Sawu bona

November 4, 2009 by Bill Bradley


Title: Sikhona

Competencies: listening, interpersonal skills, oral communications,

Who benefits: everyone

Consultant Usage: great discussion topic for many types of training and consulting

What’s it about? Let me begin by giving full credit to today’s posting to my friend Joy Hawkins who gave a presentation that weeks later still has me thinking about it.

Forgive me Joy, but I am going to translate your presentation into my world and my interpretation…or was that the whole idea.  Take away something and make it work for you.  Now let’s see if I can “pay-it-forward”.

First, two short stories.  Story 1: Many years ago I frequented a particular Safeway Store for my food needs.  I became intrigued with a checkout clerk who always had the same greeting and the same responses to her customers no matter what they said to her.  Completely rote.  I decided to have some fun with it, so one day I went through her line and she said “Hello, how are you.”  I replied with a smile and calm voice, “Not so good.  I died on Monday and I am on my way to my funeral.”  And she replied with her customary response: “That’s great.  Have a nice day.”

That was the end of our exchange.  I don’t think my comments ever registered. 

That was many years ago.  Story 2 occurred just a few months ago.  I was talking with Joseph, a young man who works at a place I frequented.  I love his customer service skills and so over the past couple of years we began talking about things we had in common.  On this particular day he was telling me about his recent trip to Mexico.  Now let me be clear before the punch line: I like Joseph and love Mexico.  So what happened?  Out of seemingly nowhere Joseph said to me “You haven’t heard a word I said, have you?”

And he was right.  Where was I during this conversation?  Why wasn’t I there with Joseph? 

These two stories were in the forefront of my brain as I listened to Joy’s presentation.  She introduced us to two words with roots in the Zulu language. 

The first word is “Sawu bona” (sometimes spelled sawubona).  It is a greeting.  It translates into “I am here”.  It is obvious from my two stories that one person in each story wasn’t “here”.  I wonder how often it happens to you? To others you know?  It is so hard to be “here” anymore.  There are deadlines and phones ringing, emails and tweets, to-do lists that won’t fit on a page.  Interruptions from the right, distractions from the left…stuck in the middle with information overload.  Trying to keep up with the Jones, who are trying to keep up with someone else.

All of this complicates simple interactions with everyone we know.  Listening is so much more difficult.  When is the last time you listened without multitasking?  We do it in the office, we do it in the kitchen, we do it walking down the street, and by golly we even do it in our head.

Which is where the second word comes in: “Sikhona”.  It is the proper reply to Sawu bona.  It means “I see you”.  For me it means “you are the most important person in my life right at this moment and you have my full attention.”  It means I am focused on you and our conversation.

Unlike all my previous postings, today’s posting isn’t about checking out something.  It is about checking in.  Checking in with yourself.  Take time in this complicated world to be present with those you interact with.  Show them that you value them.  Be “Sawu bona”. And for those who approach you, practice “Sikhona”.  It would make for better work relationships, friendships, romances and for a better world.

Catch you later. 

[tags]sawubona, sikhona, zulu greetings, listening, listening skills, interpersonal skills, oral communication, hawkins, joy hawkins, bill bradley, william bradley, bradley[/tags]

Bill Bradley (mostly) retired after 35 years in organizational consulting, training and management development. During those years he worked internally with seven organizations and trained and consulted externally with more than 90 large and small businesses, government agencies, hospitals and schools.

Posted in Engagement

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  • Karen

    That was a great writing. So true!!!! Love you

  • Dale R


    Thanks for the reminder. I hope it sticks with me for many days & weeks to come. With a little persistence, maybe I can make it a habit.

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