Metaphor: the missing link

Why Metaphor? What does it do for us?

“Metaphor is the interface between the conscious and unconscious mind”

This is a fundamental principle of Liminal Coaching for which there is plenty of supporting evidence both in psychological theory and business practice.

But what does that statement mean and why does it matter?

Let’s start with what it means:

Back in the day, a few western thinkers like Freud got together and decided there was an unconscious and that it was full of barely controlled urges. Society was built on the repression and sublimation of those urges.

This ‘unconscious’ was populated by the demons of patricide, incest, murder and rampant savagery.

This remains a prevalent image to this day and yet, whatever complexes and primitive urges do exist, they make up but a tiny percentage of those parts of the mind of which we are not conscious.

In fact, a much larger percentage of the unconscious is an extraordinary repository of helpful and friendly resources, only now being recognized as a source of insight, creativity and novel perception.

The unconscious has all these great contributions to make and working with metaphor enables that to happen. This is not a ‘surfacing’ process, as in expressing repressed content, but rather about accessing wildly creative new content focused on a chosen area of interest.

Metaphor reveals contributions from the unconscious and also sends direction to the unconscious as to where to focus.

Why does this matter?

It matters because deliberate focus on any skill improves that skill and this skill of using the unconscious is a badly neglected one, most certainly in business. There is great advantage to be had from doing what others are (by and large) not doing or not doing very well, leaving it to chance.

The metaphor workshop is a facilitated session that engages the team to better achieve their objectives, no matter how small or large.

In advance of the session, all participants are given instruction on how to develop three different metaphors which describe the journey to be undertaken by the group, from their perspectives.

Metaphor is critical as it allows the unconscious perceptions and feelings associated with the journey that the team is contemplating to be expressed and explored. Metaphor gives a voice to the intuitive and unconscious processes of the team members. Something that leaders can use for themselves in future workshops.

But a shared metaphor is only the beginning. Next we move into the cognitive mapping aspect of the workshop which takes place in a way that allows all voices and perceptions to be expressed through focus on a jointly created map.

This is done in an open space using a wall, felt pens and stickies. All team members can suggest where they see connections, can embellish the map by extending metaphors already on the wall or adding new ones. Lines of support and connection are drawn where they are seen.

The number of connections in each node along with clustering of metaphors and images creates a map of the collective subconscious terrain involved in the project. This is unique to the group and their aims.

Mapping the metaphors in this way creates a shared map of the challenges and opportunities facing the team. It allows all perceptions to be included without conflict arising. And it creates a strong sense of working across shared terrain.

Quite often, our clients express surprise when what appeared to be conflicting views emerge through this process as complimentary and enriching.

The Liminal Coaching team guides our clients through the preparation and framing, facilitates the session and then takes the output from this workshop and uses it to create guided relaxation recordings specific to the client team, further increasing the impact of the work done and enlisting the aid of the unconscious in achieving the aims of the team.

It is also a touchstone and a new way of engaging in dialogue with project teams and also with innovation leaders looking for a language and framework for leveraging the deeper resources and creative power of their team members. Techniques learned here are re-usable without any need for further paid engagements.