, a general manager, a developer, a hotel clerk, a driver….there is a constant pursuit in India for agreement.  A “no” is very rude.

Indians live in a very hierarchical society that stretches outside the work place into families and casual settings.  There is a constant search for understanding where one “stands” in the conversation.  This combined with the preference to please results in a tendancy to produce pleasing answers instead of a negative response.  Saying NO is negative, very negative.

And this is why customers call India call centers again and again until someone finally picks up the phone who “knows” the answer.

Incentivize your employees in India to alert you when they missed something.  Make it known to managers that you want them to report when someone missed something and why–how can we critically backtrack to what happened and understand how we missed this piece of data. Make it the manager’s responsibility to identify where gaps exist and produce training to fill them.  One of the biggest problems faced on call center floors is managers that chide employees for knowing more than they “should.”  Shared learning or information shared across teams is difficult to promote without structured incentives for doing so.  For example, making it a requirement for teams to meet before shift beings and discussing something they learned yesterday from a customer.

A new process, especially one that feels like micromanagement is difficult to learn and implement.  Cross cultural competencies make this task easier and easier over time and avoid the frustration of “why can’t they just do it like we do at home”.

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