Using Metaphors With Coaching, Mediation & Negotiation

Metaphors are easily overlooked yet they possess an incredible amount of power.  The use of metaphors during conflict can either help parties move towards resolution or compound differences and push the interaction further along the downward spiral of negative conflict.


Metaphors come in all shapes, colors, and sizes
What contributes to the powerful attributes of metaphors are the fact that they can be easily overlooked by both the person using them as well as the listener. Similar to other elements of nonverbal communication, they are subconscious and are effected by (and can be effected by) each other.

 For example, review the previous sentences and see how many metaphors you can catch (By the way,"catch" is another).  In James Geary's "I is An Other", he describes metaphors as shedding light into a person's emotions, attitudes, and current perspective.  If my opinion holds any weight, I highly recommend his book.

Consider when describing a conflict, does it:

  • Drive you mad
  • Wasting your time
  • Moving towards resolution
  • Building an agreement
  • Getting below the surface


As a conflict coach, negotiator, and mediator, your choice of metaphors can help guide the process while at the same time, noticing the metaphors used by your clients, parties or counterpart can give you valuable insight.

Angela Dunbar wrote a wonderful article on "Using Metaphors with Coaching."  In the article (read the PDF version here), she further describes the value metaphors offer: 


As a tool for coaching, the client's metaphors give you an insight into their unique perception of their situation and their goals. When the client tells you that they can 'see light at the end of the tunnel', that is what they are experiencing. There is light for them, and they are in a tunnel. They will unconsciously 'know' much more about their situation from this metaphoric viewpoint. They are very likely to know in which direction the light is, how far away it is, and where the light comes from. They will know about the structure of the tunnel, how it feels and looks, how narrow the passage, and whereabouts they are in relation to the tunnel.

Next time your are involved in a conflict, will you be able to structure your use of metaphors to your benefit?  Will you be able to discern the metaphors used by others to move towards resolution?

Let me know!

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