Business English Vocabulary

Giving Advice Across Cultures

Is giving advice the same in every culture?

Giving advice to someone is not as simple as just telling them what to do, especially in an intercultural situation where more sensitivity needs to be applied.  The problem is that if the advice you give is too direct it can come across as a command. What if you haven’t understood the situation correctly or completely, and your advice is no good? The person seeking your advice needs ‘an out’ – a way that they can reject your advice, or reformulate their request for advice without losing face – or causing you to lose face!

Below you can see some typical phrases for giving advice across cultures in the form of tips which can help you ensure nobody loses face. They offer your conversation partner plenty of flexibility to take your advice or not, as they see fit. If you are able to offer advice in an objective, neutral, sensitive and respectful way when people come to you, then the risk of accidentally damaging a good working relationship will be reduced.

Language for giving advice across cultures


Tip: Clarify the limits of the question
Phrase: If I were you, I’d make sure you understand the limits of the question.

Tip: Ask how your advice sounds
Phrase: Asking how your advice sounds might help.

Tip: Be confident not arrogant
Phrase: If you ask me, be confident but not arrogant when giving advice across cultures.

Tip: Beware of giving unsolicited advice
Phrase: Bear in mind the difference between solicited and unsolicited advice.

Tip: Give the recipient an “out”.
Phrase: You could try giving the recipient an “out.”

Tip: Ask for follow-up
Phrase: In your situation I would make sure to ask for follow-up.

3 Benefits of using suitable language when giving advice

By ensuring the language you use to frame your advice is culturally sensitive you can:

  1. address your conversation partner respectfully
  2. avoid damaging relationships
  3. help establish trust and open channels of communication

If you are interested in learning more about doing business across cultures check out our seminar details. And for more details on intercultural communication take a look at our selection of blog posts.


2 replies
  1. Gerhard
    Gerhard says:

    I find point 2 useful: it’s certainly sometimes helpful to ask how the given advice sounds. But in doing that you have to be aware that you may irritate the conversation partner with that. He certainly doesn’t expect such a change in roles.

  2. Jennie Wright
    Jennie Wright says:

    Great ideas Beth – this is so important in business as every culture gives advice differently. I found the three final points most useful as I have seen how being culturally insensitive can damage business relationships quickly and for the long-term. Has this happened to anyone else?

    Many people think they do not need to change how they approach giving advice to other cultures but live to regret it!

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