Peak Translations

How to accomplish your international business mission in Taiwan

Taiwan in a nutshell is a small island about the size of Belgium or Switzerland, located between Japan and the Philippines, off the southeastern coast of China. It is rich in heritage and culture, with incredibly beautiful and colourful temples to visit, a plethora of hot spring resorts in which to relax, an inordinate amount of jaw-dropping mountainous terrain for hiking and extensive cycle infrastructures for biking, especially in its capital Taipei. You will also never be caught off guard with their 7-11 convenience stores offering you more than your pint of milk or loaf of bread; at any time of night you can pay your bills, call a taxi, send a parcel and much more. However, if you were hoping to buy an ice cream on hearing music being played by a truck, think again, they only want your rubbish! The sounds of Beethoven’s Für Elise emanate from rubbish trucks to remind locals that it’s rubbish o’clock!

As for business, Taiwan is an important gateway to the emerging markets of Asia, in particular China, as well as being strategically located at the heart of Asia-Pacific. For those businesses planning to invest internationally it would do well to know that the most important industrial export sector in Taiwan is technology; in other words electronics, being the world’s biggest supplier of computer monitors, as well as leader in computer manufacturing. Other bonuses are its well-educated workforce and its low corporate tax rates.

So, if you are planning to solidify your business relationship with your Taiwanese counterparts at the start, abiding by certain rules of conduct and embracing particular cultural aspects will go a long way to helping your cause. Below you will find a few useful tips to help you accomplish your mission in Taiwan!

Business meetings

  • Start off in their good books by arranging face-to-face meetings where possible and being punctual to those meetings; punctuality is key in conducting business in Taiwan, as tardiness is considered highly disrespectful. Although meeting in person cannot always be achieved, they appreciate this more than virtual meetings, i.e. telephone, Skype or emails.
  • Any documentation that you take to a business meeting or send to your Taiwanese counterparts is better translated, as are your business cards; English on one side and Chinese on the other (ensure it is the correct Chinese, which in Taiwan uses classical characters, rather than simplified characters). Business cards are also seen with more respect in this culture, so writing on them will not go down well at all.
  • Make an impression and show them you mean business. Turn up to a business meeting with a team of two to four people, one of which should be a senior person with decision-making clout, as it is generally elders and superiors who are the decision makers in Taiwanese business.

 

 Greetings

  • First meeting greetings suggest a nod of the head or a slight bow as polite etiquette, as do introductions by a third person; introducing yourself is considered bad manners. Also, don’t be surprised if you are greeted with the rhetorical question of “Have you eaten?” as this is the norm.
  • If there are three phrases of Mandarin Chinese (official language of Taiwan) with which to arm yourself in business and which could well take your mission to the next level, it is the following trio. Nĭn hăo, pronounced ‘Neen how’, a formal form of hello, Xièxie nĭ/nĭn, articulated ‘hsieh hsieh (Sh’eh Sh’eh) nee /neen’, an extra polite formal thank you that will earn you lots of brownie points, and Bú kèqì, enunciated ‘Boo khe chee’, meaning you’re welcome / my pleasure).
  • The Taiwanese like the Chinese stand on formal ceremony when it comes to addressing one another and their foreign clients (at least initially). Show them equal courtesy by addressing your counterparts by their academic, professional, or honorific title, as well as their surname. If they are happy with using a first name basis, they will inform you which name to use.

 

 Body language

  • Although direct eye contact is favoured in business, as Taiwan is a hierarchical society, indirect eye contact is recommended with elders or superiors out of deference and respect.
  • Touching someone on the head, especially a child, is a black mark in Taiwanese cultural etiquette, as children are held in the utmost regard in Taiwan. It wouldn’t bode well putting your hand on a business colleague’s shoulder either, as they consider this action impolite.
  • How to sit should be as easy as your ABC, but in Taiwan, there is certain etiquette in how you should sit. Crossing legs is seen as inappropriate, as is showing your feet, therefore sitting with both feet on the floor is advisable, as is placing your hands on your lap.

 

Dress code

  • Fear not, the Taiwanese follow western customs when it comes to formal business attire; suit up to make a long-lasting first impression! However, with 50% of the population being under 30 in Taiwan, the more open, casual style has begun to creep into business dress. Nevertheless, err on the side of caution with conservative dress at initial meetings if you’re looking to impress!
  • Although similar to the Western look, bright colours are not generally on the business dress agenda, so avoid looking like Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour dreamcoat by wearing a more conservative dark to medium coloured suit.
  • For women to be taken seriously in Taiwan when conducting business, they should most certainly avoid tight fitting or sleeveless attire, choosing a simple skirt and blouse or conservative loose fitting dress.

 

Gift giving

  • Gift giving is common practice in business and general rule of thumb suggests offering and receiving gifts with two hands. However, do not feel offended if your gift is refused on first offering as it is generally done so out of politeness. You may try to offer the gift again, but it is wise not to force it upon them.
  • It is always better not to be too lavish when it comes to gift giving, unless they have been particularly extravagant with their gift to you. Take prudent steps to avoid gifts in odd numbers or fours as it is considered unlucky.
  • If you want your potential Taiwanese clients to believe how serious you are in having a business relationship with them, don’t cut your ties at the start of business negotiations by offering them a knife set or a beautifully ornate pair of scissors as they symbolise a severing of relationships! Equally avoid offering them gifts associated with death such as white flowers, chrysanthemums, clocks or handkerchiefs and for obvious reasons steer clear of anything made in Taiwan!

By taking on board these cultural considerations and many more your Taiwan business mission is complete.

By Madeline Prusmann, Project Manager, November 2017

 


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