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Sawubona

Have you ever greeted someone and asked how they were as you walked past, not waiting to hear their answer? Or have you ever been the one whose answer was never heard? It’s not unusual for the niceties of our interactions to be just that. Niceties. Often, we don’t act like we care about each other at all. We’re just practicing being polite. But we all like to feel valued, recognized, acknowledged. It’s important for a leader to pause in the busyness of the day to show the members of his or her team value.

I recently read Will Scott’s 2019 book The Culture Fix. He introduced me to a Zulu greeting, Sawubona, meaning “I see you.” In our hurried society, isn’t it true that we rarely take the time to truly see those around us? Let me share a brief passage about sawubona from the book:


…a full acknowledgment of a person’s presence, it’s a wholehearted recognition of the total person in front of you and what he or she brings to the world. That’s different than the typical “hi” we mutter when greeting our colleagues in the office. Sawubona suggests a moment of actual connection— something that our usual greetings tend to lack…Even if people don’t remember what you said or did, they will surely remember how you made them feel.

I want to encourage you to pause and be present when you’re talking with someone. Put your phone down, stop working during that video call, move beyond politeness to authentic caring. Because we all want to be seen. Sawubona.

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