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Metaphor, Simile and Analogies

Communication in all its aspects is of vital importance to effective coaching. Getting the most out of the spoken and written language you use sharpens your coaching. Comparative and figurative speech are among the tools you should wield here.

Blogger Brian Clark offers some useful definitions of these valuable terms here―metaphor, simile (which is a variant of metaphor), and analogy:

A metaphor is a figure of speech that uses one thing to mean another and makes a comparison between the two. The key words here are “one thing to mean another.” So, when someone says “He has become a shell of a man,” we know not to take this literally, even though it is stated directly as if this person had actually lost his internal substance.

A simile compares two different things to create a new meaning. In this case, we are made explicitly aware that a comparison is being made due to the use of “like” or “as” (“He is like a shell of a man”; “I see the light at the end of the tunnel”).

An analogy is comparable to metaphor and simile in that it shows how two different things are similar, but it is a bit more complicated. Rather than a figure of speech, an analogy is more of a logical argument. The presenter of an analogy will often demonstrate how two things are alike by pointing out shared characteristics, with the goal of showing that if two things are similar in some ways, they are alike in other ways as well.

So why are these things important? Learning how to use devices like metaphors and analogies can add vibrancy to your language and help ignite the imaginations of your clients; they also encourage visualisation. As Adam Sicinski points out, metaphor/simile and analogy

“provide you with a means and a way to communicate your visual message in a meaningful manner that helps build understanding, awareness and familiarity. They align with people’s mental models of the world and subsequently provide a deep sense of connection with the information you are sharing with them. . . . The main advantage that these devices have for visual thinking is that they allow you to link the new with the familiar. They help you to bridge the gap by piecing together a canvas of new concepts and ideas and presenting them in a way that others understand and connect with. The same of course is true when you’re using visual thinking for your own purposes.”

You may wish to conduct your research into the use of Clean Language and how it can help you explore your clients’ use of metaphor―something that is both frequent and, often, unconscious.

Explore various kinds of figurative language in your coaching―and listen to how your clients use it.