Wednesday, July 26, 2006

"No problem sir"

“No problem” syndrome

An Indian professional seeks to impress the Japanese counterpart with speed and efficiency. This is visible in the immediate response whereby the Indian says “Sure, sure …no problem”

The Japanese interpretation of this phrase is “How can the Indians say no problem without considering all aspects of the problem? If they commit so hastily without thinking would they be be able to deliver?”. What is needed in this situation is a response which goes like this “We think we can do it, however, please give us 1 (or 2) days to get back to you”. After the meeting, the Indian side has to remember all the committed deadlines and then get back to the Japanese counterpart with a “Yes, it can be done and will be done by XYZ date”


Ja-ii-desu said...

Along similar lines, the following 5 words have exactly the opposite meaning in an Indian context: "I'll get back to you."

That simple, 5-word phrase should actually interpreted as: "I/we won't get back to you again until, after having waited an eternity, you call and remind me/us that I/we had promised to get back to you."

If one understands that phrases like "NO problem, Sir," "I'll get BACK to you," "The train will arrive SHORTLY on platform No.3," etc. all have the exact opposite meaning, doing business in India becomes less stressful to the uninitiated!

By the way, I have no problem if you wish to get back to me on this subject.

Manoj Aravindakshan said...

Ironically, the use of "No problem" is the result of an inherent inability to say "No" that affects a lot of us in Asia in general and India in particular to varying degrees (i'll put my hand up and admit to having succumbed to this debilitating syndrome on more than one occasion).
An interesting book by a UK-based Indian diplomat Pavan K Varma "Being Indian" released a couple of years ago examines various such characteristics of Indians and makes an attempt to explain why we do many of things we do. Interesting read.

Ja-ii-desu said...

That's an interesting point, Manoj-san. Both the Japanese and most Indians hesitate to say "No." The key difference, as I see it, is:

Japanese: Hesitate. (They'll asy something like, "Chotto...," "Hmmm..." etc.)

Indian: Will say "Yes."

I guess both sides have their cultural reasons for doing this. The Japanese feel saying "NO" directly, when they're unsure about consequences, would be too blunt and hurt the listener's feelings.

The Indian, probably being the eternal optimist, feels saying "NO" could be a 'missed opportunity' at doing some profitable business. So, it would be worth gibing it a shot, anyway! And we end up saying, "No problem, Sir!"