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Why Use Metaphors In Conflicts? Because Understanding Is Remembering In Disguise

by Stephanie West Allen
June 2009

From Stephanie West Allen's blog on Neuroscience and conflict resolution.

Stephanie West Allen
IMG_8362_a
General Eisenhower to soldier: "Sarge, give me an assessment of the military situation."
Soldier: "Sir, picture a doughnut. We're the hole."
Quoted in Metaphorically Selling


The brain considers new information from the point of view of what it already knows and remembers, so the use of good metaphors is an effective way to communicate. Metaphors facilitate getting your message across in every area of your life, including dispute resolution. Those who have been reading my posts here for a while know that I have recommended metaphor use in the past; I am a metaphor advocate.

Here's what Anne Miller author of Metaphorically Selling has to say:

A metaphor is simply a way of communicating. It's a shortcut to instant understanding. Think of it as a mental equation in which something is compared to something else. Metaphors make complex and unfamiliar things or ideas simple and familiar to the listener, because they compare the unknown to what the listener already knows and accepts.

...

Information + Metaphor = "I see what you mean!"

Dr. Daniel Willingham puts it this way in Why Don't Students Like School: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom. (The title of the section from which I have taken this excerpt is "Understanding Is Remembering in Disguise;" a great way to encapsulate the value of metaphor!)

[We] understand new ideas (things [we] don't know) by relating them to old ideas (things [we] do know). ...

...

The fact that we understand new ideas by relating them to things we already know helps us to understand some principles that are familiar to every teacher [and many skillful negotiators and mediators]. One principle is the usefulness of analogies.

Analogies and metaphors are cousins, both drawing similarities between two different things. Both can assist in understanding. Are you a user?

I know you use analogies everyday. Some examples from Metaphorically Selling:

  • "Chew on an idea
  • "Plow" through your work
  • Return a "mountain" of phone messages
  • Check your "inbox" emails
  • "Surf" the web
  • "Iron out the wrinkles in a speech
  • "Mine" data

And are you using them in helping clients to resolve conflict? They're a good way to grease the mediation wheels. (Nah, I don't like that one either. Please suggest something better.)

Biography


Stephanie West Allen, JD, practiced law in California for several years, held offices in local bar associations, and wrote chapters for California Continuing Education of the Bar. While in CA, Stephanie completed several five-day mediation training programs with the Center for Mediation in Law, as well as a two-year intensive with Center co-founder Gary Friedman. She has been a mediator for over two and one-half decades.

She is the author of Triversity Fantasy — Seven Keys To Unlock Prejudice, Creating Your Own Funeral or Memorial Service: A Workbook and many articles on workplace and professional issues for such publications as Lawyer Hiring and Training Report, Colorado Nurse, The Complete Lawyer, National Law Journal, Of Counsel, Law Practice and Denver Business Journal.



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Website: www.westallen.typepad.com/idealawg/

Additional articles by Stephanie West Allen

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