Monday, April 25, 2011

When metaphors misfire: Tips for speakers from a master negotiator

You want to connect with your audience, and use a shorthand you'll both understand--so you reach for a metaphor. But will it work? That's the question and caution behind the metaphorically titled post "Metaphors are bridges: They can connect you to the other side--or collapse disastrously." In it, a Tufts University negotiation lawyer talks about some high-level discussions in which metaphors helped or hurt the eventual ability to reach an agreement. The latter happens easily when you use a metaphor that's just a mystery to listeners from another culture:
...less skilled negotiators sometimes discover the unintended results of using metaphors the other side doesn’t understand. Telling Nigerians in a negotiation that your company is ready to “step up to the plate” may promote confusion rather than reassurance. In one negotiation with a Saudi Arabian agency, an American executive proudly proclaimed that he represented a “blue-chip company.” When this drew quizzical looks, he launched into a long explanation of the term “blue chip” and its origins in gaming casinos, only to be told that Saudi Arabia does not allow gambling.
Because that also can happen when you're negotiating with someone from your own culture, caution is the key. This is a useful read if your speaking and meetings include negotiations, whether those are for a raise or world peace.

Related posts: Mastering the metaphor: How to avoid cliche and strike the right phrase

Language works: This is your brain on metaphor

Clip to Evernote
Use the Evernote clip button, above, to save this post in an Evernote notebook. Go here to subscribe to Step Up Your Speaking, my free email newsletter that looks at a different speaking topic in depth each month...then become a fan of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook and join the conversation with thousands of other women (and men) about public speaking skills and confidence.