Listen for metaphors

Planting Coaching Seeds


ICF Core Coaching Competency #7 is about the use of Direct Communication, which is an “ability to communicate effectively during coaching sessions, and to use language that has the greatest positive impact on the client.”

One of the sub-points of direct communication talks about using “metaphor and analogy to help to illustrate a point or paint a verbal picture.”  I get confused by the difference between a metaphor and an analogy so I’ll just use ‘metaphor’ to refer to either both.

Metaphor is such a powerful tool to cut through the clutter of communication and of a lot of words. As you listen to the client’s use of language, notice if they use any visual words that you can grab and turn into a metaphor. Or better still, if the client uses a metaphor, then build on it and use it in your questions, your observations and messages.

Here are some examples of using metaphor in your messages and some sample questions;

  • It’s like a dance between you and your direct reports. What type of dance are you doing with your team? In the dance, which role do you gravitate to the most?
  • It’s more like a marathon than a sprint. What’s the difference you experience between preparing for a marathon versus a sprint? (an especially relevant metaphor if your client is a runner, and allow them to ‘run’ with it…). If you were preparing for this [situation] as if it were a marathon versus a sprint, how would they differ? 
  • It’s like planting seeds. What types of seeds are you planting? What are you wanting to grow? What seeds have sprouted? Which seeds are in need of watering? What seeds are you wanting to nurture? (this metaphor could apply to people, or ideas).
Mentoring Tip

Become more attuned to the visual language of your coaching client and incorporate into your questions, that might expand into a rich metaphor. Notice how your client responds to visual language. If the client doesn’t respond, then move on. If they do, then allow them to expand the metaphor and apply to their situation. You’ll find their energy will likely go up, as well as their clarity about their situation because metaphors cut through and are a direct form of communication.

Your Say

Can you recall an especially powerful metaphor that a client used, or one that you used with great success with a client?