Leadership lessons from Confucius: lessons in etiquette

lessons in etiquette

When he saw someone in mourning clothes, he adopted a solemn expression on his face and remained distant even if he knew them well. When he saw someone wearing a ceremonial cap or a blind person, he was courteous even if he was familiar with them. When he came across someone in mourning garments while riding in his carriage, he leaned over the stanchion to greet them; he would do the same when he encountered someone carrying official documents. When he was served rich delicacies at a banquet, he adopted a gracious expression on his face and rose to his feet to show his appreciation. When he heard a sudden clap of thunder or a ferocious wind an awe-struck expression came over his face.

Every day is full of encounters with other people in different contexts – from the person you sit next to on the bus or train to work and the barista who serves you coffee to your colleagues in the office and the friend you meet for lunch.

Although some of these encounters are planned, most of them are purely random. Knowing how to deal with potentially awkward ones when you only have a split second to react can be very challenging if you don’t have a ritual script to follow. A nervous smile or a limp handshake can make a huge difference in how people perceive and interact with you – and can lead to unnecessary misunderstandings and complications.

Lessons in etiquette may have long gone out of style, but knowing how to act appropriately in different social situations can go a long way in getting smoothly through your day and boosting your self-confidence.


This article features a translation of Chapter 25 of Book 10 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 10 here.

I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Yilan, Taiwan.

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