The magic of metaphors as part of your coaching

Do you have days when you just feel as if you got out the wrong side of the bed, and as you get ready to start the day with your favourite mug and preferred beverage, you accidentally drop it – starting the day with the feeling that you are all fingers and thumbs.

We all have those days when we are soaring high in the sun-kissed clouds and other times, we can feel stuck at the bottom of a deep pit full of treacle.  What a bounty of information as a coach we get when our coaching clients who use metaphors to describe how they feel.  These golden nuggets visually and viscerally capture their unconscious mind and give us clues and curious questions to explore – what does this really mean for them?

As a coach, when we find a client who loves to express their emotions with metaphors it feels like a gift, an open door that we are being welcomed through.  However, in my experience, not all coaching clients naturally express themselves this way.  So as a coach, how do we encourage this type of communication and why bother in the first place?

As Simon Sinek would suggest, let’s start with the why.  When using metaphors, we tend to focus on symbols, objects or even a story to illuminate how we feel. It is a unique perception of a person’s situation and their view of their world in that moment, all without their conscious mind judging the content as being wrong, inaccurate or not useful.  By being creative, and playful in our language we are in fact freeing up our imagination and solution-focusing abilities.  In other words, metaphors shine a spotlight on what a person is thinking and feeling and allows us to open up their thinking to a deeper and cleaner level.

So how do we encourage clients to talk in pictures?  Here are some top coaching tips:

  • Introduce to them to your metaphor that captures for you what you heard them say.
  • Invite them to come up with an even better description of what they are feeling. (And remember to not be attached to your brilliant suggestion!)
  • Suggest they fill in the blanks, “it feels like……..what to you?”
  • Get playful and ask them to describe their situation in relation to something else, for instance, if they were the “weather, a drink, a holiday, or a football team – what would they be?”
  • Use coaching card tools such as Angel cardsPower Animal cards or At My Best strengths cards to find a word or picture randomly for your client to explore “what does this mean to me?” Or “how does this relate to you?”
  • Ask the client to bring something to the session that represents something about themselves.

As a coach we need to attach a level of skill when exploring metaphors.  For instance, if a client suggests they feel like they are stuck behind bars, don’t take the literal meaning and ask them “when have you been stuck behind bars?”, instead ask them to describe what the bars look like, and how they make them feel.  Stay curious and remember to ask KISS questions (Keep It Super Simple).

David Grove who introduced us to the concept of Clean Language in coaching (and no, we’re not talking about refraining from using bad language) suggests that ‘less is more’ and taking the lead of metaphor use and word choice directly from the client, rather than from our perception of the situation.

So the next time your client’s world is all higgly-piggly or they are jumping for joy, get curious, remember to KISS and more importantly, have fun and play with the conversation.  You’ll be amazed at what locks you’ll finally unpick.

Curious to discover the magic of metaphors for yourself?  Then book your free sample coaching session with me and experience that light-buld moment for yourself (did you see what I did there).