Listen closely to a client during the coaching session, and chances are you’ll hear metaphor, analogy, and fruitful words ripe for harvest.
Client-owned words, analogy, and metaphor are not by chance, they are personal fruit, fed from the very roots of their conscious and sub-conscious mind. This fruit, when carefully harvested and repurposed, empowers a coach to mirror, reflect, and reframe the client’s choice of words into powerful questions and direct communication, resulting in actionable progress and sustainable client transformation.
Metaphor liberates the client to process his or her personal coaching objectives with full utilization of their conscious and sub-conscious minds. Gregory Bateson states, “Metaphor, that’s how the whole fabric of mental interconnection holds together. Metaphor is right at the bottom of being alive.”
Clean Language, Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds‘ authors Wendy Sullivan and Judy Rees state, “The word ‘metaphor’ comes from the Greek language ‘amphora,’ a storage container for transporting valuable goods. The word metaphor is a metaphor itself.”
As coaches, metaphor provides a marvelous opportunity to employ the client’s word phrases, so that they may transport themselves from their present state or situation to their fully realized, desired state.
The Paddle Ball Gremlin–A Case Study
During a business retreat with a driven, successful, yet frustrated business man, he expressed a deep desire to expand his business. All the elements for positive business expansion were forming around him; however, the next step seemed elusive at best. The Coaching Agreement: Identify the obstacles to expansion and success, and remove them.
“I grew up pretty poor,” the client said. “So poor, after a barefoot summer prior to 7th grade, the only shoes I had for school were a hand-me-down pair of red canvas shoes from my Dad. They were literally falling apart. The impact, the chiding by my schoolmates, the laughter of my friends, was lasting and profound.”
Unknowingly, the client became chained to his current economic situation in life. A few years later, in his teens, the chains grew even heavier with his Dad’s comment that his son should not date outside of his economic class.
Thirty-seven years later, with more than 30 sets of shoes and a loving and beautiful wife, the client remained bound by those childhood chains.
“I have this idea that I deserve to be blessed by God, but only to a limit.” In my eyes, I have already gone beyond that limit,” the client reflected. “My gremlin’s name is ‘Wealth is Bad.'”
“What do you really want to happen with your ‘Wealth is Bad Gremlin’?” I prodded. “Get rid of it,” the client said.
The client went off for the evening to prayerfully search the Word for God’s Truth about wealth. As the client noted in John 8:32, “The truth sets you free.”
The next morning, my client said, “The truth that God revealed to me through the night is that wealth is good in the hands of the righteous who use it in accordance with God’s will. God selected me and ordained me with a gift to make money and a heart to be generous and give. I now embrace my ability to make money and look forward to the wealth that God will bring to enable me to be generous and bless others.”
With this new awareness, and continuing to coach around the client’s agenda, the client and I walked the beach. This time of peaceful reflection offered a teachable/coaching moment via metaphor. The client said:
During the walk on the beach, you asked me to pick up a token of my gremlin. I selected a broken and worn red paddle ball. Once it was brand new, useful, true to itself. Now it is broken, exhausted, and not even useful for its intended purpose. This broken paddle ball is much like my youth that is no longer true nor purposeful in my life.
You asked what I planned to do with it…I heaved it into the ocean, because I purposefully choose to not believe the gremlin anymore. I do not need a reminder of the gremlin. I just wanted the gremlin gone, so I threw it away. That was powerful for me. The gremlin tries to come back from time to time; but I remember throwing ‘him’ away. As I move forward in life, I will reject that preexisting lie in my life by confronting it with God’s truth as He revealed to me: wealth is good in the hands of the righteous.
A peaceful, safe place, allowed the client to clearly articulate his God-gifted, desired future. That set the stage for the client to uncover the hindrances to successfully accomplishing his vision. As noted in David Rock’s interview with Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D., “If we want people to change, they need to come to an idea themselves, to give their brain the best chance of being energized by the creation of a wide-scale new map.”
The client created highly personalized metaphors, named them, and made them tangible and cast them away. This powerful means literally removed the newly named gremlins. A secure, enlightened future protection from the gremlin was the client’s greatest joy for the weekend.
As Anais Nin famously said, “We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.” Sometimes we are so muddied by what’s going on in our heads that we don’t see what’s really in front of us.
How can a coach help a client clear the waters via metaphor?
Sullivan and Reese offer this challenge: “Before exploring someone’s metaphors with a view to them making a change, it is important for there to be an agreement for you to do this, or shared intention. Don’t just dive in! Also, be sure to work only at a level that fits your experience and competence.”