How to Truly See Your Extraordinary Coachees! | by Dr. Sarah Evans MCC

Sarah Evans - How to Truly See our Coachees

An Inspiring Way to Truly See Our Coachees

On March 17, 2021, I listened in on the first of a series of sessions co-hosted by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and the Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP). The series is titled Leveraging the Power of Coaching & Change Management to Navigate Disruption.

I was struck by the powerful, poised and passionate presence of each of the speakers, and particularly that of my colleague, Latise Hairston. She began her introduction by sharing a Zulu greeting, Sawubona, which she said means "I see you, I value you, I exist for you." The response, she said, is Yebo Sawubona.


While I've heard this greeting before in different forums, it struck a chord for me as a coach reflecting on what can occur in coaching engagements. In this simple yet profound exchange, a relational connection is forged and an invitation extended.

In his TED Talk, "Sawubono, We See You" (September 23, 2019), Roche Mamabolo,  author and founder of the Lora Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, spoke of this feeling and experience as more than a greeting.1 It is a human experience.

Saying Sawubona, "We see you," and the response Yebo Sawubona, "I see you, seeing me," is to recognize each other and to bring us into existence in the space in which we are being together.

The Zulu saying Umuntu ngumuntu nagabantu—"A person is a person because of other people"—helps explain this connection.

Relational connection and invitation

We offer an invitation to a deep witnessing and experience, and to an exploration of possibilities:

  • What has this moment given us to give to each other?
  • Who and how do I need to be and become?

What would it be like for you as coach if in every interaction with your coachees, with full attention and presence, you could truly say, "I see you, the whole of you—your experience, your passions, your pain, your strengths, your weaknesses and your future possibilities," and engage from this way of being?

From this way of being, you are communicating to your coachees their value, their worth, their dignity and their sovereignty.

What would this way of being seen offer your coachees?

To see…

In the blockbuster movie Avatar, the Na'vi people, inhabitants of the fictional moon of Pandora, use the greeting Oel ngati Kame and Oel ngati kameie to express a positive feeling about meeting someone. 2

"To see" is a cornerstone of this people's philosophy—to open the mind and heart, to experience not only through physical vision, but also through a deeper understanding or comprehension. Leona Lewis sings the line "I see me though your eyes…" in her beautiful theme song I See You for the movie.

Imagine your coachees having the experience of being seen through your eyes. Imagine what it would be like for your coachee to sit with you in a coaching conversation, where you truly marvel at this exquisite human being with their unique experiences,

One way to begin to see the extraordinary

I am fascinated with Amy E. Herman's work in visual intelligence as one potential way to begin to see the extraordinary.3

Amy developed the Art of Perception program to teach (non-artist) professionals to strengthen their perception skills using classic works of art. She masterfully uses art as data for how to change perception, to shift perspectives and to think differently. She notes that there is a relationship between what we see and what we say—and how we forge human connections.

While engaging in these activities is a visual experience, I've noticed that I've become more aware of my emotional and somatic experiences. I've become more curious. I wonder. And in this I am a learner, a work in progress. I've strengthened my capacity in my work to "see" deeper relationships, connections and the spaces in between—and to inquire about what I am observing.

This has also meant I have had to become aware of, check and challenge my filters—my perceptions, biases, judgments and blind spots—and to continuously ask myself: "Where am I 'inattentionally' or unintentionally blind?"

7 Practices to Support Seeing your Extraordinary Coachees

  1. Start with an intention—the intention of truly seeing another human being.
  2. Embrace the spirit and possibility of Sawubona.
  3. Practice "wide-angle empathy" as framed by Peter Hawkins—"the ability to not only have empathy and compassion for the client(s) in front of you, but to have empathy and compassion for everybody and every system that gets mentioned in their story." 4
  4. Be inquisitive. Bring your own observation into focus by noticing what you are noticing: What are you sensing, seeing or hearing? What are you missing?
  5. Clear your lens. Acknowledge and manage/work through potential biases, judgments, emotions or interests that could cloud your ability to offer clear and nonjudgmental observations.
  6. Try out four visual intelligence exercises from Amy Herman's book 5 in Leigh Buchanan's article in Inc.
  7. Access "the overview effect". To learn more, watch the short film Overview, about lessons from seeing Earth from the moon.


How might you embrace the invitation of Sawubona to see your coachees?

If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. Dr. Wayne Dyer


1 Roche Mamabolo. "Sawubono, We See You" TED Talk September 23, 2019.

2 Learn more about the philosophy behind the Na'vi Greeting on the fandom site here.

3 Amy C. Herman (2017). Visual Intelligence: Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life. Eamon/Mariner Books. Her TED talk, "A Lesson on Looking" December 10, 2018.

4 Peter Hawkins. "Training Coaches for the Challenges of the 21st Century." .PDF Presentation to Association of Coach Training Organizations. June 8, 2018.

5 Amy Herman's Book is called Visual Intelligence: Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life.

If you like this article on inquiry and coaching questions, you may also like:

Sarah Evans, MCC Guest Author

Contributing Author:

Dr. Sarah Evans, PhD, MCC, Dip. CS is passionate about working with visionary decision-makers and influencers inspired by the transformative potential of coaching. She is an executive leadership & team coach, facilitator, OD consultant, coaching supervisor, and mentor coach at Evans Leadership Group. Sarah is dedicated to cultivating resilient leaders—supporting individuals, teams, organizations and coaches lead and thrive in complexity. Her goal is to maximize human capacity, organizational capabilities, and contributions to societal well-being. Her key working themes are relationships, resilience, results! Visit her website here and connect with her on Linkedin. Sarah is a member of the International Coach Federation, where she holds a Master Certified Coach (MCC) credential.

Learn more about Sarah & see all their articles here >>

Image of Happy Coach by stockfour via Shutterstock

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.