Taiwan is a curious mix of traditional Confucian ethics and rampant capitalism, epitomised by the fierce inter-group rivalries to be found in all areas of the economy.
Most companies in Taiwan fall into the small to medium-sized category and are family-owned concerns focussing on issues which will benefit the business (and therefore the family) in the long run.
As predominantly family-run businesses, most power tends to reside with the head of the family. All decisions should be taken with reference to that person.
Long-term loyalty to the company cannot be assumed unless the employee is a family member. Many younger employees will leave to set up companies in direct competition to their former employers.
Managers tend towards the authoritarian, issuing instructions which they expect to be unquestioningly carried out.
Little initiative is expected from subordinates. Taking unilateral action could be perceived as lack of respect for seniority.
Age brings respect and wisdom. It is advisable to send older representatives of the organisation when trying to establish relationships in Taiwan.
Initial meetings may be primarily for the exchange of pleasantries and the commencement of relationship building. Do not be impatient, let things take their course.
Business cards should be exchanged at the beginning of the meeting. Cards should be presented with two hands and respect shown to the others card.
Relationships are all-important and business will not flow until and unless good relationships are established. Strive to be viewed as an honourable person by displaying respect, courtesy and patience.
Meetings can seem overly formal with all communication addressed to the respective heads of delegation. Do not show disrespect to the senior person by speaking exclusively to the best speaker of English.
Although harmony should be aimed for at all times, it is not unknown for the Taiwanese to express strong emotions during the course of a meeting.
The Taiwanese can make highly effective team players, given that the correct atmosphere is developed and people do not fear losing face.
Foreign language levels in Taiwan are relatively low and therefore it may be necessary to use an interpreter which will slow the process down considerably.
Communication can be very vague and it can be difficult to understand the true meaning behind what is said. Ask lots of questions and go over the same point from different angles.
Body language is minimal and therefore difficult to interpret. Minimal visible response does not, necessarily, imply lack of interest.
Gift giving is an essential part of the relationship-building process. Ensure that gifts are wrapped and given with two hands. Gifts are rarely opened in front of the giver.
Women play only a minimal role in business life in Taiwan but foreign businesswomen can expect to be treated with courtesy and respect.
Dress codes vary, but smart business dress is acceptable in most situations.
A great deal of important relationship-building work is done outside the office in the bar or at formal banquets. It is useful to accept any invitations offered and to join in the proceedings with gusto.