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What is Clean Language?

Clean Language is a simple set of questions developed by counselling psychologist David Grove. These questions are used with a person’s own words to direct their attention to some aspect of their own experience. Asking these questions in the right context often results in an interesting new insight or the recognition of some new possibility. And if that new possibility is then questioned using Clean Language, the result can be quite profound. Clean questions invite people to consider their experience from different perspectives and they are often surprised by their own capacity to generate new, powerful and useful ideas about their own experience. They are used in many different fields, including coaching, therapy, business, health and education.

David found it was beneficial to focus attention on the metaphors people use naturally to describe their experience. Metaphors generally operate at an unconscious level and by paying attention to them, people can gain access to a deeper and embodied level of experience: the structure of their thinking; the patterns that run their lives; their truth.

Asking clean questions, using the client’s own words and exploring metaphors are just a few of the things a clean facilitator can do to encourage the conditions for sustainable change.

Here’s a short example from the start of a Clean Language session.

Coach 1: And what would you like to have happen?

Client 1: To secure some bigger contracts, some bread and butter work. To get some foundations in place, get some money in, get some security, some income. I’d like the comfort of some money coming in regularly, some security.

Coach 2: And bigger contracts and bread and butter work. And foundations in place, money, and security and income and money coming in regularly. And when ‘security’, is there anything else about security?

Client 2: There’s respect as well. Something about being successful would give me respect.

Coach 3: And something about being successful would give you respect. And what kind of respect is that respect?

Client 3: The respect of my two boys. They are 22 and 12. They look at me as a role model. It’s family respect. An inner feeling that I have done the right thing.

Coach 4: And security and the respect of your two boys and an inner feeling you have done the right thing. And when an inner feeling that I have done the right thing, whereabouts is that inner feeling?

Client 4: It’s inside. In my core (gestures from throat downwards).

Coach 5: And inside, in your core (indicates the space where the client has just gestured). And when core, what kind of core is that?

Client 5: It’s like a tube, a metal tube, a shiny metal tube.

Coach 6: And a shiny metal tube, and is there anything else about that tube?

Client 6: It’s hollow and it’s shiny. It’s silver.

Coach 7: And hollow, and shiny metal and a silver tube, and is there anything else about that tube?

Client 7: It’s smooth and clean and new. It’s solid.

Coach 8: And when it’s solid, is there anything else about solid?

Client 8: It’s a foundation that keeps me upright. There’s a stillness of being that makes you do the right things. That’s strange! I thought you had to do the right things first, but it’s the other way around. Get the upright bit, then do.

Coach 9: And get the upright bit and then do. And do the right things. And what kind of things are those right things?

Client 9: Look after myself. Exercise. Be well. Keep the flat clean and the car clean. No rubbish. A discipline about things around the edges. Get up early, do the domestic things. Don’t ignore them. Keep that tube clean and shiny.

Notice that of the nine questions asked,

  • Four were “Is there anything else about… ?”
  • Three were “What kind of ... is that ...?”
  • One was “What would you like to have happen?”
  • One was “Whereabouts is…?”

These are some of the most frequently used, and important, questions in Clean Language, and yet they are so simple. It is putting them together with the client’s own words that makes them so powerful.

Notice too that the client now has more understanding about the kind of respect he wants and a symbolic description of “the inner feeling I have done the right thing”. He is also aware that the inner feeling comes first, then doing the right things - the opposite to what he had imagined. By the end of the session, the client had a complete action plan and stated that:

I now have faith and trust that this will happen. I thought I had it before, when I came in, but it is completely different now. It is real.

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