NLP Storytelling Jonathan Altfeld

NLP Stories and Metaphor | Jonathan Altfeld
NLP Storytelling Jonathan Altfeld

Jonathan : Well thank you very much for hosting this and for inviting me – I feel honoured.

Michael : Excellent – If you could just go straight on and introduce yourself.

Jonathan : Oh, I have to introduce myself? Ok.

It’s always interesting to figure out where to begin – depending on the audience. I need to go back in time a little bit – around about to 1996 before I became a trainer of NLP. At the time of 1996 I was winding down a successful career in artificial intelligence, and I was a veraciously fascinated student of NLP – also interested in conversational hypnosis and coaching – and that lead me to explore taking NLP course initially to become better at artificial intelligence, but that became a different corridor in and of itself.

So by 1997 I took a ton of NLP training and I opened a training business and I’ve been training people in person and also through home study programs since then. So, I had a transition from artificial intelligence to NLP trainer in 1997 – so it’s been a good thirteen-fourteen years since then, and I’ve been travelling and training – it’s been an adventure ever since.

Michael : Great. Just to move on – How do you define metaphor?

Jonathan : Great question. I think whenever we present an idea or a story that’s peripheral to, adjacent to, or helpful to, informative to some other situation – that’s a metaphor. We use metaphor to give us insight into other situations. So I think that the art of metaphor is to become gifted, ideally speaking, at two sets of skills that produce metaphor – one is you have to be able to make a lateral leap from the given situation to a metaphorical situation.

And then the second skill is that you have to creatively speak from that place or mindset – which is metaphorical to the original situation.

Michael : Excellent. And what are some different types of metaphor?

Jonathan : That is a really great question – especially in NLP or hypnosis contents. Let me ask you a question – are we distinguishing between poetry, lets say, and NLP and Hypnosis? Because those are some very big distinctions.

Michael : I like that – Please talk about that.

Jonathan : A lot of people probably know the word metaphor from poetic circumstances. So we could first distinguish between poetic simile and metaphors. And then of course there’s NLP and Hypnosis in the coaching community and the specific way we see metaphor. Poetically speaking, metaphor is, as I see it, an equation where substitution of one thing is possible or even intended. This is that – or – this is the equivalent of that.

Where as a simile is an approximation – it’s similar but not interchangeable. Also poetically, if you hear words like ‘like’ or ‘as’ – As in, this is like that. Or ‘The person simply stopped talking as a child simply stops playing’ That’s most likely a simile.

Poetically an metaphor is an implied equivalence – ‘My home is my castle’ – ‘My garage, my stable’ -‘My welcome mat is actually my drawbridge over the moat.’

The listener’s brain – If you hear stuff like that – begins to draw other equivalences from whatever we’ve said, and from whatever we’ve not said, whatever we’ve deleted as well. So equivalences occur. That’s definitely metaphor.

Now let’s draw a distinction between that – a metaphor as from a poetic background – as to a metaphor for a hypnotic change context. In hypnotic language, unlike poetic language, the word ‘As’ (You know this all too well I’m sure.) isn’t just a simile, it’s used for connecting two things together – It’s a temporal connection – It’s about time – It links two activities happening at the same time.

So when we use ‘As’ whether what we’re aiming to describe is metaphorical or not, we need to know, intentionally or otherwise we’re linking two movies inside the listener’s minds – movies or soundtracks. Also this is happening as this other thing is happening.

Also in change work – whether it be coaching or therapy or counselling, the word ‘like’ isn’t used for simile, it’s used as softening language. It’s used in pretty much the exact same way as the direct elicitation pattern would be. To gently ease the minds of our clients and students into considering an alternative story or idea – So we might use the imagery of simile to bridge into metaphor.

Here’s an example – ‘You know Mr Client – The situation you’re in seems much like this other thing-‘ and then we speak in a metaphorical context.

Probably at this stage it’s also useful to distinguish between – and maybe NLP students who listen to your podcast are familiar with these terms too and maybe they’re not (Certainly I’ve heard them used endlessly in NLP circles.) – The distinction between Isomorphic and Homomorphic metaphor. And these are complicated terms for something really really easy.

Isomorphic means ‘One-to-one’. Homomorphic means ‘Many to one’. So Isomorphic metaphor relates to obvious one-to-one relationships between elements in a presentation situation and a metaphorical situation.

Homomorphic metaphor makes those one-to-one relationships really hard to identify – in other words the listener can’t find out what the connections are, but they’re still there underneath, quietly working in the background. So the relationships are much more loosely established with homomorphic metaphors – so it’s hard to analyze, but still incredibly useful.

So of course, many to one relationships means that there’s may connections between a metaphor and any given situation – and they’re not entirely sure which one you mean but it can send their mind in a useful direction.

Michael : Ok. You’ve actually given us some examples of metaphor while you were speaking – Would you like to build on them and give us some more examples?

Jonathan : Sure – and before I do I also thought that it might be useful to mention that there is some great material on therapeutic metaphor out there – For example David Gordon’s book on therapeutic metaphors. That’s a really good book, and I would still qualify that that’s about qualifying Isomorphic metaphor. Homomorphic metaphor is a little harder to wrap your head around, but I think profoundly more helpful.

So moving onto examples – It’s funny – asking for examples – I don’t know if this makes sense to you and your listeners, but if you’re asking me for examples you’re asking me for both a given situation and also the metaphorical side of the situation – yet if a client brings to me an issue, I don’t normally put time into coming up with the metaphor until I’m given the presented circumstance that I’m giving the metaphor to.

How about this one – Michael, doing these podcasts is the same as giving people keys to a bank vault -How’s that one?

Michael : Brilliant.

Jonathan : How about this one – If this podcast helps a listener plant one apple tree – perhaps in less time than they’d imagine, they’d have a whole orchard to themselves – Rolling over the land as far as the eye can see.

Michael : I like it. And what impact do you think metaphors have?

Jonathan : I think most therapy or change work, using older traditional methods is remedial. By contrast metaphor when done best, is generative. And the impact of generative work is infinite.

Michael : And again, building on what you’ve just said – What are some practical examples of where people could use metaphors, or maybe use more metaphors than they do at the moment?

Jonathan : I’m interpreting your question as – Where can one use them? Or Where might one use them?

Michael : Absolutely.

Jonathan : OK. I use metaphor any time a person is stuck in any way shape or form. NLP is so amazing in helping people out of stuck-states. So if they’re happy living their bliss and enjoying life as they want to, why would we ever want or need to change them? So for me the triggers of any good coaching work is for when they’re stuck or hesitant – and metaphor is one of the essential tools that I’ll have at my disposal.

Michael : And let us know one or two of the things that you specifically do when you design a metaphor. I’m not asking for everything, but what are the steps? One or two things that you do when you design a metaphor.

Jonathan : I’d like to qualify that word design. I don’t typically design metaphor. What I do is make a lateral leap from inside my mind – from a presented situation to, ideally speaking, not a similar situation but further away. So I’m moving further away in my mind than I would with an Isomorphic metaphor, I’m making a long lateral leap to something that is not exactly similar but is definitely related conceptually in terms of relationship.

The other thing, which I think most people don’t do well with metaphor is that they often will try to find a metaphor for the problem. I don’t do that. First of all I try to solve the problem that they’re presenting me with in the current situation, and then I create a metaphor for that. So what I’m really doing is presenting a metaphor for a situation that matches the problem – but doesn’t stem from the original problem.

Does that make any sense?

Michael : That’s fine. And in a way you’ve started answering this next question – If you were going to teach somebody to improve their telling of metaphors – again, not all the things you’d do, but just one or two hints as to where you would take people if you wanted to improve their metaphor telling.

Jonathan : To do this process justice – To teach people how to do better and better metaphor takes about an hour – So I’m going to try to give you as many keys as I can. I’ve identified kind of a cognitive chunking process that moves us from a presented problem to a solved problem and eventually over to central, lateral mindset – from which homomorphic metaphors emerge. If you have any listeners that are already gifted at making lateral leaps – as in, jumping laterally, not up in chunks, not down in chunks, but laterally – They’re probably going to figure out from this discussion how to do something similar to this on their own.

So, the first key thing is of course, that you have to transform the problem situation into any optimal solved version of the situation and then make a big lateral leap – essentially telling a story from that creative context.

So I don’t really design it – I stem creatively from a metaphorical context, the best I can.
I’m really telling a story on the fly.

Michael : There again – What are some of the skills that you have that enable you to do this?

Jonathan : As for the skills that originally allowed me to notice these patterns and my own awareness – that probably came from my original career in AI – Artificial Intelligence – And I think that if anybody develops these specific skills they will get better at metaphor – So I think that specifically the skills include pattern matching – and cognitive awareness skills – In my case that was honed from years on interviewing experts and modelling their strategies – even before I’d heard of modelling in NLP contexts.

So in some respects I was using my knowledge and material on modelling in order to model my own cognitive process. And then I applied that to how I was looking at metaphor. So there’s another skill that’s really helpful but that I don’t train in the CD’s and that’s not going to give you a specific chunking process but another skill that’s really important to develop and I think that your listeners should spend really whatever time they can to do this is storytelling.

So when somebody is using my metaphor machine process, once they arrive at the metaphorical scenario that’s going to work well – It still requires reasonably good story telling skills to be able to deliver the metaphor or to speak from the metaphorical context in some way for a client.

But I think that the same story telling skills that someone would use to deliver a typical isomorphic metaphor are the same delivery skills that people would use to deliver homomorphic metaphor. So it doesn’t matter what kind of metaphor you’re using – story telling skills are really important. I hope that makes sense.

Michael : Different question – What do you believe about yourself when you’re telling metaphors?

Jonathan : Great question. Here’s one key belief – I believe that any difference in me can be helpful in breaking the stuck state. In other words, if another person is stuck it almost doesn’t matter what perspective we offer them – It’s a different perspective than they have, and therefore it’s potentially useful.

The next thing is a bit egotistical and I temper it with some pragmatics. But there are times in a coaching session where I think that it’s very useful to have some rather grandiose personal beliefs about coaching and NLP skills – and then temper it outside of a coaching relationship or when you’re away from the training room because ego doesn’t help in every circumstance – It can sure get in the way.

In that relationship, it’s almost like hyper-confidence should be in the atmosphere. And you need that flexibility for approaching techniques and strategies – all of that can help any coach be highly congruent with a client and that comes across as more help than just being yourself normally would.
So I believe that having some really powerful attitudes, and having confidence in your own ability can really help a client to push through their doubts and concerns.

Michael : And what do you believe about the people that you’re coaching or the people that you’re using these stories with?

Jonathan : Some of this is unique to me and some of this is typical in NLP circles. I really believe that human beings are highly habitual creatures – and that includes me and you and everybody else – and that they’re still practicing less than useful habitual behaviours that might have been useful in the past. And having a creative solution and a direction in mind, and building up their motivation, is what it really takes to help a person effect change.

Another way of saying this is that I do my best to go to a coaching moment with a greater confidence in a clients potential than they have – and that comes across in behaviour and tonality.

Michael : That definitely works for me. Do you have a personal mission or vision when you’re doing this?

Jonathan : I suppose so. My personal mission or vision which specifically relates to metaphor – is to effect change or to offer ideas, and even to transform even how NLP students worldwide currently think up how to use metaphor, and how to use and deliver metaphor.

I have to say that most NLP students that I’ve conversed with on this topic – even before I released the metaphor CD’s – were not as good as I would have liked them to be at producing really high quality metaphor on the fly – at least when I was presenting them with challenges and asking them for examples.

Now granted, that may be a little bit of pressure to ask them on the fly – but if and when they have a client in front of them, I think they need to be able to come up with a real time, great metaphor – So I think there’s pressure in real life work situations. You don’t know if your client is going to return for another session, so you may not have the luxury of using downtime between sessions to come up with a good metaphor – so personally I believe that all NLP students should be great at this skill real time.

So there is no tomorrow. You can only have great metaphor skills if you can consistently come up with great metaphors, right now. Whenever they’re needed.

Michael : And can you come up with a great metaphor right now?

Jonathan : I don’t think that I have a favourite metaphor. Whatever my favourite metaphor is, whichever metaphor is coming to mind, is what’s happening real time. For example, you and I are chatting now – and I think that’s the first step towards a brand new path – As an example.

I feel that our chatting is much like the fireside chats – a famous metaphor for Franklin Delano Elanor Roosevelt used to have fireside chats with various people – So whenever we’re in a situation – I think that the best metaphor I can come up with is whatever reflects the current scenario as optimally as possible – whether it’s the current scenario or the solution scenario.

Michael : You’ve been very good at explaining to us some of your secrets and some of your approaches to metaphor – Is there anything you’d like to plug?

Jonathan : Thank you for asking. I’ve mentioned a couple of times in this podcast that I have a two-CD set on metaphor – specifically on delivering homomorphic metaphors and that two CD set is called The Metaphor Machine. Now I will also say – because I think that podcasts are all about giving value – I think that if someone listens to this podcasts an additional couple of times – they may get some of the insights that I give in the CD’s.

So some really intelligent folk amongst your listeners will surely be able to deliver better metaphor as a result of listening to this. If anyone would like to go further with some of these ideas, that I would certainly welcome an order for some of The Metaphor Machine CD’s.

The first CD in that set trains the multi-step pattern in detail and the second CD walks you through that CD with multiple examples. I’ve had some good responses for that and if that delivers more value to your customers and your visitors, then I’m honoured again.
Michael : That’s really good.And your contact details for anybody that would like to ask you some questions – or would like to contact you directly.

Jonathan : Sure. Seeing as my phone numbers have changed every three to four years in the USA because I’ve moved a few times – and I know that this podcast could be around longer than I’m in my current location – I’ll give you my current phone number and also my website. This is mid 2010 and my current phone number is area code 717-2648-444 – and my website, which hasn’t changed in fourteen years that’s – visitors could certainly find their way around from there.
So thanks very much for this – I’m very grateful.

Michael : I’ve really enjoyed it- and I really appreciate you spending the time to explain some of your thoughts.

Jonathan : Thanks very much!

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