Wondering how using metaphors and speaking in pictures might create a telling story for you and your superior influencing skills?
A picture really does say more than a thousand words, doesn’t it? How well do you “speak in pictures”? Are you perhaps wondering how to make that really work for your influencing skills? How varied and flexible is your style of communication? Do you know when and how to use metaphors to your best effect and to help influence your outcomes?
That is what I would like to address today.
A Metaphor is the concept of understanding or relating one thing in terms of another. It is a figure of speech that constructs an analogy between two things or ideas; the analogy is conveyed by the use of a metaphorical word or picture in place of some other word. For example: “Her eyes were glistening jewels”.
These rhetorical figures of speech can often achieve their effects via association, comparison or resemblance and often so much better than words can on their own.
Seeing Different Perspectives
Coaches often use metaphors to help clients see a different perspective. We use them to help recognize and shift behaviours when other more direct transition techniques haven’t worked. Metaphors enable an alternate or more indirect path to certain outcomes. We choose and “tell a story” that is similar to the situation or circumstance that our client finds themselves in, but not that similar that it is immediately and consciously obvious to them.
The story line bypasses the left brain and goes into the unconscious which is known to seek relationships and associations between the story and the person’s situation. To do so the relationships between the elements of the story and the elements of the problem or situation need to be the same. Then the unconscious mind can start to mobilize resources. It “gets the message” and starts to make the necessary changes with options and perspectives that can move the individual to appropriate solutions often not otherwise accessible. The conscious mind may not even recognize this and will often have been effectively bypassed, so that it “can’t get in the way” of a shift.
The metaphor catches attention via the emotive right brain, and closes the deal via the logical left brain also allowing you to make the complex simple and the controversial palatable, because when you leave an open loop in a conversation, the other person(s) will unconsciously keep searching for the meaning.
Hence metaphors replace the referential index, so that the story is no longer about Jack or his behaviour but rather about the behaviour of “Peter the Rabbit” in the chosen “story”.
Jack may not consciously recognize the link between the two while he is listening to the story, however Jack’s unconscious mind will associate and wonder “could he be talking about me”?
Relating To Others Better
In NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) we learn that we all have preferred “modalities” or ways in which we prefer to recognize things or speak to ourselves and to others.
40% of people are “visual” and “see” the world through pictures and their language is “coloured” through “speaking in pictures”.
Another 40% are “kinesthetic” who “feel” the world and their language is influenced to be more “touchy feely”.
Only 10% are “auditory”, who “hear” the world around them and they “resonate” more to what’s in their or your language.
Only 10% are what we call “auditory digital” who “need proof and evidence in detail” in their orientation and their language.
Good speakers with advanced communication skills recognize that these differences are spread across all people and assure that their language and their presentation does justice to all four categories, so that they speak to everyone in the audience, and because their unconscious mind recognizes that, nobody feels left out.
In one on one communication, particularly where we want to raise rapport, recognizing such language preferences and adapting ours to theirs through matching and mirroring helps us “speak their language” which will increase rapport. They often add richness to their talk through stories and keep your attention through the clever use of metaphors.
So with that in mind, perhaps you will relate better to this topic of using metaphors where I believe we focus on visual and kinesthetic (ie 80% of the population) in terms of influencing through unconscious neural pathways.
Why And When Practice Using Metaphors?
I said above that coaches often use metaphors to help clients see a different perspective.
For instance, one of these metaphors I use is: “When a dog is in the hunt, he has no time to search for fleas, right? But when there is no hunt, isn’t it amazing what fleas we can come up with?” This implies that when there is a strong purpose, we are focused on the outcome and not very easily distracted. However, when purpose is lacking, and we have time to reflect and think, that is when we conjure up a plethora of “issues” or distractions that might serve our need for significance or other “ego trips” and we allow ourselves to be sidetracked away from what really matters. The words in the second part of this chosen metaphor aren’t ambiguous in that I relate the result directly to them by referring to “we”. I could keep it more ambiguous by still referring to the dog, in which case the conscious would have less chance to “see through it”.
In my diplomacy grooming and training I like to help my clients apply metaphors as well. Instead of making confronting observations or statements, diplomacy is all about finding alternate and more elegant means of “them getting the message”. Metaphors work a treat here in that the metaphor can be the villain and the person themselves can “save face”.
When we need to exercise influence over another person or group, say in a negotiation (aren’t most business conversations actually negotiations in some way or another?) the more skilled amongst us have effectively learned how to use the “third party reference”. For instance: “I was talking to a barrister last week, and he was saying that….” might help add weight to what we are saying by virtue of the credibility of the third party and by borrowing and applying some of their “professional clout”. Isn’t it strange how the use of another person or opinion that isn’t in the room at the time seems to enjoy a stronger vote of confidence or opinion?
It can also be a useful scapegoat, where by using the third party elegantly, you can insinuate that it wasn’t you leveling the criticism, but them.
When a client is stuck”, I often ask the questions: “what does this situation remind you of? Where else could it have relevance? How was it dealt with there? Who do you know that’s good at this – how might they have addressed it?” We often use movies as sources of similar references, don’t we? That can often lead to both recognizing a good story that has relevance.
All classic reframes that use the same principle as a metaphor to help drive an outcome. In my blog on Gratitude I spoke of this in the context of “chunking” across or sideways.
So What Next?
So whenever you feel that you aren’t “getting through” to the person you are communicating with, perhaps by Using “the Gap” to reframe yourself, you can step back for a few moments and ask yourself how a good metaphor might be able to assist you through obstacles by association, whereby we “go around” the obvious and use the curious unconscious mind to create indirect associations that allow the listener to “see” other perspectives, to “try them on” and then start to accept – all in their unconscious mind.
Fairy tales are stories about life, disguised in animal or other creatures. They impart wisdom of the ages in a compelling story children love to listen to and in doing so associate from the story to “the rules of life”. Even as adults we all still love stories, don’t we?
We can find the use of metaphors or analogies everywhere, and hopefully with your raised awareness from reading this blog you will notice and utilize them more and more.
Why not set a goal to try to apply a few in this coming week and see where and how they can add to your ability to influence outcomes? What if you could?