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Metaphors for Navigating Negotiations

Negotiation Journal, Vol. 21, No. 3, pp. 343-364, July 2005

Posted: 23 May 2005  

Thomas H. Smith



A metaphor operates covertly to gain tacit agreement on direction, means and ends without full description or rationale. It constrains a discussion, focusing on certain concerns while masking others. Becoming consciously aware of the metaphors commonly used during negotiation offers valuable insights into meanings not overtly discussed. This awareness helps reveal intentions and implicit evaluations while also illuminating non-obvious areas for mutual gain. It suggests ways to reinforce rapport, persevere in negotiating, reflect and query usefully, and to explore and propose different options. Drawing on the large body of applied metaphor research, including conceptual metaphor theory, several structural properties of metaphor are explained. Their usefulness in detecting metaphors, elaborating how metaphors map to issues being discussed, and unpacking meaning is illustrated using excerpts from a negotiation case transcript. This article argues that the sooner a negotiator becomes conscious of such metaphors, the more options become available for intelligent exploration.

Keywords: Negotiation, metaphor, cognition, linguistics, conceptual metaphor

Suggested Citation

Smith, Thomas H., Metaphors for Navigating Negotiations. Negotiation Journal, Vol. 21, No. 3, pp. 343-364, July 2005. Available at SSRN:

Thomas H. Smith (Contact Author)

Independent ( email )

Boulder, CO 80304
United States

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