Keeping an empty and open mind is vital when interacting with others. One of my favorite Zen stories illustrates why, and I have included it here. I first read it in ‘Zen in the Martial Arts’ by Joe Hyams, but I have seen it in other sources as well.

In this story, an accomplished professor visits a Zen Master to learn about Zen. Whenever the Zen Master gets into a point, the professor begins to give his own opinions and viewpoints, This continues for some time, with the Zen Master being completely unable to convey his learnings to the professor. The Master decides to take a break and makes some tea. He puts a cup in front of the professor and begins to pour. He fills the cup all the way and then continues to pour. The cup overflows, but the Master keeps pouring, Finally, the professor can not hold back and blurts out, ‘Stop, the cup is full and can not take anymore tea.’ The Zen Master looks at the professor and says, ‘like this cup, you are so full of knowledge that you can not accept anymore. Only if you empty your cup can I teach you anything.’

How often do we as people seek out knowledge but then remain un-teachable by our preconceived ideas? How often do we go to a class but then try to show the teacher how much we know rather then just learning what he has to offer? How often are we in a conversation with someone but rather than really hearing and understanding what they have to say we care much more about getting the other person to understand us?

Most people who can not let go like this have a challenge with insecurity, whether they consciously realize it or not. When they are being taught something, they have an innate need to demonstrate what they already know. It’s as if they believe that by simply keeping quiet and listening, they are diminishing their power. The irony is that the people whon have the inner calm and confidence to listen are the most powerful people of all. They also happen to be the ones who grow and learn the most because they are open to new ideas.

 Here are three simple ideas to help you empty your cup:

 1) When you ask someone for advice, resolve to listen to their answer completely before saying anything else. *Once they arefinished,* if they have told you nothing new, politely mention to them that you already know that and then ask if they have any other advice.

2) When you feel an inner signal to interrupt or point out what you know, do not act on it immediately. Instead, acknowledge the feeling and realize that this is your ego getting in the way.Remind yourself that you are here for information, not to stroke your ego.

3) If someone tells you something you already know, it may be because you need to hear it again. Rather than being annoyed that you are being reminded of something, actually listen to the advice as if you are getting it for the first time and see if you don’t come up with a new idea yourself. Habit number four in ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Stephen Covey  is ‘seek first to understand, then to be understood.’ This is an amazingly simple but powerful principle for interacting with others, and the most powerful way to do it is to empty your cup.

Avish Parashar is the world’s funniest (and potentially only) “Improvising Motivational Keynote Speaker” To learn more about how to bring the hilariously powerful lessons of improv comedy to your organization, visit

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