I See You

“Sawubona.” It’s an African Zulu greeting that means “I see you.” It has a long oral history and it means more than our traditional “hello.”

It says, “I see your personality. I see your humanity. I see your dignity and respect.” In the African village context, where everyone knows one another, it’s an exceedingly powerful representation of understanding.


But we’re busy here. We move fast in our country. Our greeting is different. It’s a ritual, as in Africa, but seemingly less meaningful. Our ritual? You know it: “How are you?” “Fine.” Or “I’m okay.” Or my favorite, “Living the dream.” We say it so much we barely even think about it. We are not gathering information or connecting when we ask, “How are you?” It’s a greeting. It seems to mean, “I see that you are there, in the room with me.” It seems to be a sort of a connection, but I wonder what would happen if we really did see each other? How would we even do that?

And why this topic, now, in my business blog? I spoke at a conference last week and I spent 25 minutes on the topic of communication. That’s not a lot of time. I talked about the fact that in business things often do not run smoothly. In our families, we are often not getting what we want. There is employee turnover and disengagement. There are so many small businesses that fail in the first year or two. And why is this? My assertion there, as here, is that people do not listen. And a corollary – people do not feel heard. I believe to see people, you must hear people. Both are needed and deep listening will in fact make people feel seen.

One of the things most in the way of hearing and seeing each other is the way we rush. Technology has added to the sense of urgency we feel. How can we tune in to each other when we are on our phones or under deadlines that we have already missed and need to get our kids to soccer practice and figure out dinner for tonight and answer that client who is texting us with an emergency at 6 pm? There is barely time to say, “How are you?” let alone to truly see people.

But you must. Your business will improve dramatically if you take the time to stop and really check in with people. I know it feels like it will take more time. Maybe it will at first, but then things will start to change. You will see greater loyalty in your team. You will see them step up and TRY to help, rather than just giving you the bare minimum. When they feel seen by you, they will become your greatest fans. How do I know? Try this: Think about how many people you truly feel seen by – people who really listen to you. How many are there? Then consider how you feel toward those people. What would you do for them? Or maybe, what would you not do for them? Being heard and seen in this world is a profound experience and very rare.

seeing a child

If I have convinced you, you may now be saying “how?” How do I do this? You might also stop, tune in, turn your focus to people when they speak to you. Get off your phone or your computer. Better yet, put your phone away. Here’s something that will make you stand out to people – put your phone in your bag or literally turn off the screen on your computer and say to them, “Here; let me put this away. I want to focus on what you are saying.”

There are many other ways to make people feel heard and seen. Here is another. Notice what makes you feel seen. I was in spin class the other day and I noticed that the instructors will call out the names of specific people in the room. We are working very hard in there. We are struggling often, because this is designed to be truly a physical challenge. So they call out encouragement, but they call it out to specific people. They say, “Good work, John.” “You can do this, Julie.” And my favorite, “I see you back there, Mary.” The first time one of them said my name, I felt happy – you know it – it’s that happiness you get from being noticed. And I worked a little harder. Because I felt seen in this dark room full of people, I felt like I could do more. Do you see? When you see others you make them feel important and stronger. It doesn’t take much time. And they will step up for you. You will create loyalty – in your company and in your home.

Try tuning in, slowing down. Try doing the things for other people that make you feel seen.

See what happens.
If you want more on this important topic, and if you are in Sacramento on November 4, 2015, attend my 1/2 day training on “nuts and bolts of communication.” Click the link for more information and to register: http://www.mclarencoaching.com/coaching-for-businesses-and-corporations/workshops-and-trainings/

You will learn more about deep listening, curiosity and the skill set that will make others feel heard and increase your results and improve your relationships.

About the Author

Picture of Cami McLaren

Cami McLaren

is the owner of McLaren Coaching. She has been coaching professionals and leaders since early 2008. She runs Transformative Coaching Essentials, a coach training program that produces first rate Professional Coaches and "Coach-Style Leaders." She coaches individually and works with organizations to improve communication, time management, productivity and ultimately bring greater results.

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