How to Use Metaphors When Coaching

by Coaching Out of the Box

Everyone has their own unique take on life and even the same situation can be seen in different ways by different people. As such, metaphors can bring an insight into how a person has perceived a situation or even their own life and goals. Metaphors can create images in the mind that tap into a person’s creativity and unlock potential they may not know they have. Knowing how to properly interpret and/or use a metaphor during coaching can make a difference in a client’s breakthrough. Every person uses metaphors unconsciously in their conversations, often up to once every 25 seconds. For instance, a client may reference “a light at the end of the tunnel” or that they are “stuck in a rut.” As a coach, it is important to develop the skills to identify the language in the metaphor and formulate the questions to help the client view the situation using their own metaphor as a roadmap. Examples would be “what does the light look like for you?” or “can you describe the rut further for me?”.

In addition, using metaphors as a coach can help the client view the situation from a completely different perspective, which could break them out of their rut and help them find a solution. Using metaphors helps the client consciously focus on the situation with imagination using a story, symbol or object to change their viewpoint. It can help activate their processes of thinking, making new links in their mind and discovering something new about their situation.             

Here are some tips for using metaphors when coaching:

  1. Listen to the client and understand the images they try to convey through their use of metaphors.
  2. Use their metaphors to help them delve into the situations they discuss. For example, if the client has “hit a wall”, have them explain what the wall looks like, how tall it is, what it is made of and how they feel they might get to the other side of it.
  3. If the client does not come up with a metaphor, try to provide one that could give insight into their mindset. For instance, talk about their situation in terms of being a ship on the ocean. Get them to describe visually what that looks like for them. What are the obstacles, what does the ship look like, what does their destination look like, etc.
  4. Once they have a perspective on the metaphor, try to move forward to get to an action using the metaphor.

Although it takes some intuition from the coach to effectively use metaphors to move their clients along, it can be a learned skill. Practice using metaphors often and have a list of ones to use whenever required to change up the client’s perspective on their situation. It can help make the difference between being “stuck in a rut” and being “set free from the chains”.

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