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Using Metaphors as a Hack to Inclusive Leadership

Posted on December 28, 2022
using metaphors

Metaphors have long been recognized as a powerful tool in sales and marketing. In Co-Active coaching, using metaphors is also useful because they quickly help clients express complex ideas. Metaphors help orient listeners quickly to the overall context of a scenario while activating the left and right communication centers of their brains.

And we know that metaphors are powerful because they are fast, compact, and evocative methods for expressing complex ideas, allowing us to communicate the overall situation and emotions without spending too much time in detail.

But the use of metaphors is powerful for another reason: metaphors allow otherwise stoic leaders to quickly and easily share their emotions, connect more deeply with different perspectives, and build bridges across diverse populations. In short, the ability to use metaphors is the perfect hack to build to help leaders access vulnerability and inclusivity.

Using Metaphors Assists with Authentic Communication

Using metaphors in coaching and leadership also assists with better conversations. For example, take a leader I’ll call James, one of the clients I coach. James was up for a promotion at work to a senior role that finally felt like the long-awaited opportunity he’d been striving for. After boldly making his case to the committee but then learning the promotion went to his peer, James asked to meet with the key decision-maker. James shared that he felt like a professional athlete who had just been cut from qualifying for the Olympics.

By using a metaphor, James was quickly able to point to some of the emotions he was experiencing — disappointment, bitterness, hope, ambition — efficiently and professionally, without getting overly bogged down in trying to name them head on. He was able to access a more vulnerable side of himself and have authentic communication about his future prospects.

Metaphors also work to powerfully connect us with others. Because they operate by grounding us in our right brain, which houses our ability to communicate using images, pictures, and abstract thinking, metaphors can help us quickly access our empathy center. In persuasive communications, this helps marketers tap into the feelings of consumers, but it also works when we’re attempting to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes or imagine what a colleague might be feeling.

4 Strategies for Using Metaphors in Your Daily Conversations

If you are looking to find ways to use more metaphors in your daily work communication, try these 4 strategies for building more vulnerability and empathy:

1) Make metaphors simple and relatable. Use the construct “it’s like…” or “I felt like…” to introduce a metaphor in your daily conversation. Help your audience see a window into your world by comparing a common work situation to something completely different, like driving a car, learning a new skill, or hiking a mountain.

2) Play with metaphor as a team. Engage your team in a group brainstorming exercise to come up with a collective metaphor that represents who and what you all are attempting to do. For example: If your team were exploring new territory, what would it look like? What dangers would lie ahead? Who would have what roles? Get creative and don’t make the exercise too literal.

3) Start asking for metaphors from others. Instead of asking a teammate for a full blow-by-blow explanation, try asking them for a metaphor to see if you can get a sense of the emotions and experiential data they can share with you by comparing the situation to something else.

4) Use metaphors to describe a struggle you’re having. Get vulnerable as you share with others, and describe your own challenges through the lens of metaphors. Does it feel like an uphill climb? A foggy forest? A field of landmines? An immovable boulder? Play with imagery and see how others can connect with your emotions through this form of description.

Using Metaphors: A Route to Authentic Conversations

When you start to play with metaphor, you will find your language gets richer and your conversation gets more interesting and more inclusive. Suddenly, emotions are expressed and people’s lived experiences can be expressed quickly in a relatable way that is accessible and appropriate at work.

When used skillfully, metaphors can help people see things from a different perspective, which can lead to new insights and solutions. Having the ability to communicate better through metaphors can also foster trust and cooperation. I hope you find using metaphors saves time and helps you experience more creativity, freedom, and connection in your work communication today.

How about you? What metaphors do you find helpful in your own life? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.
Written By

Gia Storms

Gia Storms specializes in developing leaders, transforming teams and bringing meaning and purpose to the workplace. As executive coach, she brings energy, courage and ferocity developed after 15 years working in politics and business. Prior to becoming a coach, Gia was the Chief Communications Officer at the Hammer Museum at UCLA and VP of Communications at the Times Square Alliance in New York. Today, she facilitates trainings across the U.S., teaches coaching for the Co-Active Training Institute, works within major corporations like Microsoft and Google and writes a regularly on leadership. Originally from Seattle, Gia is a graduate of the University of Santa Monica’s Spiritual Psychology Program and Barnard College and lives in Los Angeles.

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