Local contacts are extremely important in Taiwan, so it’s a good idea to request a personal introduction from the Commerce department, a bank, or from a high-ranking individual at a well-known business.
In Taiwanese business culture, relationships are based on respect and trust, so you will be expected to take time to build rapport and good will. The Taiwanese are generally suspicious of Westerners, so work on this in the early stages of your visit, and expect to make several trips to establish the relationship.
Although punctuality is expected from foreign visitors, Taiwanese business culture has more of a relaxed attitude toward time, so your Taiwanese counterpart may arrive a bit late for an appointment. The Taiwanese work ethic is exceptionally strong, and they often work 12 to 15 hour work days.
Staying out until late in the evening at bars, nightclubs, or restaurants is a way of life in Taiwanese business culture, so it’s best to schedule morning appointments for late in the morning.
Bowing is not as common as in other parts of China, particularly in business culture. A simple nod is more common, followed by handshakes and the exchange of business cards. Make sure that you bring a plentiful supply of business card, because you will be expected to exchange them with practically everyone you meet.
Your name, company, and title should be printed in English on one side and if possible, in Mandarin Chinese on the reverse side. In Taiwan, the first name you see will probably be the person’s last name or family name, followed by the person’s first name or given name. In addition, the Taiwanese may also adopt Western names for the benefit of the English-speakers they will be meeting.
Present your card facing up with both hands, held between the thumbs and forefingers. Receiving another person’s business card is considered an honor, so carefully examine it and then remark about it before carefully putting it in your card case or the table in front of you for a meeting. Never accept a business card and then immediately stuff it into your pocket.
Humility and harmony is very important in Taiwan. Do not enter an office until you are invited, and don’t seat yourself until you are asked to do so. The Taiwanese usually begin a meeting with good-natured “small talk”, and you will probably be taken to an informal sitting area and served coffee and tea. Allow your Taiwanese counterpart to bring up the subject of business.
Follow the Taiwanese business etiquette and wait to be introduced to new people. If there is someone, in particular, you want to meet, it’s best to have a third person introduce you.
The standard Asian handshake is gentle compared to western cultures, and lasts around 10-12 seconds. Taiwanese women will rarely shake hands, and Western men should not offer to shake hands with them unless they extend their hand first. Western women may initiate a handshake with Taiwanese men.
The question “Have you eaten?” is the equivalent to “How are you?” in North America. it’s simply a superficial inquiry that does not require a detailed answer. Simply answer “yes”, even if you haven’t eaten.
Don’t be surprised if your Taiwanese business associates ask personal questions such as, “What is your salary?” or “How much did that cost?” These questions are considered acceptable and should be answered– even if indirectly.
Much of communication is implied in Taiwan, so your use of eye contact, facial expressions, tone of voice, and gestures play an important part in getting across your intended message, however keep eye contact to a minimum with those senior to you, and avoid expansive greetings, gestures, and physical contact.
Remain calm and composed at all times, and don’t display your emotions. It is crucial that you understand and respect the concept of “saving face”, and never embarrass anyone in public by losing your temper or raising your voice. Any form of criticism is always done in a private, in a “one-on-one” meeting.
Since the Taiwanese will rarely be blunt enough to say “no”, you will need to listen carefully and “read between the lines” to determine if a response is negative. For example, a reply of, “We’ll see”, may actually mean, “No, we won’t”, and “I’ll consider it” may imply, “No, I don’t want to.”
If someone compliments you during a conversation, respond by insisting that you are not worthy of such praise. Don’t acknowledge by saying “thank you” or by affirming it in any other way. Instead, remain as modest and self-effacing as possible. However, this should not stop you from sincerely complimenting another person since this will be appreciated.
Expect Taiwanese businesspeople to be shrewd negotiators. Bargaining is a way of life, so be prepared to make compromises. Your negotiating team should include people with seniority and a comprehensive knowledge of your company. Including an older person in your delegation will be essential to your success, since this culture deeply respects age and status, and sending a senior representative shows that your organization is serious about the relationship.
Sending your proposals in advance for your host to review is often a good strategy. It’s helpful to have written materials translated in Mandarin Chinese by a professional. Be prepared to discuss all aspects of your proposal in detail, and summarize the major points at the beginning and the end.
At the negotiating table, the member of your team with the highest seniority should sit in the middle of one long side. The second-ranked person will sit at his right, their third ranked person to his left, and so on. The Taiwanese side will do the same, so you will be able to identify the “key players” on their side. If you are sitting on a sofa and chairs, follow the same arrangement. When passing through a doorway allow the elders to pass first — even if you need to insist because they initially refuse.
Any breach of trust will not be tolerated and is a serious violation of Taiwanese business protocol.
Avoid discussing money early on, although it is an obvious priority. In Taiwanese business culture, establishing a trustworthy business relationship is often considered a higher priority than profits.
Do’s and Taboos for Taiwan
5 Key Conversation or Cultural Gesture Tips
- You’ll often find that the Taiwanese are fans of American baseball
- Family is a good topic, because in the Taiwanese business culture an exemplary family life is perceived as a sign of character
- The Taiwanese enjoy talking about all types of travel, including their country or your country
- They will enjoy hearing about what you’ve enjoyed about Taiwan so far, and what you would like to visit and do while you are there
- Personal space is important to the Taiwanese, so plan to stand about two arm’s lengths away from another person
5 Key Conversation or Cultural Gesture Taboos
- Avoid pats on the back, putting your arm around someone, or any form of touching in communication like resting your hand on someone’s arm
- The Taiwanese point with an open hand because pointing with a finger is socially unacceptable. Beckon by extending your arms palm down and waving your fingers.
- Winking at someone, even as an innocent gesture of acknowledgement, is considered unacceptable.
- Feet are considered dirty in this culture and should not touch things or people. When seated, men should keep their feet flat on the floor. Women may cross their legs, but should avoid pointing the soles of their shoe at anyone.
- Avoid discussing their relationship with mainland China, local politics, or communism.
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Create Rapport and Organize Strategies for Success
The CROSS of Cross-Cultural
Cultural Tips for Countries from A to Z
Cultural Tips for Taiwan – including some valuable business travel tips for Taiwan
This article on cultural differences in Taiwan and cultural travel tips for Taiwan is a brief snapshot of conversation guidelines for Taiwan, tips for communicating in Taiwan, and business strategies for Taiwan to help with understanding the culture in Taiwan. It’s important to keep in mind that as we homogenize as a ‘global culture,’ cultural tendencies change and evolve as well. Awareness is the first step when it comes to cultural do’s and taboos for Taiwan and tips for intercultural communication!
It’s easy for business travelers to think that even when they travel, business is going to be done pretty much the same way it is at home. But that’s not always the case. Cultural differences can have a significant impact on global business etiquette. That’s why it’s important for business travelers to make sure that they understand the culture of the country that they’re doing business in.
Emmy Award Winner, Gayle Cotton, is the author of this blog and of the bestselling cross-cultural communication book ‘SAY Anything to Anyone, Anywhere! 5 Keys to Successful Cross-Cultural Communication’, which is available on Amazon as a Book, eBook, or Audio Book. She is President of Circles Of Excellence Inc. and a Professional Keynote Speaker. Contact Gayle if you need professional speakers for events, speakers on cultural diversity, conference speakers for events, or keynote speakers that specialize in cross-cultural training. She is a leader in the field of public speakers, motivational speakers, and international keynote speakers. She is among the best of female keynote speakers and women motivational speakers and is a ‘first choice’ request for international audiences!
Circles Of Excellence provides Corporate Training, Leadership Coaching, and Professional Keynote Speakers for companies of all sizes and in all industries, including over 50 Fortune 500 companies. Contact us about our customized training programs for Communication Skills, Cross-Cultural Communication, Cultural Diversity, Customer Service, Leadership Coaching, Presentation Skills, Sales Negotiations, Stress Management, Team building, and Time Management Training.