Leadership Lessons from Confucius: friendship advice
Zigong asked about friendship. Confucius said: “Advise your friends loyally and guide them tactfully. If that fails, stop: don’t disgrace yourself.”
It’s not your responsibility to tell your friends how to lead their lives or to intervene when they are facing a serious problem. Even if you don’t agree with the decisions or actions they’re taking, keep your lips buttoned unless they come to you for advice or support. Even then, don’t go overboard unless you’re prepared to risk becoming the target of their anger and resentment. There’s a fine line between helping someone and interfering in their affairs. When it comes to friendship advice, never forget the old saying about the road to hell being paved with good intentions.
This article features a translation of Chapter 23 of Book 12 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 12 here.
(1) Book 12 of the Analects finishes with two chapters featuring advice on friendship from Confucius and his follower Zengzi respectively. The key is to provide each other with mutual guidance and support in the pursuit of goodness without going too far.
(2) Confucius’s follower Ziyou gives similar advice about the danger of crossing the line in 4.26: “In the service of a lord, overzealousness brings disgrace; in the company of friends, it brings estrangement.”