Beyond Words

The science and fun of nonverbal communication

Metaphors: Getting Past Boredom!

Bored? Noticing metaphors are beneficial and can help with boredom!

Let's face it, no matter what time of year it is and regardless of what and where we are, it is easy, correction, very easy for us to get bored.  This is coming from an NYPD detective, conflict resolution consultant, professional mediator, trainer on nonverbal communication, and PhD student. 

Yes, I can get bored at times.

I am going to share some tips that help keep me sharp with the various 'hats' I wear as I trek through each day is what gets me through those boring moments and actually prevents potential boring moments from arising.

The answer to boredom- metaphors! 

metaphors
Take a moment to see hear and see all the metaphors
Yes, metaphors are something we use approximately every ten to twenty-five words.+  Because metaphors are used so often we can easily overlook them, the impact it has on us in addition to the impact it has on the people we are interacting with. 

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Of course metaphors are also connected to nonverbal communication, whose importance can also be easily overlooked.  According to James Geary in I Is An Other (a book I highly recommend- note the metaphor too!), our choice of metaphors does not just reflect opinions and actions; they help shape them.  I extend this thought to it shapes our choice of gestures as well.

Metaphors are not just our language but also our thoughts, attitudes, and actions.* In regards to body language and nonverbal communication that means that our use of metaphors effects our nonverbal communication. 

Think, seriously, right now if you said to someone "I am not giving in on this."  Act it out and say it.

What did you do?  What kind of gestures did you do and did you notice your tone?  If this was your approach, now imagine if you were to set up a table and location, where would you sit?  What would your posture be like and your body orientation.

Now consider this statement, "You know what, I really think if we work together, we can both accomplish what we need."  Now, act this out too.  If you are wondering, I did it while writing this.  Even knowingly while writing it, my gestures changed, as well as my tone.

Our choice of words, specifically the metaphors we use, will affect our nonverbal channels of communication.  Consider combative, confrontational metaphors such as the ones listed below:

  • I will win this "fight"
  • We can't "give in"
  • It's us "against" them

Say each of them out loud as if you were saying it to someone else.  Notice your tone, and the gestures you use.  Now notice each when you say the following statements:

  • "I think we can work together on this"
  • "Let's try to come up with some ideas so we each get what we want"
  • "I would like to hear what you think"

Now that you have considered how metaphors affect your tone and body language, try to take note of this next time two people are talking to each other.  For example, if you are at a food court, in a coffee shop, or even while watching a talk show on television.  Make a note of the type of metaphors being used and the corresponding body language and tone used by the person.  After doing this for a little while, you will notice recurring themes and gestures based on the type of metaphors being used.

Another option to look for metaphors are in newspapers and magazines.  Notice the headlines and the corresponding pictures.  Headlines and photographs impact the way we understand the news and the articles we read.  They can, and often we do not realize it, effect our attitude towards the people being discussed. 

For example, if a person had newly become CEO of a company and 1) an article detailing this had the title "John Smith Takes The Reigns of Company A" with a picture of the person with their hands on the hips (think superman) or alternatively 2) the headline reading "Smith Named CEO" and the picture is of him with his shoulders slumped and hands in his pocket creates two drastically different emotions with the readers.  Being aware of this helps you realize that the news is not always "neutral" but rather in subtle ways, the editors can affect the way you see things.

Here's a real-life example.  See the photos below of the HuffingtonPost.com article titled, "Tim Cook Named Apple CEO As Steve Jobs Resigns (Photos)."  The first photo was the one used to lead the story while the other two were part of the image gallery inserted halfway through the story.  

Apple CEO, Tim Cook, Photos From HuffingtonPost.com

Note the metaphor of Cook being "named" in contrast to, for example, "takes over." The concept of "naming" is given to someone.  Now look at the picture used.  What words come to mind- positive, negative, confident, unsure, powerful, timid?  Do you have a different impression if either the second or third photograph was used?

The use of metaphors as well as the body language in the pictures creates two very different impressions of the the same story.

One way of getting through bordem is I suggest reading through a magazine and just looking at the headlines and corresponding pictures to see what kind of metaphors are used and the emotions it creates in you.

Observing these everyday situations both in person as well as on television can help you understand the impact in the choice of words and metaphors you use and how it affects both your actions as well as how it can affect the person you are speaking to.

Additionally, people watching and looking for the connection between the use of metaphors and body language can be fun while passing time!

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+ I Is An Other by James Geary (from Amazon here)

* Metaphors We Live By by George Lackoff & Mark Johnson, page 39. (From Amazon here)

Jeff Thompson is a Ph.D. candidate researching nonverbal communication and mediation at Griffith University Law School.

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