Metaphorically speaking

For some reason, today in staff meeting I started listening for the metaphors people used when they were talking. I’d been in a discussion earlier in the day where a way of working had been described as ‘orchestral’. i.e. a group were teaching something and each individual would pipe up when needed, adding to the picture and therefore the learning. I’d been extending the metaphor. We were about to continue a piece of work that I thought would change our usual ‘rhythm’ of working from fast and dense with information, to a much slower pace where each idea would be able to be examined. (Each idea was a musical theme. It would be laid down in the first (fast) movement, in the second (slow) it may be chopped up or flipped upside down, then in the third (fast) it would be reincorporated to reflect both the first and second movements, in the fourth (slow) the theme would be changed, reflecting all three movements, and so on.)
Then I became aware of the metaphors other people were using. The three I remember best are:
*hunting – this was accompanied by grasping gestures. Both stalking and running after something were indicated.
*journeying in a waka – travelling the ocean, each person on the waka knows their role, knows how it contributes to the journey, and just gets on with it.
*a kotare sitting high up, watching the stream, then darting in to get the fish when it is sure of success.
Metaphors are not exceptional at my work. Weaving, especially of tukutuku panels is often used. I like to talk about the Slinky Theory of Evolution. I do not know what it was about today that made me take notice. But it was interesting.


3 thoughts on “Metaphorically speaking

  1. seanfish says:

    Nice article! Struck chords (haha) with me – I’ve been finding myself doing a lot of facilitation lately, and I realised a musical metaphor definitely applies there – I basically start a meeting off by posing a fairly dumb question (which we might call tuning up) then while people hesitantly and then more confidently being to express what’s important to them I’ll use a whiteboard to create notation.The work of the meeting is then in revisiting those significant themes and getting the room to play though the variations each one in concert until a resolution is reached, and to finish I’ll work once more through each theme quickly.It’s more than a metaphor – the kind of listening I’m doing very much mirrors how I listen to others during performance – striving to hear nuance at the same time as attending to major cues.

  2. Anonymous says:

    "Chords" – ba-dom-tish! šŸ™‚ I like your description of your meetings. I wonder if thinking of challenging meetings as a particularly difficult symphony with exotic instruments would be a help or a hindrance?We (staff at my work) are currently working with a guy called Teddy Taptiklis. He’s using a type of storytelling with us. Part of what happens is that he’s recorded our initial conversations, and we get to listen to them again. (Sometimes more than once.) Rather than listening solely to the content he asks us to listen to the relationship in the speaker/s voice/s. He says that we do not speak into a void, but that we speak in the expectation of a relationship. This sounds to me like the ‘nuance’ that you speak of. i.e. What does the way this person talks tell me about their relationship to others in the room? Do they disagree? Are they working things out? Can I hear that other people aren’t hearing what they are saying? Can I hear that other people are excited by what they’re saying. It’s tough work. We often start slowly, then gradually build on comments from the previous person. Fascinating.Reminds me that my taringas aren’t painted on. šŸ™‚

  3. seanfish says:

    Yes! Some meetings are like Stravinsky full of noise and conflict, some are like Mozart with lots of twiddles and embellishments… learning that both can be complete "compositions" leads us away from the "that was a good meeting"/"that was a bad meeting" dichotomy – which just means we were "comfortable", or not – and gives us better clues to perform and/or conduct as a result.

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