When you think about your business … are you on the road to success? Planting the seeds for growth? Crushing the competition?
Maybe you’re looking for your next gig. Is it a job search? Or a hunt for the perfect position? Do you want to climb the corporate ladder? Or strike out on an entrepreneurial path of your own? Have you been on the fast track or stuck in neutral, going nowhere?
The metaphors we use speak volumes about our attitudes, beliefs and feelings. They can also have a powerful effect on the outcomes we achieve.
And metaphors can be the key to changing our circumstances and our results. That’s where this gets so fascinating.
When it comes to the language we use about our work, you’ll find some common categories of metaphors.
Some use the language of farming to talk about their business. They might see themselves:
- Doing the groundwork
- Plowing money into equipment
- Reaping the rewards when their efforts bear fruit
You might picture your business as a vehicle or maybe a ship. So you:
- Launch a new project.
- Get the team on board.
- Jump-start a stalled initiative.
- Take the helm—after all, you’re the captain of the ship.
Business is often compared to construction. You might:
- Have a blueprint for success.
- Lay a firm foundation.
- Set a framework for operations.
Water metaphors are common in conversations about work.
- We need robust cash flow.
- Prices—or wages—might be frozen.
- Sometimes we keep our head above water.
- And some companies, drowning in debt, go under.
Perhaps your business or career is a journey?
- There you are, on the road to success.
- Taking the right path.
- Getting up to speed.
- Or you could be…taking a detour.
- At a fork in the road.
- Or stuck in a rut.
Maybe it’s because business was, for so long, the nearly exclusive province of men. It seems the most common metaphors compare business to sports. Or war.
- You move the ball forward.
- Hit a home run.
- Put on a full court press.
- Level the playing field.
- Throw a Hail Mary pass.
- Leave the ball in their court.
- Run a marathon, not a sprint.
And war? Oh my, do people ever make business into a battle. You might have to:
- Rally the troops.
- Navigate a minefield.
- Fend off a hostile take-over.
- Take no prisoners.
- Join forces with a partner.
- Establish a beachhead.
- Crush the competition.
Personally, I especially don’t like those crushing, killing, stomping metaphors. Why do people describe success as “killing it” anyway? I always want to say “kissing it” instead.
And I didn’t realize until I started doing this research, even the word “strategy” has battlefield roots. It comes from the Greek strategia “office or command of a general.” How many conversations have you had about your business strategy?
I hope you’re asking yourself by now, “How do I talk about my work or my business or my career?” Some of these metaphors might seem especially familiar to you.
If you’re not sure, you might want to ask someone close to you what they hear you say. They might have more clarity about the language you typically use.
And here’s where it gets really interesting.
Metaphors reveal how we frame our beliefs and decisions, how we organize our ideas about the world around us. They reveal a lot about how we perceive other people and the things they do. They also show how we feel about all of it.
While our left brain processes data, it’s our right brain that responds to metaphors. Which means they can strongly influence what gets our attention, what we remember later, and how we feel about it.
So one way to change the meaning of our experiences is to find different metaphors to describe them.
Are your wheels turning yet? (Yes, that’s a metaphor.)
As I pondered this for myself, here’s one thing I came up with. My business is growing for sure, but not nearly as quickly as I’d like it to.
What metaphors come up in my own conversations? I notice that I often “do the groundwork” for something in the future. Then there’s “planting seeds” – I seem to do a lot of seed-planting. Well here’s the thing. Those seeds take a lot of time to sprout! Oh, and I see that I cultivate connections with people who maybe, possibly, someday-when-pigs-fly might be my clients.
Groundwork. Planting. Cultivating. There’s not a lot of movement in that, is there?
I’m making an effort to shift my metaphors to things in motion. Driving my business forward. Getting up to speed. Or better yet, sky rocketing to success.
If the experts on metaphor are right, using language like that in relation to my coaching and speaking and especially my business development efforts, will create a shift.
They say changing your metaphors can change the way you experience your world. And of course that can change everything.
So, what metaphors come up when you talk about your business? Post a comment about language that has held you back. And how you might change your world by choosing new metaphors.
Fantastic article! I’m going to quote you on this one.
What language has held me back? I am going to think about that and post a little later.
I know that my communication style is one of a field general. I want the big picture. I follow a plan but have no hesitation about jumping over a failing tactic.
As a case in point I recently chaired a very large event and several committee persons helped me. When time was growing short and one committee was lagging, I took direct control.of that committee’s responsibility.
I’m not quite a Grant nor a Patton. What am I?
I don’t know what you are, Jim, but “field general” is definitely one of those military metaphors. Seems to work for you so you might as well embrace it. And lead the charge toward more business …
I use words like “launch a process” and “land a client” typically. Those are probably transportation words. I guess “land” is an airplane word.
I’m fine with these words. They feel consistent with my view of my business. Forward movement at a speed that feels right for me.
Diana, I think metaphors that convey movement are really helpful. Sometimes it is right to dig in, lay a foundation, put down roots. But it’s possible to get stuck in that. If a business is to succeed, at some point, it’s time to move.