Leadership Lessons from Confucius: smooth talk and impatience
Confucius said: “Smooth talk confounds virtue. Impatience in small matters confounds great plans.”
Words can obscure as much as they can enlighten. Pay close attention not just to what people say but how they say it. Observing their facial expressions and hand movements can give you vital clues about their level of sincerity and the real agenda they are pursuing. Paying closer attention to someone’s verbal and body language can make it much easier to figure out if they’re offering you a genuine compliment or buttering you up in order to get your approval for a pet project of theirs.
Minor delays and setbacks can happen with any major project. When one does occur, remain patient and calm no matter how upset you are. Don’t waste valuable time and energy obsessing about it. You will only create additional problems if you fail to keep your emotions under control. Focus on accomplishing the overall goal.
This article features a translation of Chapter 27 of Book 15 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 15 here.
(1) This is another example of Confucius voicing his suspicions of how smooth talk and clever words can obscure the difference between right and wrong and lead naïve people down the incorrect path. He was particularly concerned about state rulers being deceived by the honeyed words and false truths uttered by sycophantic ministers, officials, and other advisors in their courts. As with so many of his injunctions, his pleas for what he called the rectification of the names (see 13.3) were ignored by the ruling class of his day.
(2) See 13.17 for another example of Confucius talking about the need to be patient and avoid getting caught in minor matters:
When Zixia was governor of Jufu he asked about governance. Confucius said: “Don’t try to rush things. Ignore matters of minor advantage. If you try to rush things, you won’t achieve success. If you pursue matters of minor advantage, you won’t succeed in major affairs.”
I took this image at the Mencius Cemetery in Qufu.