Monday, August 19, 2013

Facilitate … with a new perspective from a vegetarian

“Put meat on the bones”.  While facilitating a workshop, I used this old saying as a metaphor to describe the point in the discussion that we had reached.  We had decided about an important outcome and strategy, and our next step was to determine the details.  “Put meat on the bones” is a metaphor for adding substance or detail to an idea; to fill out a plan.  The saying likens the idea to a skeleton or bones and the need to add the meat or flesh on the skeleton by adding the details.

 At the next break in the workshop, a participant told me privately that she was a vegetarian and was offended by the saying.  She felt it implied that meat was important and necessary; a belief she did not share.  I thanked her for her courage and willingness to share her opinion with me and then asked her to help me think of a different metaphor that would convey a similar powerful image and, to the best of our knowledge, not offend anyone.  We both struggled with a comparative image and finally settled on several possibilities:

 Add the finishing touches
Put the drywall on the house frame
Accessorize an outfit

 I learned that I need to re-think the casual use of sayings in workshops.  Yes, the reaction of the vegetarian might be a case of political correctness or over-sensitivity; yet, I am glad for the wake-up call to remember to carefully choose my words.

 My facilitation blog questions are:  What sayings, metaphors, and analogies do you regularly use?  How might they perceived by someone else?


  1. Very insightful blog Barb!

    Instead of using "Put meat on the bones" I realized I'm using the term "Let's drill a little deeper." Hopefully that's not offensive?

    However I've also used the expression "boots on the ground" when I'm trying to explain the value of practical experience. Someone told me she didn't like that term because it implied military and being aggressive. I had never thought of it that way.

    1. Hi Brenda, great comments. I don't think "drill a little deeper" is offensive, but hey, my perspective might be different! I think it gives a big shout out to miners, oil riggers, fence post diggers!
      "Boots on the ground" as aggressive? Hmmm. Definitely a different perspective since I think it implies strong and immediate action. However, I can understand the military interpretation. I occasionally use Edward de Bono's technique of Six Action Shoes with success in designing and implementing action steps. I wonder how others perceive them?

  2. I think people are just far too sensitive.