The Problem with Metaphors in Business Communication


The Problem with Metaphors in Business Communication

While metaphors come in neatly packaged phrases, the contents can easily be misunderstood or misconstrued. Gregory Hennessy explains why it is necessary to unpack metaphors to choose more specific terminology and make better assessments. 

Metaphors such as “running through walls” are a convenient way to describe a collection of desirable traits. When discussing venture characteristics broadly, they expedite the conversation — avoiding extended side-bar conversations about founder criteria. Thus, they hold a valuable place in the investment selection process. 

However, it is crucial that investors eventually transition from using metaphors to identifying specific founder characteristics they want to assess. If selection is a team process, different interpretations of metaphors across investors, can contribute to ambiguity, confusion, or disagreement in founder evaluations. Moreover, individual investors may even operationalize a metaphor differently — across ventures or even over time if the investment decision is lengthy. Therefore, failure to establish clear criteria can introduce bias (as described in a previous article) and result in inconsistent and potentially flawed evaluations of founders.

Unpacking Bundled Sets of Criteria

Better and more consistent founder assessments can be made by unpacking the metaphors (or, for that matter, any other complex construct) you are using to evaluate them. The metaphor of “running through walls” typically implies certain fundamental psychological traits that contribute to an individual’s success or ability to overcome obstacles. While these traits can vary from person to person, here are some fundamental psychological traits that might be associated with the metaphor:

Perseverance is the ability to persist in the face of challenges, setbacks, or obstacles while maintaining effort and commitment toward achieving a goal. It involves a combination of resilience, determination, and tenacity.

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from setbacks, failures, or disappointments. Resilient individuals often possess a positive mindset, adaptability, and the ability to learn from failures and keep moving forward.


Key points include:

  • Precise identification
  • Different interpretations of metaphors
  • The importance of specificity


Read the full article, Unpacking Metaphors for Better Assessments, on LinkedIn.