Metaphors and analogic language use in business
Communication research shows that we hold two languages, digital and analogic, but our communication can be highly effective only if we speak both languages, stimulating both hemispheres of the brain.
Digital language is a mode which often is factual, purely conventional and seemingly arbitary. Analogic language is the use of a sign which does have some immediately obvious relation to the thing it signifies, in that it represents a likeness or analogy. This polarity runs through the millennia of human thought, through philosophy, psychology, arts, religion, and even in business. Through the ages, great leaders have used story-telling, parables, enigmas to reinforce their message and entice their followers to act towards the proposed mission. The use of analogic language can connect at a deeper level than with dry, logical facts, helping to elicit more interest and intrigue in the interlocutors.
Even in business, metaphors, analogies, anecdotes and other figures of speech are word tools which we can use to enrich our communication, to help create a connection between clients and our views, and to induce them to welcome our way of thinking.
The use of analogic language can have a powerful impact on our business since it takes rational creatures such executives, managers or stakeholders by a storm, stirring emotions which are the necessary pushing forces that drive humans to actually act and change.
As an executive coach, I often use stories or metaphors to present different aspects of business life. Metaphors depicting an action are usually more effective.
According to research, when we use images, such as visual metaphors, we are connecting to the side of the brain that can understand abstract concepts. Metaphors and analogies are effective at making abstract or difficult-to-understand concepts understandable. For management researchers, competitive strategy metaphors use language to convey information and ideas, which can be transferred into tacit knowledge, a way of thinking and viewing the world, which cannot be easily articulated. In essence, a metaphor captures the deficiency of the incapability to convey discrete symbol language about an object, event or experience.
Analogic language can be employed, for example, in sales to tear down barriers between us and our client, barriers that have been inadvertently built by our use of language that is technically correct, but incomprehensible to the client.
It can be used in framing a dispute or situation, or the means by which we address or approach a negotiation problem. Often, the metaphoric language used in business is at the core of how a person perceives the situation and suggests how they might react or respond.
Metaphors are emotional mirrors. We can study the other person’s use of metaphors to “hear” what they are really saying, as well as to understand their true thoughts or feelings. This will guide us in how we should respond, react, or when necessary, intervene in conflict management.
Even though we often make use of analogical language in our everyday talk, we often tend to overlook its strong persuasive, creative and motivational powers which can be exploited to the best in an organisational context but also in everyday life with ourselves.
Analogic language will be discussed at the advanced level seminar in persuasive communication at the Phoenicia on Wednesday, organised by W&D Magro Ltd, the business advisory arm of W&D.
Dr Portelli is a strategic coach and trainer at W&D’s Business Advisory Unit.