Business psychology

How to treat the empty as though it were full

- March 17, 2015 2 MIN READ

The Zen proverb “Treat that which is empty as though it were full” can have many meanings; here’s how you can put it to work for your business.

East meets West more frequently these days as China grows in economic power, and even in the age of digital business and virtual reality, we find there are many practical principles for business that are taken from quite ancient spiritual teachings or Eastern philosophy.

One such principle to practice is to “Treat that which is empty as though it were full”. This is an ancient Zen proverb which can have a multitude of meanings and applications.

An everyday application of the “Empty/Full” proverb is to carry an empty cup or plate with the amount of care you would use if it were full of food or drink. This is good advice from a safety perspective; consider how many times you’ve seen someone drop an empty glass because they carried it with slightly less reverence than a full one.

How can this be extended to your workplace? Well you can apply the same respectful treatment to other things in the office: cups, plates, files, printer cartridges and so on. This will result in less waste and less accidents.

Another application of the proverb is to treat an empty (or partially empty) room as if it were full. Applying this to business transactions means that we always speak respectfully of the clients, suppliers and employees, even when they are not present.

You may consider it harmless to say “Damn that XXXX, he’s always late. I should bill him for the 20 minutes he’s kept me waiting”. It’s worth remembering, however, that words have an energy that affects both the speaker and any listener who is present.

Further, there is the possibility that your words may be overheard by staff, clients or strangers and repeated in your absence (why wouldn’t someone speak about you when you’re not there, if you do the same to others?). Eventually these repeated, overheard words may make their way back to the absent person. That could kill your business.

And then there is the possibility that your facial expression may still reflect the negative emotion after the client turns up, no matter how much you try to put on a smile.

Body language experts tell us that 70% of communication is non-verbal, so if your lips smile but your eyes do not, or your feelings are not 100% genuine, this is not good for your business.

Contrast this with treating the empty room as though it were full (i.e. imagining the client was present/could hear you). You’d likely change your language: “Oh, XXXX is late. I hope he’s OK. Perhaps he’s had an accident, or is having some dramas at work or at home. When he gets here, I’ll be sure to make him feel extra relaxed and welcome, or otherwise we will politely offer to reschedule.”

So now that you’ve seen the “Empty/Full” principle in action hopefully you can see ways of applying it to your day-to-day operations. Why not make a pact with yourself to try it for a month.

Have you ever found yourself instinctively using the “Empty/Full” principle? If not, can you see just one way you could employ it in your business? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!