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Metaphors, Stories and Anecdotes

Metaphors in NLP

A metaphor is a representation used for explaining a concept in terms of some other concept. Usually it helps us understand something that is not commonly known in terms of something that we are familiar with. A metaphor is therefore a denotation in terms of some other item. For example, when we say, “Her face was as pink as a rose”, it indicates how rosy her face looked. Since we know how a rose looks, we can relate to it and better understand the nature of the face. A metaphor also gives a different perspective of a behaviour or a situation. Metaphors are powerful tools used in Neuro-linguistic programming for effective communication.

Simple and Complex Metaphors

In Neuro-linguistic programming, metaphors include analogies, similes, jokes, stories, parables and allegories. Metaphors can be used to improve communication as well as solve problems. A metaphor usually gives brevity to the conversation, and can create graphic and memorable images in the mind. A metaphor can motivate or demotivate a person since it leaves a lasting image in the mind. If used properly, it can help achieve an effective communication or outcome.

Simple metaphors include animals and cars, e.g. comparing a Fiesta with an Aston Martin, or “The speed of lightning”.

Complex metaphors include stories, allegories and analogies. This type of metaphor stimulates the mind of the listener by including stories that have depth of meaning and character. These metaphors are not meant for conveying specific information, but rather opening the mind of the listener and opening new doors. These metaphors access the unconscious mind and can uncover hidden issues. Since a story usually engages the mind in downtime mode, the conscious mind is not alert, and undesirable rationalization or criticism can be avoided.

Metaphors can stimulate the right side of the brain. They initiate holistic thinking, and stimulate the imagination by using visual and sensory images. You can visualise, hear and feel the metaphor, and thus help become an important link in building a mental map. By using these sensory rich words, we can better understand an idea or concept. Our unconscious mind usually makes a link between any new information and the extensive database stored within.

Usage of Metaphors in Communication

There are several techniques for using metaphors in communication:

Simplifying: A single metaphor can convey profound meaning by being both efficient and effective communication tool. That means the metaphor is brief, precise and generates the desired outcome. A metaphor is simplifying when it uses a familiar concept to convey the meaning and create an internal link.

Depersonalising Metaphors can be used to avoid directly offending or embarrassing someone in a conversation, but conveying the intended meaning. This can be done by using a hypothetical situation or a story, where no personal comments are made. Thus, the appropriate message can be extracted by the audience without feeling criticised or pointed at. Since the instinctive defence mechanism is not active in a story, it is easier to show a different point of view to a person who would not have normally accepted any change.

Stimulating Creativity: Metaphors are associated with the right brain; they can access the unconscious mind and therefore help bring out the creative juices of a person. By titillating the creative side, a person can be more open to different solutions and his inner resources can help solve any problems. These metaphors are mainly used to plant an idea or nurture a hidden attribute of the mind. These metaphors can bring about extraordinary innovation and creativity, and were commonly used by Einstein for entering the creative mode.

Enlightening: The metaphors we use in our language indicate what we are. For example, some people might use metaphors on money. These people usually are money minded or business oriented. By listening to the metaphors that we or others use, we can come to know the values behind them. This information can be then used to establish rapport and communicate effectively using matching techniques.

Matching: This technique can be used to initially match the values of the other person using a story, and then introduce a new concept or way of doing things by changing the ending. In this case, you are pacing someone’s experience using a metaphor, and then leading them to accept a new option.

Personalising: This technique is particularly useful in organisations. An organisation as a whole can have the image of being an impersonal, unemotional entity. In such a case, it is required to personalise the metaphors and appeal to the human sentiments, rather than talk in terms of legal and non-personal language. Metaphors are usually used to put life in the organisation and represent the company’s mission and culture.

Getting attention: Metaphors are used to attract attention and retain the level of concentration. Our mind likes to listen to stories, anecdotes, fables adorned with visual effects and sensory language. We find ourselves engrossed and rarely get bored with these types of metaphors. If you carefully observe charismatic and entertaining speakers, you will find that their speech is filled with metaphors. The information conveyed in this way will also stay longer in memory.

Overcoming resistance: Metaphors are excellent ways of avoiding conflicts or resistance. You can convey a problem in terms of a story, and ask the person with the problem to end it. Since no direct finger pointing is involved, the answer can come out in the form of the ending.

Creating vivid memories: Metaphors create a visual, audio and kinaesthetic image in our internal minds. They bring life to the communication, and we are able to see, hear and feel the idea being transferred. This results in registering the idea firmly in our brains and remembering it long after the conversation.

Insight and introspection: Metaphor is also an introspection tool for self-development. By accessing the right brain, you can tap into the unconscious mind and find answers to questions on yourself. You can also gain insight about the other person, by identifying the metaphors used.

Identifying problems: Metaphors can help to locate problems. The solution of a problem is not as important as identifying the problem itself. By using metaphors in the form of stories or anecdotes, hidden problems can surface. When you become consciously aware of a problem, you can then find the solution.

Generating emotion: Metaphors touch our emotions and feelings using sensory systems. A short story filled with genuine feelings can make us laugh or cry, something that a non-metaphorical piece cannot achieve. Our behaviour is based on our emotions, and is used to make decisions and take actions. Effective communicators therefore know the importance of using the human imagination and engaging the heart instead of the brain.


All metaphors will usually have an effect on a person. However, the effect might not always be the desirable one. Good communicators know how to use the metaphors precisely in order to get the intended outcome. It is imperative to use the best metaphor depending on the situation to tackle a person or problem at hand. Using metaphors, you can access the internal maps of the person, and extract solutions from the unconscious mind. Metaphors bring out our creative sides, and keep us enthralled and interested in a conversation. By using the right collection of metaphors, it is possible to achieve wonderful results and become an efficient communicator.

Source: Exforsys Inc, www.exforsys.com

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