The Great Indian Nod

“During the two decades that I worked for an American MNC, I realized that having good cross-cultural sensitivity played a very big role in my career growth in the company. It also helped me make friends in the USA and various Asian countries. While it takes many years to learn about the cultural nuances of different countries and adapt one’s response to them, one can always begin by doing simple things like being polite in our personal and email interactions. 

Understanding how our non-verbal cues are perceived by other cultures plays an equally important part in building relationships. I remember one very amusing habit of Indians that almost all my American colleagues found very confusing. I call it ‘The Great Indian Nod’.

If my American colleagues clarified a point with members of our Indian team and wanted a confirmatory “Yes” or “OK” reply, the Indian team members would usually reply with a non-verbal communication in the form of a “head bobble” or “head wobble”, which is a side-to-side tilting of the head in arcs to mean “Yes” or “OK”. I remember that my American colleagues used to find this very confusing and frustrating, especially when they were conducting training programs for the Indian team. Therefore, before any training program, they would always tell the Indian team to say “Yes” or “OK” rather than wobble their heads. There are many such non-verbal cues that get misunderstood or don’t get understood in the global context. In such cases, it’s better to clarify verbally rather than to assume.

– Harish Sadasivan, Advisor at EnglishCoach Services
Harish Sadasivan is an advisor to EnglishCoach Services. A Six Sigma Master Black Belt, he was the APAC head of a leading American MNC. In his role, Harish has travelled to different parts of the United States of America and various countries in South East Asia.