Conversational MetaphorsMetaphors are typically associated with artistic forms of expression, like in poetry or films. And it’s easy to take for granted how prevalent metaphors are in your daily life. So, what is a metaphor? And how do you use them every day? Metaphors are a shortcut for communicating complex concepts – especially feelings and experiences. That’s why metaphors are both poetic and practical. For example, when making a difficult decision, metaphors help you communicate your struggle. You might say, “I’m all torn up about this.” That’s much easier and way less wordy than saying, “I’m having a difficult time deciding between my options. I don’t know what criteria to prioritize. And I’m afraid that if I make the wrong decision, it might negatively affect others.” When you’re challenged by things like overwhelm, procrastination, or trying to solve a difficult situation, you might use metaphors like:
- I’m torn up about it
- I’m drowning in work
- I don’t know which path to take
- It’s feast or famine
- It’s a dog eat dog world
When Metaphors Run AmuckPlease know, I love metaphors. I’m a fan. Particularly in business, metaphors help you build rapport, help you educate your team and your clients, and are FANTASTIC for sales conversations. When utilized purposefully, metaphors can be a communication powerhouse. And, like all powerful tools, you need to know how to use them, or they might backfire. Unchecked, metaphors can limit your perspective and keep you spinning in circles. I’ll show you a simple process for “interrogating” your metaphors you can find clarity and solutions you’ve been looking for. First, let’s talk about how metaphors can be limiting.
Problems with “Fitting the Mold”It’s easy to get wrapped up in the poetry of an experience. And sometimes, that’s not helpful. I was talking to a friend who is rebranding her business. She said to me, “It feels like if you want to be successful in this industry, you have to fit the mold.” In one way or another, she communicated her resistance to “fitting the mold.” It was clear she didn’t like “fitting the mold,” but here’s where things got very murky at what exactly does “fitting the mold” mean? What does “fitting the mold” look like? How would you know if you’re “fitting the mold” or not? What would it look like to “break the mold?” What IS “the mold?” For my friend, the metaphor of fitting the mold felt like it expressed herself well enough. And, in some ways I’m sure it did. But she was trapped by this poetic expression. There was a mold. She didn’t fit it. So, there’s not much she can do about it because if she tries to fit the mold, then her brand will come across as inauthentic. But if she doesn’t fit the mold, then her business won’t be successful in this industry. You’ll notice, there are subconscious stories and limiting beliefs all woven in that metaphor. And that’s how metaphors will get ya! Metaphors are, in many ways, your subconscious express itself. And that’s exactly why we need to regularly self-assess our uses of language – to see if our subconsciousness is getting the better of us or if it’s serving us. After I helped my friend interrogate her metaphor, we were able to chip away at the metaphor and find grounded language to help her see action steps and opportunities the metaphor was closing her off from.
Interrogate Your MetaphorsInterrogating your metaphors helps you find more grounded language. With this short self-interrogation, you’ll define your problem, identify your resources, see opportunities and next action steps. Interrogate your metaphors by asking yourself:
- What does [metaphor] look like?
- How would I know if [metaphor] were happening?
- How would I know if [metaphor] wasn’t happening?
- Is my metaphor true?
- Does my metaphor serve me? Or is there a more helpful metaphor I can use to express this situation?