Leadership Lessons from Confucius: never let your words go to waste

Confucius said: “To fail to speak with someone who is open to what you have to say is to let the person go to waste; to speak with someone who is not open to what you have to say is to let your words go to waste. A wise person never lets people or words go to waste.”

There are only twenty-four hours in a day. Why waste precious time talking to people who have no interest in listening to what you have to say and no intention of acting on it? Why not focus your efforts instead on others who are open to your ideas and willing to follow the advice and suggestions you give them?

Even when someone is ready to listen to what you have to say, pay close attention to choosing the right time and place for the conversation. It can be all too easy to make them reject an idea because you have raised it too early or too late.

This article features a translation of Chapter 8 of Book 15 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 15 here.

(1) Although Confucius was always ready to let anyone become a student of his, he would discard them if they didn’t respond to his teaching by taking it seriously. Confucius was happy to talk with anyone he happened to meet as well, but he would quickly move on if he judged that nothing meaningful would come from the conversation. As he points out in 16.6, it is not difficult to tell whether someone is truly interested in what you have to say. All you need to do is check the expression on their face

I took this image at the Mencius Cemetery in Qufu.

I live in Taiwan and am interested in exploring what ancient Chinese philosophy can tell us about technology and the rise of modern China.