In the workplace, you are almost guaranteed to be above someone, equal to someone and under someone. The fact that this ancient Egyptian text covers all these states is one of the things that makes it so special.
More than that though is the fact that this ancient Egyptian text actually dates as far back as 4000 years ago and even with that length of time, it looks like the rules of required behavior have changed very little. The wisdom from the time of the pharaohs still rings as true now in the times of heads of states.
The Writings from Ancient Egypt (Penguin Classics) is an anthology of millennia-old papyrus, letters, and stone carvings, selected and translated into sparkling contemporary English by Cambridge University Egyptologist Toby Wilkinson. It was released in the UK on Aug. 24 and gives us access to a vast body of ancient Egyptian literature that was out of our reach formerly due to translation barriers.
One of those gems of Ancient Egyptian literature is Ptahhotep’s maxims on how to deal with argumentative superiors, equals, and inferiors which are so applicable today that you may forget when it was written. We’ll show three of them below;
First maxim: How to deal with an argumentative superior
If you come across a disputatious man in (the heat of) the moment, who has authority over you as a superior, bend your arms (in respect) and bow (For) if you vex him, he will not be friendly to you. Diminish his bad speech by not opposing him while he is in (the heat of) the moment. He will be called an ignoramus while your self-control will equal his wealth.
Basically; Exercise self-control when dealing with the anger of someone above you.
Second maxim: How to deal with an argumentative equal
If you come across a disputatious man who is your equal, your match, you will make your esteem greater than his by keeping silent. While he is saying bad things, there will be much discussion by the judges and your name will be good in the opinion of the elders.
Basically; Use silence as a weapon when talking with an argumentative equal.
Third maxim: How to deal with an argumentative subordinate
If you come across a disputatious man who is a poor man, not your equal, do not be aggressive to him (simply) because he is weak. Leave him alone and he will confute himself. Do not answer him back merely to lighten your heart. Do not vent your anger against your opponent, for wretched is he who injures a poor man. What you wish will be done (anyway): you will beat him through the elders’ disapproval.
Basically; Shelve your anger for those below you, what you say will be final anyway.
There is also this gem of advice for leaders on the power of listening in his 16th maxim; “If you are a leader, listen quietly to the plea of a petitioner. Do not rebuff him from what he planned to say: a victim loves to vent his anger more than to achieve what he came for.”
Through the body of work, Ptahhotep repeatedly returns to a piece of eternal wisdom: When in doubt, hold your tongue.