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How do you think about your business or your career right now?
Are you relaunching after a pandemic slowdown? Cultivating new leads? Building back better?
If you were part of the Great Resignation, you might be 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?
The metaphors we use speak volumes about our attitudes, beliefs, and feelings. And they often have a big impact on the outcomes we achieve.
Those 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
- Planting the seeds for growth
- Plowing money into equipment
- Reaping the rewards when their efforts bear fruit
You might picture your business as a vehicle or maybe a ship.
- Launch a new project.
- Get the team on board.
- Jump-start a stalled initiative.
- Take the helm—you, after all, are the captain of the ship.
Business is often compared to construction.
- Have a blueprint for success.
- Lay a firm foundation.
- Set a framework for operations.
- Build your business.
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.
- Or you could be…taking a detour.
- At a fork in the road.
- Or stuck in a rut.
It seems the most common metaphors compare business to sports. Or war.
Maybe it’s because business was, for so long, the nearly exclusive province of men.
- 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 studying metaphors, 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 ask someone close to you what they hear you say. Sometimes the people who listen to us have more clarity than we do about the language we 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.
Those choices convey 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 logical 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 what emotions arise as a result.
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 would be a metaphor.)
As I pondered this for myself, here’s one thing I came up with. I’m going to take a few weeks off from coaching and speaking in September; I’m having some surgery.
I might call my break from business R&R. It’s one of those military metaphors – members of the armed services leave the front lines for rest and recuperation.
Could be a furlough. That too arose as a reference to a leave of absence from the military.
How about taking some downtime? That’s when “a machine or vehicle is out of service.” I’m not sure I want to think of myself as either one.
For now, I believe I’ll frame this break as an intermission, a pause between parts of a play, movie, or concert. That suggests the performance will resume shortly…and you won’t want to miss the next scene!
I’m already thinking about getting back to work on the other side with movement metaphors. Driving my business forward. Getting up to speed. Or better yet, skyrocketing to success.
If the experts on metaphor are right, using language like that will help me get going again when the intermission is behind me.
They say changing your metaphors can change the way you experience your world. And that can change everything.
So, what metaphors come up when you talk about your business? And how might you change your world by choosing new metaphors?