Leadership lessons from Confucius: special relationships

special relationships

Confucius said: “Yan Pingzhong was adept at cultivating relationships with other people: the longer he knew them, the greater the respect they would show towards him.”

When you start doing business in China, chances are that it won’t be long before you meet someone who claims to have special relationships or connections (关系/guānxì) with important people in the government, universities, and major companies who can help speed up the wheels of bureaucracy or help give you undreamed access to the domestic market.

Based on my experience, I would be very leery about putting too much faith in such promises no matter how sincerely they are meant. For all the gallons of ink that have been spilled on the importance of “guanxi”, the rules for building relationships with people in China are pretty much the same as anywhere else in the world. That means being polite and friendly, learning to speak a few common Chinese phrases, showing respect for Chinese culture, and sharing a common interest that you wish to explore together.

In other words, don’t waste time and energy looking for short cuts. If you do, you’ll more than likely reach a dead end somewhere along the line. 

This article features a translation of Chapter 17 of Book 5 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 5 here.

(1) Yan Pingzhong (晏平仲) was a chief minister of the state of Qi (齊) who was famous for his ability to forge close relationships with people of all social stations during the course of a career that spanned over four decades and the reigns of three dukes. You can learn more about him here.

I took this image at the Tainan Confucius Temple.

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