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Clean Language Interviewing


All good interviewers ask fine questions to gather important information for a purpose. And when Interviewers have Clean Language within their tool kit, the extra impact is two fold:

  • They can actively demonstrate that all the information they gather is sourced in the experience of the interviewee. They do this by asking only classically clean and contextually clean questions.
  • They can build, during the interview, a model of the interviewee's data and move in an agile manner, to different parts of the interview and to inquire more deeply into interesting areas.

These two abilities allow the interviewer to get a clear sense of how things are from someone else's perspective, which in turn can have a fantastic impact on:

  • Project scoping
  • Critical incident interviewing
  • Safeguarding
  • Research
  • Focus groups
  • Business interviewing of teams prior to organisational change
  • Recruitment

One of the areas for development over the last year was how to assess Clean Language Interviewing: What do we mean when we say that someone has demonstrated that they can interview someone cleanly, and effectively for a specific purpose? James Lawley, Marian Way and I - with support from our Russian partners, Svetlana Shapovaliants and Alyona Sylvestrova - read blind interviews, rated them and generally wrestled with them until we could agree what constituted a basic skill or an advanced skill level or, of course, an unclean or ineffective interview. This process was a lot more complex than I'd expected but it became clear that we were closely aligned and I have to say, I'm much clearer myself now on when I want to be classically clean and when to be contextually clean. I'm able to decide, early on in a research process, whether I am gathering information to my predetermined questions or whether I am going in with a simple starting question and building only on their answers, grounded theory style.

Now that we have this assessement process and have assessed a small group of Clean Language Interviewers, we are ready to offer our first basic Clean Interviewing course, which includes an opportunities for formal assessment. If you'd like to increase your interviewing ability and work towards a certification in Clean Language Interviewing you can book your place here - or do contact me if you have any questions about the course. 

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About Caitlin Walker

Caitlin Walker's avatar

Caitlin is a director of Clean Learning and the developer of Systemic Modelling™. She is the author of From Contempt to Curiosity, which details many of the innovative and transformational projects she’s led across our community from the most dispossessed to leading think tanks.

Caitlin graduated in Linguistics at the School of Oriental and African Studies and completed four years post graduate research in ‘Strategies for Lexical access’ including fieldwork in Ghana. She began modelling teaching and learning while at SOAS, volunteering intermediary classes to translate information presented at lectures into different learning styles for the students. At the same time she was a youth worker in Kings Cross bringing these leading edge tools to groups of young people.

She went on to set up literacy clubs in King’s Cross, where children could come to learn to spell. From 1996 – 1999 Caitlin was an Education tutor with the Dalston Youth Project, a Home Office run experiment to offer accelerated learning to at-risk students, alongside mentoring, to keep them in school. She ran these sessions as NLP modelling workshops and achieved excellent results with the students. The project won a Crime Prevention and Community Safety award for Great Britain. In 1999 she was offered the opportunity to develop her work in a business context and she created the ground breaking metaphors@work process. These techniques are available on the Creative Management section of the Open University MBA program and on a 10 week modular course on Practical Thinking. She has co-designed and she co-delivers a Masters Level module in Coaching and Mentoring at Liverpool John Moores University.

She has since developed her modelling skills from small scale group development to whole scale organisational culture change programmes. She designs and delivers tailor made learning and development programs for addressing diversity, conflict, leadership, managing mergers and creating ‘learning organisations’.

Caitlin practices in a variety of contexts. Clients include: Jeyes Group, Liverpool John Moores University, Pharmacia, Hull City Council, South Yorkshire Police Service, Bexley Care Trust, New Information Paradigms, Work Directions UK, Crime Concern, BT, Police National Search Centre, Celerent Consultancy, Carbon Partners, Ealing LEA, and Working Links. She has trained a number of in-house trainers to carry on and develop the work without creating dependency on her expertise. She has systematically tested and developed her ideas in challenging arenas and her robust products have become sought after learning aids.

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