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  • Writer's pictureBarbara J. Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Is your communication CLEAR? Yes. When we employ analogies and metaphors.

photo of a heart of gold

Being able to visualize a message enhances understanding and makes communication clearer. In addition to visual aids, analogies and metaphors are literary devices employed by communicators that prompt audiences to imagine visual images without needing a visual aid.


Analogies and metaphors effectively and efficiently explain a concept or idea by creating a vivid image, which evokes emotion and enhances understanding and memory. They work using fewer words or explanations. Many are well-known idioms or sayings.


The E in CLEAR stands for Employ Analogies and Metaphors. This post will describe the what and the how of analogies and metaphors for clear communication.


What are analogies and metaphors?

Analogies and metaphors are creative phrases employed to make a point more meaningful and memorable. They create a vivid picture in the mind’s eye using something familiar to the audience.


Analogies compare one thing, such as a concept or an idea, with another well-known item that seems quite different and describes how they are the same. Analogies often contain the words “is like” or “is the same as.”


A well-known analogy by author E. B. White uses the image of dissecting a frog to describe how explaining a joke ruins it: “Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better, but the frog dies in the process.”


A metaphor labels one thing as something else evoking imagery and feeling. A metaphor evokes a depth of feeling better than adjectives alone. For example, to say someone has a heart of gold, as pictured in the photo above, means they are exceptionally compassionate and generous. One of the most famous metaphors comes from William Shakespeare: “All the world’s a stage…”


Other common metaphors include:

She is an open book = She has nothing to hide.

You are splitting hairs = You are paying too much attention to nit-picky details.

I could eat a horse = I am ravenously hungry.


One type of metaphor is a simile, such as these using food to illustrate a similarity:

____ is easy as pie.

____ is flat as a pancake.

Life is like a box of chocolates.

Similies generally include the words as or like.


Metaphors are considered figures of speech and analogies are considered logical arguments. Both can create clearer communication. Don’t get hung up on which one is which. Both are effective.


How can we employ analogies and metaphors to create clearer communication?

Consider something you communicate about that can be difficult for an audience to grasp or agree with. Is a visual aid the best device to use to make it clearer? Possibly.


However, you may be able to have the audience create a vivid image with an analogy or metaphor just as well or better. The image created becomes a visual aid the audience can keep.


Begin by brainstorming ideas for ways to illustrate your point with words that create an image in the mind’s eye. Is the image familiar to your audience? Is it something that evokes an emotion and will motivate the action you desire?


Here’s an example I’ve used in my work. During my years of counseling pregnant women in the Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC, I often used the following analogy with participants who were unfamiliar and uncertain about breastfeeding to engage in a discussion to think about it in a realistic yet positive way.


Learning how to breastfeed is like learning how to drive.

Imagine discussing this analogy using the discussion described below and pausing occasionally to let it sink in and prompting the participant to respond with how it applies to them.


Think about something you were motivated to learn – maybe it was how to swim, or, ride a bike, or drive a car... When you were just starting out it felt so uncomfortable, probably even scary.


But you persevered and kept trying... You allowed someone who knew how to do it to show you tips and tricks... You practiced. You didn’t give up...


Once you learned, it felt natural, and you didn’t even have to think about how to do it. We call that muscle memory when something that requires our mind and body to work together becomes easy and effortless with practice...


Both you and your baby need to learn to breastfeed; but with a little patience, you can be pros. Remind yourself that learning how to breastfeed is like learning how to __________. (drive, swim, ride a bike, dance, play an instrument, etc…)


This analogy took something foreign – breastfeeding – and made it familiar. It made something hard to grasp easy and understandable. What analogy or metaphor can you employ?


Is your communication CLEAR? Yes. When we...


When communicating, whether one-on-one such as in a counseling encounter, or when exchanging ideas and information with large or small audiences, putting the principles in the CLEAR acronym into practice promotes effective communication. In our next post, we will explore what the A in CLEAR stands for - the importance of active listening.


What sunshine is to flowers, smiles are to humanity. These are but trifles, to be sure; but scattered along life's pathway, the good they do is inconceivable.” ~ Joseph Addison


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