Metaphors are powerful tools that aid coaches to make and clarify meaning in the midst of complex situations or overwhelming emotions. Metaphorical thinking is essential to making connections and creation of stories, giving the world a little more meaning.

For instance, a regular metaphor used in the business and personal world is “to keep head above water”. The person doesn’t need to elaborate more, for you to get the message. Metaphors are very important to coaching, because it gives clients an easy way to explain the severity of their situations in fewer words. Metaphors are also a great way to communicate with or market your services to your audience.

James Geary writes in his book, that the average conversation has about 6 metaphors, if we have to describe anything abstract. This ranges from thoughts to feelings, ideas, emotions, concepts, etc. Metaphors are catch points into how we communicate, discover, learn, invent, understand ourselves, and understand others. Metaphors help simplify concepts for easy grasp of meaning.

However, in coaching, stay away from obscure metaphors that could create more confusion. Metaphors like “butterflies in your stomach” should be left for the hopeless romantics who understand it.

Now, let’s look at the value of metaphor in coaching, and how to use it.

What Is The Value Of Metaphor In A Coaching Conversation?

According to the ICF, using metaphors and descriptions during conversations with clients is one of its major competencies. This helps in effective communication, leaving a lasting and positive effect on the client. Metaphors help you get to the depth of the matter right in time. It is the shortest route to the subconscious.

As a coach, you have to learn to leverage on metaphor when exploring a client’s situation. This will help you drag them through the cognitive blocks of their brains. In doing this, they will easily connect their feelings to the images the metaphor provides. This causes them to work through their problems easily.

Metaphors are akin to storytelling to give better understanding of an abstract situation. It is your duty as a coach to understand these stories and identify the problems or message a client is trying to convey. Metaphors create a space for understanding and getting a bigger picture of the client’s experience. You have a deeper insight of where they are and where they want to be.

In cut clear terms, metaphors help both the coach and the client to;

  • Understand a situation better.
  • Power up incredible ideas through metaphorical questions.
  • Shift perspectives and gain insights, by rerouting through the left part of the brain that is rational, to connect with the creative and emotive right part of the brain.
  • Solve problems by stimulating the brain to create an action plan and its implementation.

How to Use Metaphor in Coaching

One of the greatest metaphors associated with coaching is “the man in the mirror” phrase.  As a coach, metaphors give you an insight into the lives of your clients and their views on the world. You get to raise awareness about particular issues in a subtle and safe way, with the aid of metaphors.

The mirror helps clients see themselves and their lives in shifting and new perspectives. This is because, through metaphors, clients gain insights into a perspective that they never had considered, leading them to brighter methods of forging paths to get their desired outcomes.

Take for instance, a client who says they are struggling to “keep their head above water”. This is a two way street, just like the mirror. On one end, the client is drowning, and on the other end, the client’s head is above water. This simply means the client is trying to survive. There is a will to stay afloat, and that means there is a way.

The coach’s job is to shift the client’s perspective from the drowning man, to the man who is trying to survive. This opens the client up to insights, perspectives and even possibilities of survival which they never thought of. All one needs most times, is that little mirror to effect the shift.

A research done by Elle Wilks which talks about the application of metaphors in coaching elucidates how the coach can penetrate a client’s world… dig up the issues and create solutions through a deeper source of knowledge. This according to her can be attained in four ways;

  • Identify the client’s metaphor by asking for clarification, instead of making assumptions.
  • Develop the metaphor, by asking the client to elaborate. Using the metaphor, delve deeper into the problem.
  • Uncover all the details by building on the metaphor as it evolves.
  • Create an actionable plan and help them progress, by using the metaphor to unlock and build actionable steps.

Metaphor in Marketing Your Business

Creating a concrete understanding of your coaching service through images and metaphors is more productive than saying a lot of words. This is because prospects do not have an experience of working with you yet, and do not know what it feels like. Metaphors bridge the gap between the familiar and the unfamiliar.

Metaphors help clients connect deeper to the message you are trying to send out. Information also sticks, because the words resonate with them. They can also easily relate, because it is basically about their everyday lives in plain and descriptive terms.

There are many benefits to metaphor in marketing your business, but let me highlight a few…

  • People get in-depth understanding of the value, aim and benefits of your coaching with more ease.
  • Due to associated images used to portray metaphors, there is a higher recall in people’s brains. People naturally tend to remember images better than words.
  • Metaphors tick the brain and mind, revealing pathways to create and take actionable plans.
  • Messages from metaphors create emotional connections with the clients. These messages are locked into the clients’ memories, creating a secure pathway in the brain.

This emotional connection is what you need to get clients to take action on your business. This emotion should be targeted at creating a link between what the prospects probably don’t know that they need and what they actually need. That is, a link between your services and the benefits to your clients.

And you can only determine that if you understand;

  • What your services are and the problems they can solve
  • How to represent and deliver your values to clients
  • Where your services fit in the lives of your clients
  • Your unique selling points and the difference from your competition
  • What clients should expect from working with you

Avoid the Following When Using Metaphors in Coaching

As great as metaphors are, there are some “DON’Ts” to consider during the usage of metaphor in coaching. Anything similar to this will be you abusing the use of metaphors, and it can heighten the confusion of your clients.

Things to avoid include;

  • Overstretching metaphors. This makes the meaning and effectiveness of the metaphor wane.
  • The use sarcastic metaphors or those that denote mockery. For instance, saying “she pulled the rug from beneath you” should be avoided.
  • Mixing of metaphors. It should be straightforward and simple.
  • Use only metaphors that directly relate to your clients experiences. Do not bring in something that happened to someone else. This will be distracting, and confusing to the client. It could even hurt, because it waters down the clients own situation.
  • The use of clichés as it conveys general messages. Clients are unique, and so are their problems. Use only metaphors that are unique to their current predicament.
  • Metaphors that are hard to understand. If you have to explain a metaphor to a client, then you don’t need to use such metaphors. Metaphors should be open, direct, clear and effective.

So, are you ready for a better coach-client communication relationship?

Then you should understand that metaphors have a huge role to play in better and effective communication with your clients. This is taking advantage of the mundane things we have around us. Things that resonate with our everyday lives and using it as a connection tool to our present situations or where we want to be.

Metaphors will help you understand your clients better, creating an awareness of their world to them, broadening their insights… and forms the gateway to solving their problems.