Empty the Cup, Open the Mind

How receptive to learning are you?

Larry Ambrose

A popular Zen story goes: "A successful man went to a Zen master and announced he had come to learn all about Zen. The master invited the man to sit down and have tea. As the master poured the tea, it overflowed. The man shouted, 'It's spilling, it's spilling!' To which the master replied, 'Precisely—you came with a full cup. Your cup is already spilling over, so how can I give you anything? Unless you come with emptiness, I can give you nothing.'"

Just as the full cup accepted no more tea, the closed mind accepts no more learning. Accepting and making best use of your mentoring experience isn't always easy. Being open to input, course correction, new ways of thinking, and possibly daunting new experiences can be challenging and a bit scary. Opening yourself to mentoring may suggest that you don't have every base covered and that you still have some growing to do. This can be hard to admit, especially in the workplace. However, you must remember that people who seek mentoring tend to grow on the job, and those who solicit feedback usually get it. If you persist in looking for learning, seeking challenge, and welcoming growth, you will have many teachers and many mentors.

To determine how open you are to learning opportunities, complete this short self-assessment for maximizing learning from your mentoring experience. Give yourself a rating from 1 to 6 on the following items for how closely each statement describes you (6 for very closely; 1 for not closely at all):

Learning Self-Assessment

How receptive are you to new learning? Receptive learners initiate discussions that result in assistance and feedback and are willing to risk being vulnerable in order to reach their full potential.

  • I value and seek feedback from my mentor, my supervisor, my peers, and others with whom I work, even when it is difficult to accept.
  • I freely share information with my mentor about my struggles and difficulties.

Do you manage your own learning? Self-managers take the actions and steps necessary to get to the next level in their career rather than expecting their mentors to do it for them.

  • I know what I want from my career, and I have a professional development plan with objectives and actions.
  • I take full responsibility for the success of my relationship with my mentor.

What is your self-awareness IQ? Learners with high self-awareness IQs reflect on their own developmental needs and are able to listen to themselves about the people and environment around them.

  • At the end of the day, I reflect on my performance and the events that took place in order to seek new learning.
  • I pay conscious attention to how events and situations are affecting me and my behavior.

Where do you stand on resilience? Resilient people are willing to be and stay uncomfortable, and they initiate and sustain difficult relationships for the sake of growth and learning.

  • I respond to disappointment or setbacks by learning more about what went wrong and how I can do things differently in the future.
  • I push myself to do the things I fear in order to attain growth for my development.

How growth-oriented are you? Growth-oriented people actively contribute, take ownership for improving work, and gather feedback in order to become more successful.

  • When opinions differ or disagreements occur, I try to understand why someone else's view is different from mine.
  • I look to see how much I can learn instead of how often I can be right.

How well do you learn about yourself? Self-learners are those who, in the solving of one problem, learn something about preventing similar problems.

  • I explore how my way of thinking about a problem may be getting in the way of solving it.
  • I pay attention to my patterns of behavior and how they impact my effectiveness.

When you have finished rating yourself on each statement, add your total under each of the categories. Your self-score may indicate that you are stronger in some areas than others. Concentrate on developing those areas where you have the lowest scores. For example, if you scored a 3 under the question "Do you manage your own learning?" you may need to think more about where you want to go in your career and create a professional development plan to help you reach your goal.

The first and most important factor in deriving learning out of every opportunity is to know what you want and to have your goals clearly in mind. You will then be able to see where you have the space in your "teacup" to let in more learning.

Drink up!

Larry Ambrose is a managing partner at Perrone-Ambrose Associates, Inc., an organizational development consulting firm that helps organizations create mentoring cultures.

Perrone-Ambrose Associates, Inc.
2 N. Riverside Plaza, Ste. 1433
Chicago, IL 60606
(800) 648-0543

From Healthcare Executive, November/December 2002