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How Full Is Your Cup?


A middle-aged man notices a karate training hall (dojo) on his new route to work. After several days, he stops at the dojo to inquire about classes. He is introduced to the head teacher (Sensei) and they go to his office to talk. The man starts to ask several questions about the style of the karate, the training regimen, and the other students.


Each time the Sensei attempts to answer, the other man interrupts to talk about all the different styles he has learned so far. This continues for some time, the man asking a question of the Sensei and then interrupting with about how much he knows about karate and the martial arts.


The Sensei stops the man in mid-sentence and asks if he would like a cup of tea. The man nods that he would. While the Sensei quietly serves tea, the man continues to tell him about all the knowledge and skills he has developed so far.


The Sensei continues to pour slowly into the man’s cup. As it gets closer to the brim of the cup, the man points out that that was enough tea. However, the Sensei continues to slowly pour the tea as it rises to the brim. Then it begins to slowly overflow the cup, run into the saucer below, onto the table, and finally on to the man’s pants. The man exclaims to the Sensei “What are you doing? Can’t you see that the cup is overflowing? No more will go in!”


The sensei slowly sets down the teapot and says to his visitor, “Your mind is like this overflowing cup. There is no room for new knowledge. Go empty your cup and come back to me when you are truly ready to learn.”


This story can easily be applied to all, yes, all, of the relationships and work or personal problems that we encounter during our lives. It is very easy to tell someone everything we know about their problem or their situation and how they should fix it. Most importantly, this is how conversations can begin, not leaving the other person room to let us know how they are feeling or what they are thinking.


You might ask, “Well, that’s good to know but what does this have to do with stress?”


If we take the time to reflect on how many conversations and interactions we have each day with other people, I think the answer might be another question, “ What emotions were you feeling the last time someone didn’t take the time to understand where you were coming from?” When someone leaves a meeting or discussion, not feeling heard, the root cause is very ineffective communication. This is stress with a capital S!


@Stephen DeGroot, author and international speaker, introduced my son, @JeffCouillard, to two important questions directly related to effective communication. You can see how important Stephen thinks they are by the titles he uses.


The first one: The Billion Dollar Question: “What don’t I know about this situation or this person, from the other person’s perspective?”


The second one, The Million Dollar Question: “How will this information help me better understand this person or situation?”


We can’t afford to be like the man who is so full of his own knowledge that he is not able to take in any new information or teachings from the Sensei. We can’t afford to have our cup so full of irrelevant information or ourselves, that there is no room to understand the other person’s perspective.


Steven Covey, in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, says this concisely in Law #5: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”


So many times, I have been able to look back over my life and wished I known this much earlier. Over the years, I have tried to make this a natural habit but can still remember times when I should have been much more diligent and consistent in applying it my own life.


We need to ask ourselves: Will our cup be an overflowing cup of our own self-importance and fears? Or, will it be an empty cup open to the possibilities of growing in your life while you are helping others do the same?


Two simple actions that only involve the focusing of our attention on step 1, and then on step 2.

  1. Empty your cup before engaging in a meeting, discussion, or simple conversation.

  2. Focus on understanding the needs of the other person with the true intent of helping them feel understood.


Can you do this little two-step (just like the dance, first one foot, then the other)? Absolutely yes! And, if you can be consistent in practicing it, you can do it all day long once it becomes your natural habit of communicating!


This is so some important, there is only one question left to ask. When are you going to start?



~ Dana


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