The Meaning of Yes

What would you think about a person who told you they could get a job done by Friday, but when Friday arrived the job wasn’t done? In North America this is the greatest way to lose someone’s trust and suggest you are incompetent, but in some cultures it is actually a way of being polite.


Consider the Canadian engineer who is working virtually with his Indian colleagues. Generally speaking, Canadians working in multi-national corporations are used to being able to ask each other closed questions like, “Can you get this job done by Friday?” and getting direct responses of either “yes” or “no” from one another. If someone says no, they both plan accordingly and nobody thinks twice about it.

According to Sam Ramesh, Indian Cultural expert and owner of several manufacturing plants, this is not the case in India.  Ramesh explains, “Saying no is considered incredibly rude in India. For an Indian to say no is one of the greatest insults they can give someone. When working with non-Indian colleagues, this is usually where the problems starts.”

Once we are fluent in each others culture, the world of difference between yes and no does not have to create a cultural divide that keeps us from working together effectively.


3 thoughts on “The Meaning of Yes

    • Great question. You don’t rely solely on words to tell you of something is really possible. Meaning is in context more than words.

  1. I know exactly what Sam Ramesh is talking about.
    Once in an attempt to get a new hard drive I spent hours and hours with Dell’s service center in India. All I heard all the time was “yes, yes, yes” and you are getting nowhere, and finally “yes, it’s on it’s way” . But there was always a feeling that you are talking to a wall, very polite wall but a wall nevertheless. That was 10 years ago and I am still waiting for this hard drive!!!
    Needless to say, that was my last Dell computer, and deep down inside I still think that ‘s what ruined the company:)
    Also I remember back in my waitressing days, I came to work one day and discovered that my Mexican busboy was replaced by an Indian one. His “yes” came with a bow and words of enormous admiration for me, but no bread and water for the tables….

    For the sake of a full disclosure, I have to add that despite of all those “different culture” experiences, or maybe because of them, I ended up marrying an Indian.Come to think of it, maybe he just couldn’t say “no”?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *