Using video conferencing: effectively communicate with India

by Brandi Moore on September 14, 2009

An individual speaking in a group setting owns what is known as “floor control.” What most of us don’t know is that floor control preferences are cultural and happen quite naturally. Aspects of floor control become very important to achieve a successful interaction with an Indian audience when communicating through a videoconference.

Americans, familiar with flat organization structures where everyone has a voice, will spontaneously take the floor without formal cues. Indians experience a very structured organization model (as a result of high power distance and hierarchy in their organization) that applauds members who follow a manager’s lead.  This makes is highly likely that team members will wait for their leader to speak for them, or they will seek out a formal cue to speak.  Both of these processes involve non-verbal cues, which are absent if everyone is on the phone or using a video system that does not enable sight of the entire group. In their absence, lengthy spaces of silence may be prevalent, but Americans will tend to fill the void with more chatter.  This results in a very one-sided conversation.

Americans can facilitate balanced conversation by offering up open-ended questions and waiting patiently for a response. It may be helpful to invite the other side to take the floor.  Its also helpful if meeting members can write responses using the chat capabilities available in most video conference or webex type environments.

If communication is still one sided (this means you do not have all the data you need) try a timer.  Use it to temper the length of discussion on both sides and to understand that the “long delay” may only last about 5 seconds although it seems like a lifetime.  Indians will appreciate this structure leading to improved cross cultural communication.  Global teams on both sides may feel like the timer is strange but give it a try and see if it leads to more conversation and dissemination  of information.

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