Peak Performance Strategies

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Teaching Tales in Training


Overview: Metaphors are also teaching tales of excellence! Notice the value of the parables in the Bible; or how a good storyteller uses the story to make the point, even a learning point (read the Fables of Aesop if you want to avoid the parables in the Bible). The design and the telling of metaphors takes considerable skill, but it can be learned. Why does it take skill?

Metaphors: We live by them; we tell them. Metaphor is not just a story – it is how people organize information about life, themselves, relationships with self and others and the world. Metaphors have the ability to influence experience because they are, by definition, Meta-frames. As a meta-frame they organize the content of the experience to which they refer in a cohesive thematic whole. The minute you think “life is like...” you have just created a way for your mind to not only understand life and what to compare it with, but also for you to start to not pay attention to the differences. By locking the definition of life into the preferred metaphor, the languaging of it as such solidifies this frame-of-reference about life. And it is this “aboutness” (above, beyond) which becomes the overriding frame of meaning (the meta-frame) and influences the selective way of paying attention.

Here are some criteria by which the author judge a good metaphor:
1. They are an invitation to the listener to participate in a story which overlaps sufficiently with the listeners world that they at some level in their listening recognize the relevance to them personally.
2. In addition to the relevance of the story, the story line in itself engages the person because it is interesting as a story (even a short story) leading to an outcome or an end with a resolution. Metaphors that are transparent ways of giving advice linked with a scantily dressed but boring story, seem to not work so good.
3. They make one think, and want to return to the story because at first listening they make sense, but the understanding is by no means complete. This is why explaining metaphors to the listener (except under very special circumstances) takes away something of the wonder and self-discovery of the meanings (frames, outcomes, understandings, presuppositions) carried by the metaphor.
4. Meta-phors are outcome based and in the invitation it carries the promise of a new meaning, a new way of thinking about something. In other words, metaphors reframe our current understanding by inviting us to another way of thinking about a particular issue.

Here are some expert opinions on metaphors:
a. “The evocation and utilisation of unconscious learnings” said Milton Erickson.
b. Structured stories that are, to some extend, analogous to the life situations of the listener.
c. “Stories designed to convey a learning about a particular problem” says David Gordon in “Therapeutic Metaphors”.
d. “A way of speaking in which one thing is expressed in terms of another, whereby this bringing together throws new light on the character of what is being described.” Sheldon Kopp in his “Guru: Metaphors from a Psychotherapist”.
e. Ways that we structure how we understand, how we think, and what we do.
f. “Metaphors as a way of maintaining the “Unschooled mind”“ Howard Gardner in “Unschooled Mind”

So what specifically are Metaphors?
  “A metaphor is Chatting up a change”

  “When you have studied metaphors in NLP-practitioners training you learned that they have the form “X is Y” as in “War is hell” or “Time is money.” that ‘s accurate in the narrow sense of the term. We will be using it in a broader sense here, to mean all the explicit and presupposed parts of such a metaphor, whatever it’s form, and the process of using them in communication. “My love is like a red rose” is a metaphor in this sense. Nothing is more powerful in bringing about meaningful and long-lasting change than a successful metaphor; unlike changes brought about by force (or modern equivalents of force as demotions and promotions), such change is accompanied by changes in underlying attitudes.”(Elgin , p162)
A successful metaphor is far more useful for moving beyond mere compliance and getting genuine commitment than all but the most extreme rewards and punishments. People convinced by a metaphor will go on working to implement your strategy in spite of severe problems and meager benefits. (See Elgin [1995], p163)
In the structure or design of metaphors the basic principle is “Let’s think of X and Y as an analogous pair, based on the characteristics they have in common” and they rely on the human brain to match up those characteristics point by point.” (Elgin, p165)
The meaning carried in a metaphor is reflected in the content of the words that people use. Most of the time, when you find a man and a woman involved in an argument where she keeps saying “You lied!” and he keeps saying “I did not!,” they both agree that lies are wrong and they agree on what he said - their disagreement is on how a lie is defined. And most of the time, it’s because he operates from (one) metaphor and she operates from (another) metaphor, and neither one of them is aware that that’s where their communication breakdown originates. .... But the further apart the metaphors are, the greater the communication problems will be. Fortunately, however, this is one of the rare cases in which awareness of a problems existence is enough to bring about dramatic improvement. If both metaphors involved are familiar to members of the culture, knowing that another person has a particular one as a perceptual filter will immediately clear up many misunderstandings and make it possible to prevent many future ones.
Metaphors operate at levels of reframes – how we organize the content of the experience. The metaphors we live by influence the meaning of the words that we use. Stories in metaphor are not just stories, they are the unconscious metaphors we live by, and unless they are updated can impose limitations. They influence what we pay attention to – something we need to do often and influence how we give information – how we say things. My metaphors are true for me and also true for you (in my experience) because they are how I organize information in my life.

Power of Metaphors
A metaphor is so powerful because it deals with the interface between the conscious and unconscious mind. The person buys / accepts the metaphor, accepts the whole set of experiences and reality that the metaphor stands for. E.g. “I have a dream…” – in this Martin Luther King supplied answers for everyday things implying that the reality would come out of the dream.
Metaphors can come as stories, or they can be the one-liners that we comfortably use as everyday sayings. Below are some of these one liners with a very brief indication of their structure and underlying information which they carry.

“NO PAIN NO GAIN”
1. The presupposition is that there has to be pain to benefit, or learn or develop. It is a condition for change.
2. Underlying belief: everything has a price and gain without pain isn’t worth it
3. Criteria or Value: a willingness to suffer for the ultimate goal, as this is the only way, there is no other way of acquiring something of value.
4. Outcome: get through it to get to the benefit.

“THERE IS NO FREE LUNCH”
1. Presupposition – there is a hidden agenda and deceit; good is only on the surface, not where it matters.
2. Belief – Nothing is for nothing and something will be required from you.
3. Value : be suspicious / wary to be safe in the interaction; before you commit get the price on the table.
4. Outcome: To make the person aware or warn them about the price tag.


“BUSINESS IS WAR”
1. Presuppositions – survival depends on winning; offer resistance; there is an opposition and there is no win/win only win-loose, and the losers are not going to be us.
2. Belief: under attack or threat.
3. Value: aggression; competition; winning.
4. Outcome: think like a warrior; a call to arms.

Designing a metaphor:
- What do you intend to get across?
“One of the mechanisms linguists have used for analysing the meaning of words is the semantic feature. Semantic features can be thought of as “particles” of meaning, in the old fashion sense of being chunks to small to break down into any smaller pieces. One way to define a word - and to compare it with someone else’s - is to list the set of semantic features that would separate it from everything else in the world. (Elgin, Suzette Haden (1993) Genderspeak: Men, Woman, and the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defence. John Wiley & Sons, New York. p41)
- What is the semantic feature of your metaphor?
How does the semantic feature link with your audience? Is there enough of an overlap to start with for them get to “sucked in” by your story line because they sense some subtle similarity with their own lives?
- What outcome are you offering? Presuppositions? Values? Beliefs? Can the listener relate to them at this moment before they get “carried away?” Is this an outcome that will serve them well, given their existing frames and states?
- What reference experiences are you presupposing in your audience? Are these reference experiences linkable to your story? Is the terminology you are using and the references you make, in the vocabulary and world of the listener?
- Can you deliver your line(s) in a way that “grabs” people’s attention, so that they cannot but accept your invitation to listen and respond favorably to the message of the metaphor?

This reminds me of a story. This is a story of awe and astonishing appreciation...like the one you could be thinking of if I had to ask you to please help me finish this.