Metaphors enable us to convey a large amount of information in a concise and creative way, making efficient use of visual imagery and provoking a depth of emotion in the listener or reader.
We are naturally attracted to metaphors which have some meaning to us, and these will often be revealed in our speech. Take the language of love; horticultural metaphors abound: ‘love blossomed between us’; ‘our feelings grew’. The physical sciences are inspirational to some: ‘we were magnetically attracted’; ‘the earth moved’. In the COVID crisis, metaphors of war abound: “We are losing the battle against the virus”; “We must continue our efforts on all fronts to win this fight”.
Finding our metaphorical style can be an enriching experience, as metaphors allow us to go beyond informative language and therefore explore deeper meanings. In the coming weeks I will be sharing with you my seasonal thoughts on metaphors starting with autumn. What metaphors would you draw upon to describe the seasons?
Like Carl Rogers, founder of the person-centred approach, I like an agricultural metaphor; his growth-inspired ideas appeal to me as a gardener. As a therapist, Rogers showed us that engaging with your client’s metaphor is a powerful vehicle for communicating empathy. As well as its use in therapeutic settings, empathy is regarded as an essential quality of emotional intelligence, and which is regarded as a key skill in modern day leadership.
It’s been suggested that the function of metaphors in human language development are in fact to facilitate empathy. It show’s your listener that you are listening, and people feel good when they are truly heard. This is so important in an interview situation: demonstrating empathy will help you to get to the point quickly, demonstrate respect for your audience’s time, and showcase your craft in an interesting and engaging way. Try practicing this skill in everyday situations.
Writers make efficient use of metaphor to strike a deep, emotional resonance in their readers: –“Not all those who wander are lost” J R R Tolkien. Here, Tolkien’s words convey the epic journey from the Lord of the rings. The idea of a journey is a typical metaphor to describe our professional life: those who are seeking work are on a journey. Sometimes this may seem aimless and fruitless, and hope can begin to wane. But just like Tolkien’shobbits, the wanderer will reach their destination, as long as they keep focussed and proceed onwards, even if at times this is difficult and exhausting.
Another great writer from whom we can take inspiration is Ernest Hemmingway, who rose to the challenge of writing his life story in six words, with “For sale: baby shoes, never worn”.These six words evoke a world of heartbreak, and have been the inspiration for many ‘six word stories’. Examples of six word stories by famous names proliferate, and here are two examples: “Immigrants: we get the job done” Lin-Manuel Miranda; “Seeking the fullest expression of self”Oprah Winfrey.
Theseexamples show us how much can be said, with so few words. If getting your point across in a time limited situation is important, well-crafted metaphor can serve you well: when meeting someone for the first time, they may only remember three or four things about you.Rennie explores the idea of using vivid language to ‘liberate the secondary stream of consciousness’, suggesting that thoughtfully constructed words create pictures in the mind of your audience, adhering firmly in their memory.
What six words would you choose to convey something about your current professional situation?Watch this space for further discussion of how to use this to your advantagein a job interview. At Disruptive Hiring, we are passionate about people. We understand and we listen. We know how to help both clients and candidates get the best out of their interactions. Time is precious resource and the use of implicit and explicit language can ensure it is not wasted. Importantly, it’s a win-win situation. The business wins, the client wins, we win. If you would like to hear more about the Disruptive Executive Hiring then please feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lakoff and Johnson (1980) cited inStephens, R. (1996) ‘Metaphor as a basis for Understanding Consciousness’, p170-176, Understanding the Self, London: OU Sage
Rennie, D. (1998) Person-Centred Counselling: An Experiential Approach, Sage
Tolkien, J R R (1954)The Fellowship of the Ring