Michael : I’m really pleased to have Judy Rees with us today, talking about listening and questioning to elicit people’s unconscious metaphors. Judy, would you introduce yourself?
Judy : Hello. My name is Judy Rees. People have started calling me ‘The Elephant Whisperer’ because of my ability to find out deep stuff about what people are really thinking – Using people’s unconscious metaphors primarily.
I’m the co-author of a book on clean language, which I’ll probably mention a few times in this interview – and I do training and produce various products. My latest venture is to produce a home study course in which people learn how to use unconscious metaphors in the context of influence and persuasion.
Which I’m finding very exciting and which is just about to launch.
Michael : Excellent. Well that really leads on well to the next question – can you tell me what and unconscious metaphor is, and why they’re important and interesting?
Judy : Well, what people – the sort of experts – have realized over the last twenty-thirty years or so is that we actually think in metaphor. You’ll hear this expressed in different way; people will say we think in pictures – but actually what we do is we think in metaphor – our unconscious, or subconscious minds think by comparing one kind of thing to another kind of thing – that’s the definition of a metaphor.
So, for example, to a small baby something which is big is important. So they learn to use ‘big’ for a metaphor for ‘important’, and so on and so forth. And as we develop and grow, we get incredibly complex networks and subconscious systems of inter-related metaphors. And these metaphors which are in our subconscious thinking are what actually determine our decisions, our behaviours.
As you possibly know if you’re listening to this – our conscious mind tends not to be the bit that drives our behaviour – we think we’re driving our own behaviour – but actually those drivers are not conscious in our system.
Does that make sense?
Michael : I think I’m going to say yes. There’s that delightful question mark – It certainly sounds interesting.
Let me just ask you a follow up question. In exploring this stuff, what does it enable people to do that they couldn’t do beforehand?
Judy : In terms of learning about your own unconscious metaphors, it effectively puts you into direct communication with your subconscious system and hence you’re able to be more in control of your own behaviours and actions.
There’s a metaphor, which is where this elephant whisperer idea comes from which is that the conscious mind is like a rider on top of an elephant – the elephant represent the unconscious mind – the elephant is big and strong and the rider is small.
When the rider and the elephant want to go in the same direction, that’s great. The rider can feel like they’re in control. But when the elephant wants to go somewhere different to the rider then the elephant will win.
So the elephant decides that it wants to eat too much or drink too much, or stay out late at night – and once again we go ‘Oh no, I didn’t intend to do that!’
And it’s because the elephant is in control.
So if we can get into more close control with our own elephants, then we can get a greater control of our own actions. Similarly, if you can communicate with somebody else’s elephant, you’re in a much better position to influence them and their behaviour – if their buying decisions or any other behaviour that you’re choosing to influence.
Michael : Excellent. I really like that. Let’s just take a step back a bit – because we’re really just talking about questioning to elicit people’s unconscious metaphors – so talk a little bit about this fascinating topic of questioning.
And I’m going to make it a three-part question that you can answer in any way that you want – What do you mean by listening? What stops people listening? And why do you think that listening is important?
Judy : I think, to answer it in reverse. I think that listening is important for two reasons. When you listen to other people you discover things that you otherwise would’ know.
As I’ve been teaching people to really listen over the years, people have suddenly realised that they’re been missing huge quantities of information that they would have otherwise come to them – It’s like turning on the lights, and suddenly you see what’s been going on around you – because you actually hear the words that people are saying and the metaphors that underpin them.
And you suddenly understand why people are doing what they are doing.
So in terms of you listening to other people it really makes you better informed, and better able to act accordingly – and if you yourself are being listened to, that can be a very profound experience.
There are a number of people who focus their attention to listening and listening skill – One of them is called Nancy Kline – She wrote a book called Time To Think, and in there she points out that being listened to is incredibly rare in our society – and that when people are listened to they become smarter.
The very act of being listened to allows people to express their thoughts in a much fuller, more complete way. And when that happens, they think more deeply and come up with more answers than they otherwise would have done.
The reason that listening can be so difficult though, is that we think much more quickly than we speak – people think more quickly than they speak, with the result that everybody that is listening – or supposedly listening is probably thinking of a dozen things to say in the time that the other person has said one thing.
So it requires an actual conscious effort to stop ourselves from interrupting and to pay attention – Not to our own thoughts, but to what the other person is saying. And when that happens, profound stuff tends to result.
I do an exercise when I’m on courses where I literally ask pairs of people to listen to each other without interruption for two minutes.
And typically you get a group of people who say ‘I have never been listened to, uninterrupted, for two minutes.’ particularly in business.
And they find it quite an amazing and profound experience.
Michael : I like that.
Moving on from listening, if I could ask you to move on to questions.
What’s special about questions compared to other linguistic forms? What do questions do? What impact do they have?
Judy : What hooks your attention?
Michael : …Was that a question?
Judy : That’s the value of a question.
Michael : I understand.
Judy : So what questions do is that they grab the persons attention and direct it to some particular thing.
It’s as if the mind is forced to pay attention to the things that the question has been asked about.
It actually takes an amount of will to not answer the question. Or not to attempt to answer the question. I have a friend that trains local politicians to be interviewed by the media and this is one of the things that he finds that they find hardest – is not to answer the question.
So if what you want to do is to direct a person’s attention to some aspect of their experience, the most effective way is to ask them a question about it.
Michael : I really like that.
OK, so putting together the things that we’ve talked about – if you were to teach me or somebody about listening and questioning to elicit somebodies unconscious metaphors – What would you ask me to do?
Is there a sequence? Is there anything that you would ask me specifically not to do?
Judy : Well there is a sequence – and obviously it’s more than can be taught in a short interview.
The first thing to do would be to start noticing the metaphors that people use. The research has shown that people use between six and nine metaphors per minute in any English conversation.
Now, it does depend on what you count as a metaphor – but one you start paying attention, you really will start to notice two or three metaphors per sentence, at least.
And by noticing metaphors, that then leads into the possibility to ask questions about them. But start by noticing thing like adverts
So if you’re sitting on something like a bus or a train and you can notice the adverts around you – notice how many metaphors you see – because an awful lot of advertising is actually based on metaphor – so a car advert might compare this particular make of car to an amazing, dancing robot depending on the terrain.
So that’s comparing a car to a dancing robot – there’s a metaphor.
Similarly, you can listen to an advert on the radio or on TV, and again you’ll see metaphors all the way through them – start by paying attention to those kinds of metaphors. And then start to think about the metaphors that people use in their ordinary language.
You’ll hear huge ranges of metaphors – so I’m comparing the metaphors here to something that comes in a huge range. So whether this huge range is like a mountain range, or a kitchen range, like a range on a ruler or something like that – you don’t know until you’ve asked me about it.
So the questions that I teach are the questions are the type that you can use to find out the details of some body’s metaphor. So you find out whether it’s a mountain range, or some other kind of range.
Because while we share cultural kinds of metaphors, like universally, everybody generally represents ‘important’ as ‘big’. You don’t get people who say ‘important is small’. It just doesn’t happen in our culture.
But if you start exploring the details of how big – then you discover what people mean by it – and it’s those details that really help you understand what’s going on in the elephant.
And the questions to use are the Clean Language questions. And the most commonly used question is ‘What kind of X?’ (And X is one of the person’s own words for the metaphor. Like, you’d be saying ‘What kind of ‘Range’?’ if you were asking me.)
So that’s one kind of question that you could ask – but there are various ones and various sequences of them. That could get you different information.
In terms of what not to do – and what to ask about – One important thing to remember is that eliciting people’s metaphors, and discovering people’s metaphors will also elicit the emotion that goes with those metaphors – it will deepen it, and strengthen it.
So it’s best for when you’re asking about metaphors for things that people like or that they want more of. So ask about their metaphors for things that they love doing – they love gardening – it’s like a mini-holiday.
‘I love going on a hypnosis course – it’s like my time to regenerate’
If you ask about those kinds of metaphors, you’ll elicit the kind of emotion that goes with that.
However, when you’re first listening out for metaphors, the most obvious metaphors that you’ll hear are the metaphors for the things that you don’t like.
So you’ll hear people say ‘Oh my life is hell.’, ‘My journey to work was grim’ – ‘I’m under the Koch.’ – All of these metaphors that we hear all of the time – the most obvious and frequent metaphors – avoid asking about those because they will tend to deepen and enhance those emotions.
And that can make people very happy very quickly.
And whilst there are sometimes reasons to make people very unhappy very quickly, just playing with exploring metaphors, probably isn’t one of them.
Michael : OK. I like that a lot.
Now, you partially touched on this, but I’m going to ask the question anyway:
Are there any states and beliefs that are relevant to eliciting unconscious metaphors?
Judy : In terms of if you’re the one finding out – I think that the most important state is a state of curiosity. A state of wondering what’s going on with the person that’s in front of me, and how they experience this world.
The curiosity – that compelling nosiness – I regard myself as nosey rather than curious – I just get so interested in how people work – I find it so fascinating that everybody experiences the world in their own unique way – and that it is actually useful to find out how they’re doing it.
And it can be helpful to them as well as to me to find out.
But that curiosity is the strongest and most important one to me.
Michael : So what else do you think is important? This is sort of to bring it to a close – what else do you think is important about this sort of thing?
And is there anything else that you’d like to emphasise as being really important of listening, questioning, eliciting these unconscious metaphors?
Judy : I think it’s a very very big subject. I’m conscious of having been trying to talk really quickly, and trying to cram lots of information into a very short interview.
My metaphor for that is that it’s like the limerick of the man from Japan whose words wouldn’t scan, and he said ‘I know, but I try to get in as many words in the last line as I possibly can.’
Michael : And here is your opportunity again!
Judy : Listening allows people to think more effectively. When you listen you’re doing the other person an immense service – as well as discovering interesting things for yourself as well.
When you listen and ask questions to focus the person’s attention – again you can be doing them, and yourself an immense service.
And when you start to listen, notice, and ask questions about metaphors. It’s like opening a door into a whole new world. A metaphor that tends to get used is that it’s like stepping out the back of the wardrobe into Narnia, as in the old CS Lewis books.
It really is like entering a mystical fairy-tale world where everything is possible – Where suddenly things start to make sense.
So that, I think is what is important about this – That, there is this whole other world behind what people say. And by using these techniques you can find out all about it – as well as being able to influence it, and influence what they do.
And as you can tell, I’m completely on my hobby-horse about it.
Michael : And thank you for that.
Again, to move on – I really appreciate you sharing your experience – And as you’ve shared with us your experience, is there anything else that you’d like to bring to our audience’s attention?
In fact, is there anything that you’d like to plug, that you think might be of interest to us?
Judy : Well as I mentioned, I’m about to launch a home-study course called Intelligent Influence, which explains a lot more about all of this that I’ve been talking about as well as opening up all sorts of references and so forth.
And the details of all of that are on www.IntelligentInfluence.com and if you sign up there you will be able to get hold of a load of free content that will be able to get you started on all of this and also on how you can take your interest further.
Michael : Brilliant. I’ve really enjoyed talking to you.
Judy : It’s been great – Thanks very much.
Back to: NLP Stories and Metaphor