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As or When?


At a recent practice group, we focussed on the syntax of Clean Language and in particular, the use of ‘as’ and ‘when’.

There are three parts to a Clean Language question. First of all, we acknowledge what the other person has said by repeating some, or all, of their words, prefaced by the word ‘and’. Secondly, we pick out a word, phrase or gesture to direct their attention to and do so by saying, “And when… [client’s word(s)]” or “And as… [client’s word(s)]”. Finally we ask a clean question.

So what determines when to use ‘as’ and when to use ‘when’? Could we formulate some rules or guidelines about when to use each one? That was the question we set ourselves, and in order to explore this question, we split into groups and worked with each other, asking questions and experimenting with ‘as’ and ‘when’ to see which worked best for the client in which context. As we’re much more practised in using ‘when’, most of our attention was on ‘as’. Here’s what we came up with…

When is useful:

  • for ‘stopping time’ and having the client focus on a particular moment in time
  • to encourage the client to narrow their focus (although of course it depends what question you ask it with)

As is useful:

  • for acknowledging, and having the client recognise, the ongoing nature of their experience
  • to encourage the client to open up their focus (with the same caveat as above)
  • when the client is using verbs ending in ‘-ing’
  • with questions such as Then what happens? or As ... what happens to ... ?
  • with metaphors that suggest an ‘ongoingness’ such as ‘flow’ or ‘stretch’

I found that I needed questions with ‘as’ to be more conversational than with ‘when’. If I say “I need to get a box down from the loft” I am comfortable if the facilitator says, “And when box from loft…” but somehow, “And as box from loft…” didn’t work for me. I wanted my facilitator to say, “And as you get a box down from the loft…” And of course, this may be just because I am more used to ‘when’ than ‘as’.

About Marian Way

Marian Way's avatar

A highly skilled facilitator and trainer, Marian, who founded Clean Learning in 2001, has developed and delivered training across the world. She is the author of Clean Approaches for Coaches, co-author, with James Lawley, of Insights in Space and co-author, with Caitlin Walker, of So you want to be… #DramaFree.

Marian is an expert Clean facilitator, an adept modeller, a programme writer and an inspirational trainer. She has a natural ability to model existing structures, find the connections between them and design new ways for people to learn. Marian was a leading innovator within the Weight Watchers organisation, which included developing the “points” strategy, a local idea that went on to become a global innovation. She is a director of both Clean Learning and Training Attention CIC, world leaders in clean applications for corporate, educational and community development. She designs our programmes and workbooks, leads workshops and teaches on all our courses. She’s trained people in Great Britain, Russia, Sweden, Germany, Australia, Japan and the USA. Marian is also a recognised Clean Assessor.

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