Creating impact with metaphors in coaching


Creating impact with metaphors in coaching

‘Use your intuition to guide your coaching, and not just the rule book’ somebody wise once said this to me and it also captures the essence of Carl Jung’s ‘Learn your theories as well as you can but put them aside when you touch the miracle of the living soul’. Both are a great reminder to hold the tools and techniques we learn as part of our coach training lightly and to remind ourselves to seek to create a genuine connection with our clients so they can truly understand what is going on for them -  this is where the real insights are surfaced and, potentially, where transformational shifts will occur.

Working with metaphors in coaching is something that can help clients with the ‘unlock’ that can lead to these significant shifts in thinking.  Coaching with metaphors is something we introduce in our EMCC accredited, Level 5 Coaching with Confidence qualification through the use of, amongst other things, Picture and Metaphor Coaching Cards.  It is also something our team of professional coaches will regularly use in our Executive 1:1 Coaching programme to tap into client thinking that may otherwise lie undiscovered.

So what does coaching with metaphors actually mean?  In the context of coaching, a metaphor is a tool or technique used to facilitate understanding, insight, and transformation in clients. It involves using symbolic language or imagery to describe a situation, experience, or desired outcome in a way that resonates with the client.

As a coach you can listen for, offer, or evoke a metaphor; through focused listening you hear not just the words a client speaks, but also the underlying imagery and symbolism embedded in their stories. By keenly observing their choice of words and the emotions they create, you uncover metaphors that reveal deeper meanings and beliefs. You can offer to paint the picture for the client – “imagine, for a moment, that life is like sailing on an open sea”. The client, sitting in the captain's seat, is faced with turbulent waters, and shifting winds. In this metaphor, we might encourage them to reflect on their role as the captain of their own ship. Just as a skilled captain adjusts the sails and steers the vessel to navigate stormy seas, the client is empowered to make conscious choices and take decisive actions to reach their desired destination. And you can evoke the client to paint a picture in response to your powerful coaching questions: It’s like what, rather than, what is it like? This moves the client into exploration and curiosity rather than description - a picture tells a thousand words.

By either listening, offering or evoking metaphors you can help your clients increase their self-awareness – something that is at the heart of all our coaching programmes at MRA.  Metaphors have an interesting ability to reveal the hidden layers of who you are, your identity and motivations. It encourages clients to delve into the depths of their subconscious, bringing forth insights and understandings that may have been hidden, perhaps illuminating their core values, energising strengths, and aspirations.
Metaphors can help to challenge perspectives by offering alternative lenses through which to view situations enabling individuals to see the bigger picture. They can also prompt a more emotional connection with a situation, challenge or opportunity which, in turn can prompt more meaningful or deeper understanding for the individual leading to more sustainable action or change.  

One of our core competencies for the Coaching with Confidence qualification is being able to build trust and rapport - communication is critical to this. Using metaphors to communicate can act as a bridge, connecting coaches and clients through a shared language of symbols and imagery regardless of our differences such as lived experience, culture, neurodiversity, gender or sexuality. By weaving metaphors into our conversations, we build rapport and foster a sense of connection.  

At MRA, we have witnessed the profound impact that metaphors can create in coaching. With their ability to deepen self-awareness, expand perspectives, inspire emotional engagement, facilitate communication, and guide sustainable change, metaphors are an invaluable tool in a coaching toolkit.  As a coach, what do you notice about your response to reading this?  How could you use metaphors more to enhance your practice?  

If you would like to learn more about our professional coaching programmes and their impact on individuals, teams and organisations please do contact us  If you would like your own MRA Picture and Metaphor Coaching Cards they are available to buy here



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