me kay cooke

Percy Manages Metaphor

Percy explained that he had been getting angry with people at work.

As manager of a team, he needed his people to follow instruction and deliver results. The trigger to his getting angry was people not doing what he had asked of them which led to increasing frustration, which then led to anger. Underpinning his anger was something of high value to him – feeling understood.

We discovered this through a coaching exercise to elicit his ‘core values’ which are very personal feelings, so important to us deep down, they drive our behaviours. We all hold different core values (although there are many similar ones) and of course our priorities continually shift and change depending on contexts.


Percy’s list of core values included:


  • feeling understood
  • feeling connected to important people in his life
  • feelings of responsibility and trust that he got from work


These are important drivers of personal motivation.


Unfortunately, when Percy didn’t get the results from his staff that he wanted/needed/anticipated, it agitated something of great importance to him i.e. feeling understood. And when he didn’t feel understood, he sub-consciously felt like something important had been taken away from him, triggering a stress response.


Until our session, Percy’s strategy for dealing with feelings of frustration (which turned to anger), had been to judge/blame the incompetence of others. We discussed the limitations of that strategy as an inefficient management tool and went on to develop a new strategy for getting staff to understand him better and therefore help them deliver the results he asked for.


We worked through a recent example of asking a member of staff to tidy up the staff room. He had said “please can you tidy up the staff room?” the staff member had said “yes”. Percy returned the next day to a room that to him, looked no different. He was furious.





TELL THEIR BRAIN WHAT YOU WANT e.g. “I want you to tidy up the staff room.” Avoid the closed question ‘can you’ and rather than say ‘please’, say ‘thank you’ (this tells their brain it’s a non negotiable task).


ASK YOURSELF IF WHAT YOU ARE ASKING THEM TO DO IS ENTIRELY WITHIN YOUR CONTROL and when the answer is no (since it involves someone else) – switch into negotiation and motivation skills e.g. remember that people are motivated by things of value and so If you want to motivate them – attach the task (tidy the room) to something of value to them e.g. money (“our bonus might depend on impressing the auditor who visits tomorrow and a tidy staff room will help impress”).


DO THEY HAVE THE RESOURCES THEY NEED to complete the task? Do they know where to find them? Remember to include the resource of time and get agreement on the timeframe e.g. “can we agree that you have this done by 2pm?”


CAN YOU IMAGINE THE SUCCESSFUL OUTCOME? Yes? Now you have to help them to imagine and understand the pictures and sounds inside your imagination! Get specific – help them to see/hear/feel/smell/taste the outcome you desire – clarify their understanding. Or even provide a list of actions you are thinking about. Avoid ambiguity.


ECOLOGY – could you, they or anyone else be harmed by the goal? If the answer is ‘no’ then you’re all good to go!


Metaphor for Percy – Life is like a game of chess!

When you are the queen on a chess board you get to be creative, flexible and always find a way to move around the game. A good manager could be considered majestic. A poor manager on the other hand, is like a pawn; always making the same moves with limited results.


Managing this metaphor enabled Percy to transform old frustrations into new opportunities to be a more influential manager, thus getting and giving more of the thing he valued – understanding.


NB Percy’s Metaphor is based on one of essential epistemological presuppositions of NLP The Law of Requisite Variety which states that the part of the system (system’s theory) with the most flexibility will be the catalytic element within the system – like the queen in a game of chess.


queen is most flexible player
game of chess is a metaphor for life

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