Traditional Taiwan Worldview

Group Orientation
Identity defined by group; family

Harmony and face saving very important

Relationship Focused
Personal interaction highly valued – Guanxi

Patterns of rank and status observed, but with more democratic sensibility than mainland China

Tolerance for Ambiguity
Comfortable with ambiguous situations; although managerial guidance expected

Loose application of rules; requires understanding of context and relationship

Fluid Time
Scheduling and deadlines are more flexible

Cultural Notes:

  • There is a considerable feeling of independence from mainland China, despite China’s feeling that Taiwan is a renegade province that is part of “one China”.
  • Taiwan and China’s economies are closely connected despite these political tensions.
  • Taiwan is technically a multiparty democracy (martial law was lifted in 1987) with a strongly capitalistic economy.
  • The core culture remains very traditionally Chinese with a strong family focus and emphasis on building and maintaining relationships.

Cultural Assumptions

  • GuanxiReciprocation and Building Relationships
  • MianziFace Saving & Avoiding Shame
  • Family Stability, Material Success
  • Democratic Ideal and Spirit of National Independence
  • Surface Calm
  • Modesty & Humility
  • Group Stability
  • Hospitality
  • Inside-Group/Out-Group Mentality
  • Sense of Cultural Superiority and Unique Identity
  • Self-Cultivation, Education
  • Perseverance

Traditional Taiwanese Communication Style

Imply/suggest what is meant.  You need to read between the lines. “Yes” can mean “no”.

High Context
Background information assumed depending on nature of relationship

Sensitivity to hierarchy/face saving very important. Avoid familiarity until there is a strong relationship.

Emotional displays avoided. Showing strong emotions can be interpreted as loss of self control and disrespect.


Guidelines for Communicating with Taiwanese People

  • Learn to read paralinguistic cues such as facial expressions, body movements, gestures and pauses.
  • Develop a belief that words can be inadequate and insufficient.
  • Understand that Taiwanese selves are often embedded in plural pronouns, and learn to differentiate personal opinions from those of the group.
  • Be aware that impersonal language can be used with outsiders and that insiders and outsiders are treated differently.
  • Accept that Taiwanese value indirect talk and that requests are often implied.
  • Recognize that definitive responses are rarely given in Taiwanese culture and that the word “yes” may have multiple meanings.
  • Understand that modesty is a virtue and that understating and discrediting oneself is expected.
  • Be aware that personal questions are asked frequently and that guanxi  talk is a sign of care and interest.
  • Accept that Taiwanese tend to keep opinions to themselves and are uncomfortable in engaging in social talk with strangers.

Non-Verbal Dynamics

 Polite nods are common when greeting someone. Younger generation uses handshakes more frequently.  Due to restrained style, gestures are not often used. Pointing is done with the entire hand, rather than one finger, as in the United States.

Prefer not to be touched. With same gender and close friendships there can be some touching.

Minimal physical contact except in tight public spaces. Prefer formal recognition of space, particularly with the elderly, who are treated with reverence.

Business Practices

PROBLEM SOLVING Inextricably linked with mianzi, or face; problems must be approached delicately, without causing embarrassment
MOTIVATING PEOPLE Treating people with ren; taking good care of subordinates, benevolent authority
APPRAISING PERFORMANCE Informal, subjective; personal relationship (loyalty) supersedes performance
PERFORMANCE EXPECTATIONS Focus on group harmony & shared accomplishment; qualitative and subjective; includes social & economic concerns
NEGOTIATING, PERSUADING Proceed slowly, cautiously, patiently, without emotional display, seeking compromise. There is no formal end to negotiations and points can come up much later when they are unexpected
DECISION MAKING PROCESS Protracted group process of leader-mediated compromise
PARTICIPATION IN MEETINGS Meetings are formal; behavior is reserved; emotional display is proscribed; attention to hierarchy in the room
Authoritarian management; upward dependence; not much tolerance for individual initiative
HIRING Hiring and firing based on perceived loyalty. Does not necessarily involve performance considerations.
CUSTOMER RELATIONS Development of strong personal relationships with customers is crucial. This can take a considerable amount of time.