The metaphors we use when we describe things can tell us a lot about what we really think and feel. I was reflecting on this the other day as I was preparing for a presentation. Most all of my work centers around the workplace and the humans that interact within it. And I use a lot of metaphors.
So, when I think about it, here’s the metaphors I either have or do most commonly use to describe elements of work and the workplace.
- Dating and marriage. It’s not uncommon to hear me describe the relationship between and employee and employer using an example from our romantic lives. The pursuit of one another, the ups and downs of the relationship. Insight: I see work as relational–it happens between and through people.
- The Zoo. Several times in my career, I described the office in which I was positioned as being like a cage at the zoo. I sat there, doing what I do, as people walked by looking in and observing me as if I was a form of wildlife. Insight: I am not a fan of being boxed into an office or cubicle. I am apparently in favor of “free-range” employees.
- Chess. As a student of influence and power, it has always helped me to think of the workplace as a game of chess where there are players of differing power positioning in an attempt to either survive or conquer. Insight: When you view office politics like a game and understand it for what it is, life inside the machine can be a lot more fun and you can be far more successful.
- Nation-state. When talking about culture, I will often use the US versus the states as an example. There is clearly and overarching culture of what it means to be an American. But, there are unique sub-cultures that exist at the state level (Nebraska has a different culture than Vermont, but we are share common values that make us Americans). Insight: I think that culture exists on multiple levels and it’s important that it be defined and understood on multiple levels. There should be a uniting company culture that provides the fabric for the company to create upon. But departments, divisions, locations and the like should be able to expand upon that culture to make it work for them.