A Coachee's Guide to..., coaching, coaching tools

A Coachee’s Guide to… Metaphors

Metaphors can be a powerful tool in coaching. I know to some people that sounds a bit of a stretch from the solution focussed coaching they may be expecting, but our lives are full of metaphor so it makes sense that it would be useful in coaching too. Now metaphors are highly personal, but this week brings two metaphors that resonate with coaching for me – Balloons around the World and World Yarn Day.

A fleet of colourful hot air balloons float in a blue sky above a landscape containing mountains and forests.
Hot air balloons

Balloons are often bright and colourful. They can soar above the clouds and access the clear blue sky offering a different perspective and a different view. That’s why I chose a balloon for the logo of my coaching practice SendThemSoaring. If you follow the metaphor a bit deeper, balloon pilots have some control over where they go by heating gas and releasing weights, but they are also to some extent at the bidding of the wind and the thermals. That’s a bit similar to a coaching session or programme in some way – we might have an idea of where we want to go and how to start the journey, but along the way we may meander through a variety of different topics and approaches before we find a place to land and move forward.

There’s an image that’s around that describes working with a therapist or coach as taking a tangled mess of yarn in someone’s head and rewinding them into tidy balls. As a crocheter I know there is a great deal of satisfaction in restoring neatness to a jumble of threads, but the real excitement is that having sorted it out, you are then ready to create something new and beautiful. That’s true in coaching – a coaching session gives you the space to sort out the complex and get ready to make something brand new.

A thought bubble containing tangled yarn connected by an arrow pointing towards a thought bubble containing multi-coloured neatly wound balls of yarn
Coaching as untangling

When I was training, a couple of coachees volunteered their own metaphors and I learnt to go with them when they showed up, but explicitly directing coachees to use metaphors felt a little awkward probably because metaphors are so personal. However, as a coach I undergo supervision and I recently attended a session where we were asked much more explicitly to use metaphor – describing our life and coaching approach in terms of a journey – choice of mode of transport etc. I didn’t feel awkward at all as the image of a river came into my head with a small kayak or canoe. So many dimensions in terms of changing pace, size etc of the river, being carried along at some points, and free to explore and control direction at others. It was fascinating and really powerful in understanding myself and I got an insight into how being asked about metaphor feels and it wasn’t as awkward as I expected. Whilst I might not ask explicitly in a first session I do think it might be useful when a different perspective might help. Which brings me right back to my balloon.