Deep Listening and Adopting a Zulu Principle

Andrew Weaver
December 8, 2023

“I have a habit of completing other people’s sentences for them ….
Is that a problem?”

Was a question pitched to me during one recent leadership coaching session

Rather inevitably my coachee then decided to interrupt before I could finish my response …

Whilst it was a mildly amusing moment we both recognised, my recognition was partly introspective on the basis that a leadership skill I had to develop over time was the art of deep listening.

That’s because in the disappointingly short list of my leadership qualities at the time … Deep listening wasn’t near the top

I wouldn’t say that I’ve since cracked the skill completely
But I’ve seen it’s important role for any effective leader.

Tony Robbins talks about The Power of Deep Listening and his 4 Key Tenets …


“By maintaining good eye contact, you are demonstrating to your conversation partner that you are fully engaged and interested in what he or she is saying. A good guideline to follow is the 80/20 rule, in which 80% of the time your eyes are meeting your speaking partner’s, and 20% of the time, your eyes are roaming as you gather information to say.”


“The average person speaks between 135 and 160 words per minute, but the average person’s brain works between 400 and 600 words per minute. This means your mind is going a lot faster than your conversation partner’s mouth, which makes it easy for your mind to drift. It’s up to you to stop your mind from shifting away from the conversation and to be truly present. Not only will you be able to fully absorb what your partner says, you will be able to respond in kind, which makes them feel appreciated and understood.”


“There’s nothing worse than speaking to someone who gives no verbal feedback. It’s like talking to a wall. Make the effort to give the occasional nod, smile, or other sign of recognition to your conversation partner. These nonverbal cues may seem trivial, but have tremendous impact by showing your interest, understanding and involvement in the conversation.”


“When you are speaking one-on-one with someone, position your body in a way that creates a safe and welcoming space for him or her to speak openly. Lean slightly in, open up your chest, pull your shoulders back, and fold your hands gently in your lap or on the table in front of you. If you are standing, form a reversed hand steeple, in which the fingers come together to form a point. When someone steeples in the lap area, it means they are confident about what they are hearing.”

Our very own Joseph Trodden delivers a fabulous lecture on “Deep Listening” in The Digital MBA for Technology Leaders where he mentions a Zulu principle called Sawubona …

“There’s a principle I like that comes from the Zulu people,
where instead of saying ‘hello’ at the start of a conversation,
they say ‘sawubona’.

This roughly translates to ‘I see you’ …

It’s about taking a specific moment before they engage in dialogue to recognise that the other person has their own thoughts and perceptions, their own values and experience, and that whatever they say is important to them.

It’s recognising the validity of them as a person, that you’ve come together to share perspectives, and the conversation can only be truly meaningful if we approach it with that level of respect for each other”

How gorgeous is that?

Pack Sawubona into your leadership toolkit
and you won’t go far wrong.

#leadership #deeplistening #sawubona #cto #ctoacademy

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