How to see your colleagues more clearly, so you can lead and develop them more effectively.


“Sawubona” is a Swahili greeting that means, “I see you”.  I wish every workplace I coach in would adopt it, especially for performance management conversations.

Really seeing someone — the whole individual who is right here, right now — is at the heart of genuine connection. Genuine connection is at the heart of effective communication. Effective communication is the key skill for developing, motivating and leading high performance people.

Cookie-cutters and KPIs

We’ve done some work recently with the Senior Directors and Directors of a large insurance company looking at how they conduct conversations that are crucial for employee engagement. We looked particularly at performance-related conversations around appraisal, delegation and feedback.

Both sides find these conversations awkward. The managers often feel ‘stuck’, repeating the same feedback and request for improvement over and over again. They’re flummoxed as to WHY the person is not performing. Often they’re met with empty compliant promises, or silence and withdrawal. The same conversation is repeated; resentment, disappointment and frustration accumulate on both side. This is not a performance dialogue; it’s two disconnected monologues.

Too many busy managers get caught in the trap of seeing a staff member as a ‘gingerbread man’ who is defined primarily by their job description and KPIs. When performance comes up, they place the task in the middle of the table and speak over and over about it. They deflect and avoid talking about the person, the relationship, the pattern of how leader and follower feel about each other (what we call ‘the thing’).

How demotivating.  The best builders of high performance people understand that ‘the thing’ also needs to be on the table if we want to build high performance people. Carefully curated investment in individuals and the dynamics of relationships is what delivers return on human capital. We invest through conversations.

I see people…

I know that roles and job descriptions are created partly because “no-one should be irreplaceable”. And from a skills and delivery perspective, that is true; a good job can be done many different ways by many different people. I understand that consistency and structure help organisations. But one of our mantras at Dramatic Difference is that “people do jobs”; human execution is where the rubber of corporate strategy or departmental targets meets the hard road of reality.

I often challenge the prevailing view on replaceability, replication and consistency by saying that when I leave a meeting, a team or a company, I want to leave a Sally-shaped space behind. I want that space to be hard to fill. I want the next person to have to reshape the space to their own way of being and doing…

Being “good at people” makes so many aspects of management and leadership easier. Being “good with people” takes a bit more time but builds loyalty (retention, anyone?), connection (engagement, anyone?), the desire to follow and please (excellence, anyone?), and commitment to deliver (motivation, anyone?).

Trust, connection, conversation

A connected, individualised performance conversation with the whole person (not their KPI/gingerbread man avatar) needs to offer and foster trust…

So, allow me to offer you one simple, TRUST-building tool you can practice for high performance conversations. We have been working with it across many client interventions for several years, and it works – provided you use it with awareness and attention. It comes from the body of work called Conversational Intelligence (C-IQ), created by Judith E. Glaser:

Glaser’s T-R-U-S-T model helps to diagnose what is lacking in our interaction (what’s causing trust to diminish or become mistrust/distrust). And, like a sound mixing board, it can also be used to dial up behaviours to help trust levels grow.

The T-R-U-S-T model:

T – transparency (are you sharing all you could?)

R – relationship (do you actually care about working with this person – at some heart level?)

U – understanding (are you standing under your partner’s reality both cognitively and empathetically?)

S – shared success (have you defined it for this conversation, as well as the ultimate outcome).

T – telling the truth (including what you are feeling and how you are testing the attributes of those feelings/assumptions).

Slowing down and consciously using this TRUST tool in your conversations will go a long way to connecting more richly and effectively with the people doing jobs around you.

Bread and jam

Trust is fundamental to the Dramatic Difference ‘Conversational Bread’ recipes that we teach. That bread can be sliced into appraisal conversations, delegation conversations, conflict conversations, coaching conversations, feedback conversations, etc.

We encourage organisations to invest more of their leadership L&D budgets into teaching conversational ‘bread-baking’ skills and supporting deliberate practice. Instead of repeatedly trying separate slices of the same old bread and wondering why it tastes stale.

So, chuck out your cookie cutters and next time you speak with a colleague about their performance, greet them with “Sawubona!”, share some bread – and jam – with them!


Dramatic Difference develops high performance people. We specialise in Executive Coaching, Facilitation, and Theatre-led Learning. Our home bases are Hong Kong and Singapore — from where we support clients throughout APAC, and collaborate globally with trusted partners.


Friends & Allies:

If you’re looking to connect with friends or colleagues in a unique and creative way before Christmas, take a look at this Mandala Workshop run on December 2 by Wild at Art.

(The course is led by the talented and deeply skilful Katie Flowers, whose company also offers art therapy and creative workplace wellness programmes).

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