Sawubona (English)

Sawu Bona, Zikhona

Why I got mad when a former Apple evangelist passed by and I was invisible 

After a crowded signing event just after speaking at #INCmty, Guy Kawasaki (@GuyKawasaki), a former Apple evangelist and keynote speaker, headed towards the other side of the campus passing right next to me surrounded by a small group of VIP staff. I tried to approach him just to ask for a photograph but he was so concentrated looking at some pictures on a digital camera that he didn’t see I was approaching… and then it happened. A staff member extended his left arm trying to block my way and said firmly “Step Back, He’s walking!!”. I just stared at them in disbelief while they walked away. I was upset, not because I didn’t get an autograph nor the picture itself, but by the way I was treated. Like I was an undesirable person or worse, an invisible one.

It took me less than a minute to understand what really happened. While I calmed down, I realised about my emotional reaction. It was a negative emotion. I could say I got mad and wanted somehow to get even, even though it’s not a big deal. I just felt that way and many other people feel the same at similar situations. Now… What was really happening inside my head when I faced indifference? Basically I was experimenting one of the most basic – but very deep and powerful – behavioural pattern. The one that I call “Pattern of existence”


More than 10 years ago, I was reading the very first pages of Peter Senge’s book “The Fifth Discipline: Fieldbook“. To my surprise and as an introduction, Peter Senge welcomes you with an interesting story called “I see you”, which is for me and with all my respect to Peter Senge’s work, the best part of the book.

“I see you”…

Among the tribes in South Africa, there is an important tribe called the “Zulus”. On any given day when they met each other a common greeting expresion is “Sawubona”, which means “Hi, I see you”, at which the other person responds “Sihkona”, which means “I’m here”. Even though this greeting might not seem important of significative, it’s really meaningful for the Zulus and it’s part of the spirit of ubuntu frame of mind. There is a folk saying “Umuntu, ngumuntu nagabantu” which means “A person, is a person, because of other person”. Considering this, when two Zulus meet and someone says “Sawubona” he is giving true meaning to the existence of other people, but if for some reason he ignores them, he is denying other people existence which is a great sign of disrespect among them.

Our over-saturated, constantly changing times make us indifferent to others

If we think about our day to day activities, it’s not difficult to see ourselves too concentrated in our own world, minding our own business and without giving credit to the existence of other people surrounding us, or worse yet, without even taking our eyes apart of our smartphones and with our headphones on. And we are not the only ones, but most  other people surrounding us are acting the same way. Now, when thinking about how to connect ourselves with other people, or being more specific to our clients, our employees or even to our family members, what could we do to create a strong connection with them?. Better yet, how can we take down the barrier we all raise to protect ourselves to the constant information and daily “noise” we face everywhere?. The answer is simple and lives in a basic behavioural pattern activated when we observe and listen to a person, read his current mood, get into his shoes, break the ice and make them feel comfortable by saying “I see you” with what we express or do.

This useful pattern at work…

Last weekend at #INCmty, Dave Kerper (@DaveKerper), who is President of Likeable Local and expert on social media strategy, told us an actual situation regarding the importance of developing a strong social media strategy to listen to our clients (watch his keynote at min 25:01) which could be used as a great example on how this behavioural pattern works.

A couple years ago, on a Vegas trip he decided to book in Aria, a trendy hotel which because of that, it was full of people trying to do the same. After waiting not for 10 minutes, nor 20 minutes but for 45 minutes and still without checking in yet, he grabbed his smarthphone and tweeted “Waiting in line at the Aria to Check in. Not worth it. #Fail”. As expected nobody from Aria was listening, but someone from Rio Las Vegas, a hotel just down the street did listen and within two minutes they replied: “Sorry you’re having a bad experience Dave. Hope the rest of your time in Vegas goes well”. Bang!!! Just like that. The prompt response was so empathic that next time Dave went to Vegas, guess where he stayed at?. You’re right. At the Rio Las Vegas. Also, this experience is being widely use by Dave through Likeable Social and his keynotes all around the world, giving them credit for what they did: they listened, got into Dave’s nice brilliant orange shoes and replied a tweet.

Now that you know this, why not try it by your own?

It could be easier for me to give you more examples and tell you the great similar reactions from very different people you might get, but I rather I invite you to try it on your own. Don’t be afraid to break the ice and interact with other people being widely ignored. You’ll open a box full of grateful surprises and, if you’re lucky, you’ll find a thankful response or a warmer service that will touch you deep inside. Loyalty, followed by some complimentary behaviour patterns is born this way.

I’ll bet you’ll enjoy it as well, sincerely…

Hugo Ortega

PD: @DaveKerpen, sorry for using your example without even asking first. But if you’re reading this and it helps you increase Likeable Local popularity even just a bit, you owe me a sign in one of your books. It’s not for me, I already have mine, but for a very special person that also admires your work. Thanks =)


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