Listening for Metaphors in Interviews

Here’s what I listen for when I interview: metaphors.  I use metaphor-listening to draw some tentative conclusions about a person’s thinking. I do this out of habit from the skills I’ve developed as a Clean Language coach.

Here are some metaphors used by a recruiter in a recent interview:

‘raw shootout’ to describe the competitive coaches market,   

                      literal meaning of shootout: “a decisive gun battle”

‘running you through the gauntlet’ to describe the customer interview process 

literal meaning:  “a former punishment, chiefly military, in which the offender was made to run between two rows of men who struck at him with switches or weapons as he passed”  

‘put in a pipeline’ to describe what happens to me next

literal meaning of pipeline: “a long pipe, typically underground, for conveying oil, gas, etc., over long distances” 

I soon developed an image of a big filter entering the ground, where I and other ‘resources’ who had survived duking it out, and harsh interrogations would be dumped into the delivery mechanism to fuel that Big Agile industrial complex.

These metaphors do not align with my values.  The interviewer was clearly not aware of his own metaphors.  There were no other metaphors that described an alternate reality or an alternate mental model in that interview. I do not judge, but I do notice how I feel and react. 

I am learning the realities of big placement companies with big revenue numbers that lack focus on what really matters:  the connections that people make with each other to gain trust, build alliances, create great products, and instill humanity back in the work force.

Agility is harder than you might think without this.  Connections do matter. And so do contractual relationships which need to be built on a foundation of trust, transparency, and a healthy does of shared values.

What do you listen for in interviews?

Explore posts in the same categories: Career, Clean Language, Coaching, Experience Report, Listening, Organizational Change

3 Comments on “Listening for Metaphors in Interviews”

  1. yhanoulle Says:

    Great insights.
    I want to add that as a non-native speaker I haven’t heared of any of the metaphors you are using.
    This would mean I miss these cues + I might be using metaphor because they are though in school as the way to say something without knowing the context in which you describe. (I remember that in my high school we were drilled in metaphors to learn English or French. (Metaphors which I could never remember)


    • Andrea Chiou Says:

      Thanks for your comment Yves. Many words we use won’t seem like a metaphor to you at first, if you only think of what was taught in school.

      If the word sounds like it comes from the physical world, but isn’t literally true, it is metaphorical. That’s one way of looking at it. And yes, not being a native speaker you might not understand the metaphor. I don’t think the interviewer realized his metaphors were violent or impersonal in nature in their origin, because he might not have used them had he been aware. Still, the undertones of the language we use definitely affect people, in my view.


    • yhanoulle Says:

      oh yes the words have an impact.
      and yes when I think about it, I can see it are metaphors, yet as a non-native speaker I’m already happy to find words, and I don’t have much brain capacity free to think about other words (even if I should)


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