Ziqin asked Zigong: “When the Master arrives in another state and needs to find out about the affairs of its government, does he have to ask for this information or do people give him it of their own accord?” Zigong replied: “The Master obtains it by being warm, kind, courteous, unassuming, and deferential. He has quite a unique way of seeking out information than other people, hasn’t he?” (1)
Treating people respectfully is a much more effective way of finding out what is happening than questioning them aggressively. The more interest you show in listening to what somebody has to say, the more likely they are to reveal what is really going on. Warmth, kindness, and courtesy go a long way.
When you put someone on the spot, they will feel compelled to tell you what they think you want to hear rather than give you a true picture of the situation at hand. That might temporarily put your mind at rest, but it will only serve to store up even more serious problems in the future when reality finally hits.
This article features a translation of Chapter 10 of Book 1 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 1 here.
(1) Confucius spent fourteen years trekking from state to state after leaving his home state of Lu in 497 BC in search of a senior government position. Although many rulers of these states were willing to meet him and listen to his counsel, none of them went as far as to hire him – in many cases because their own ministers and officials opposed such an appointment. When he finally realized that he would never be able to achieve his goal, Confucius returned to his homeland at the age of 68 and spent the rest of his life teaching and editing the classics.
I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Qufu. You can read more about it here.