Lesson 6

Lesson 6

How to get other people into more resourceful states and changing their metaphors.

Length of course: 10-20 Minutes Lesson format: Reading

The language you use with other People

Let me tell you a secret that you are not taught at school. YOUR WORDS ARE MAGICAL! Let me explain how.

Your language is very powerful, it can paint pictures, it can affect moods, it can motivate. We have a whole section on language coming up later but I want to introduce you to some hints and tips you can start with straight away.

Have you thought about the impact your words have on other people? Some years ago a delegate on a senior leadership programme, recounted a conversation with her husband at coffee break. She told us that learning about some basic NLP before coffee had made her speak differently to her husband during the break. She informed us that he was out of work and attending interviews. Prior to our course, she explained she would ask him if he was nervous before an interview and he would reply that he was. That morning though she asked him if he was feeling positive and he responded that he was. To our great delight we learned that he was offered the job!

So, every time you speak with someone it changes his or her internal telly! I used to ask, my son Josh, ‘What’s the best thing you did at school today?’ ‘Coming home he would reply!’ No seriously he’d tell me about football at break or PE or something funny that had happened with one of his mates.

We can also reframe situations for people by asking them a question or letting them see a different context. For example: ‘Oh it’s raining again!’ ‘Yes but just look at how it’s helping your garden.’ ‘I’ve had a meeting cancelled with an important customer!’ ‘Well that will give you time to think about your marketing strategy, you’ve been telling me for weeks you haven’t had time to do it and now you have!’

When we are coaching we are asking the coachee better questions, such as ‘What would good look like?’ Which creates internal representations for them.

Our words and language shape our reality and the meaning we give to situations and events. For every word we speak we get an internal representation and so does the person we are talking too. Let me give you an example of how words influence our state. Say to yourself out loud ‘I failed.’ Now say ‘That’s not the result I wanted.’ Which feels better?

Of course, Rogers and Hammerstein new about this stuff years ago with the ‘My favourite things’ song from The Sound of Music “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens.” which Marie sang to the children to take their minds off the storm.

Now here is the thing. Negatives can be really useful. First of all, try this ‘don’t think about a blue tree,’ what are you thinking about, a blue tree? We have to get an internal representation of what we don’t want first. Let’s try another.’ Don’t think about someone you like!’ You can’t help it can you? A waitress serving us lunch on a training course that happened to start on a Sunday brought our sandwiches and fruit to an area in the hotel dining room in which other people were eating a Sunday lunch and then said to our delegates ‘ignore the smell of the Sunday roast’. Of course, that’s what they all noticed. It’s also useful for Golf too. ‘Watch out for the rough’ or ‘ignore the water’. But how many people use negatives in their language when asking children to something? ‘Don’t talk’ ‘Don’t play on the road’ ‘Don’t be late’ all the kids do is get the internal representation of what you don’t want them to do…. ‘Don’t spill that drink on the new carpet!’


Say what you want the outcome to be make sure your words create positive internal representations for people. For example, if you have a problem at work ask your team. ‘How would you like it to look?’

How we use Metaphors

Jesus was with a bunch of his mates about twelve in all and they were just not getting it! He wanted them to spread his word (when he had gone) and recruit people to his teaching. The leader Peter was a simple fisherman and he was a tough nut to crack. So, Jesus tried this on them. ‘Go and be fishers of men.’ ‘Ah,’ they replied.

We use metaphors to describe our grasp on some external event, but it is based on our internal reality (Script) and belief which then ‘colours’ the event itself.

If you can change someone’s metaphor you can significantly change their view of the world and their ‘take’ on situations. A senior manager once told me that the integration of their business with another large corporation was going to be ‘a car crash!’ I replied, ‘Could you see it like a first date?’ She smiled and then laughed.

Before I set up as a consultant a colleague in the company I worked for said consultancy was either. ‘Feast and Famine!’ Meaning that if you do well then expect no work a few months later. I chose to ignore his remark because he had no personal experience of being a self-employed consultant, but my negativity bias could have kicked in.

Metaphors in business are very common. I did a workshop earlier this year and the company accountant was telling everyone that ‘business is a battle,’ ‘if you can’t beat them, join them,’ ‘it’s dog eat dog out there!’ It occurred to me that his thinking and belief about the environment his company was operating was hardly positive and would probably impact on his decision-making. So, his metaphors were defining the way he saw the world.


I would like you to notice the metaphors that you are using and if they are negative think of an alternative.

Some metaphors we hear at work include: ‘climb the ladder’, ‘get to the top’, ‘take the long view,’ ‘time is money’. It’s not by the way! ‘Be ahead of the game. ‘Or dead wood,’ ‘regrouping’, ‘going into battle.’ Often in a management meeting they are used in abundance. People use metaphors to describe what they believe about something, which can help you assess your colleagues, coachee’s and team’s thinking. Remember if you can change their metaphor it will influence their thinking about a situation. Donald Trump told his followers that it was time to ‘drain the swamp,’ whatever he meant by that didn’t sound very productive or positive.

Because our language is a filter, not only will we filter out words we don’t understand, especially Mandarin, in my case! But our language also labels and gives meaning to events. So, the example of a business merger being like a car crash gave a different meaning to the event than if it was described as a first date. And when you change the meaning of something you will allow information through your filters that you would not have done previously.

Our language and metaphors are a clue to what is going on in our script or belief system, so a negative metaphor used by someone you are conversing with can indicate their perception about the topic you are discussing.


Help others change their metaphors, but in a friendly way, don’t come across as a smart arse!

I recently heard a chief executive in the NHS say, ‘The light at the end of the tunnel is another train coming towards us on the same track.’ To which I responded ‘can you be the light?’