Leadership lessons from Confucius: a highly emotional state

highly emotional state

When Yan Hui died, Confucius wailed bitterly with grief. His followers said: “Master, such grief is excessive.” Confucius said: “Is it excessive? If I don’t grieve for this man, who else should I grieve for?” (1)

When people are in a highly emotional state, it’s not the right time to intervene – much less pass judgment on their actions. Better to signal that you’re there for them if they need you and then allow them to work out their grief or anger on their own. There’s nothing you can say that will comfort or calm them down. Indeed, no matter how well-intentioned your intervention is, the chances are that it will only serve to fuel their emotions further.

When they’re ready, they’ll come to find you. But until then just let them be and accept that the best way of helping them is simply to be available for them if they want you.


This article features a translation of Chapter 10 of Book 11 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 11 here.

(1) It appears that Confucius stepped beyond the bounds of ritual propriety with his unrestrained display of grief. His followers certainly seem to think so with their suggestion that his wailing is excessive.

I took this image of an ancient Zhou dynasty ritual vessel at the new Confucius Museum in the sage’s home town of Qufu. You can read more about the museum here.

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