9 Reasons to Learn and Use Clean Space

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

Clean Space was devised by David Grove to enable people to learn about their inner worlds by creating networks of physical spaces that they mark (with Post-its) and move around and explore. If you’re a coach, facilitator or therapist, learning Clean Space and adding this process to your toolbox (skip to the end of this post to find out how) can have important benefits for you and your clients.

It can help you to:

1. Know why space is vital to all that we do

 “Space plays a role in all our behaviour. We live in it, move through it, explore it, defend it.” (John O’Keefe)

When you learn Clean Space, you can’t help but learn more about the importance of space in general – including position, height, direction, angles, spatial relationships and the environment – as well as that interplay between inner and outer space. Space is fundamental to our perception and having a heightened awareness of it can make a difference in all kinds of situations. Consider how many coaching topics are space-related, either directly (e.g. decluttering, deciding whether to move home, getting organised) or metaphorically (e.g. setting out on a new path, exploring different options, getting out of a comfort-zone).

“I learned how important space - and height - are for getting new perspectives on problems, and how even the simplest of questions can be very effective in bringing about change. I will be using Clean Space in my coaching and HR work and I will be putting more thought into where I hold meetings and where people sit in those meetings.” (Gill Rudge, participant on a Clean Space training)

2. Help your clients gain multiple perspectives on their topic

Clean Space is a way for a client to take the contents of their mind on a particular topic – and put their thoughts out where they can see them. The various elements get separated out and physicalised when the client stands in the different spaces and finds out what they know there. And then by then viewing the other spaces from where they are, they can gain multiple perspectives on their topic, which in turn can lead to new insights and ideas.

“It’s blown me away a little bit. When I moved… the change, the physicality of standing there, sitting here… it was a completely multi-faceted view of my topic.” (Participant on a Clean Space workshop after taking part in a mini-version of Clean Space)

3. Let go of trying to make things happen and let space be your co-facilitator

When a client starts to create a network of spaces, it usually only takes a few minutes for that network to become psychoactive – i.e. the physical spaces take on extra meaning for them. They find a space under a table and when they crouch under there they realise they are hiding from their boss. Or they put their ‘goal’ Post-it on the other side of a frosted glass panel and then realise that although they can see it, it’s not clear. The realisations a client gets by standing in a corner and comparing that to when they are looking out of a window can be huge and, in many ways, it’s the space that is doing the facilitation or coaching – not you. Instead of spending your time puzzling about the client’s content, you can focus on the minimal actions you will need to take to keep the process going.

4. Facilitate all kinds of topics using an easy-to-learn process

The essential routines of Clean Space fit inside a folded A5 card (which you can buy here). There’s not much to remember, and learning it is easy because the process is  iterative, and you’ll be asking the same questions over and over again. You will need to understand a few clean principles, which are mostly about staying out of the way and doing less, but once you have these and the questions under your belt, you will be able to facilitate all kinds of topics using this process.

5. Create bespoke processes for your clients

The emergent nature of the Clean Space process means that even if you always stick to the basic method, every client will end up going through their own personalised process.

But what if you don’t have much space, or much time? Or an important theme comes up halfway through a coaching session?

Once you know how Clean Space works, and have tried it a few times, you can use the principles behind it to get creative with the process.

For example, you can:

  • Spatialise an existing coaching model, such as the GROW Model. (Get your client to find spaces for Goal, Reality, Options and Way Forward and ask them Clean Space questions in each space.)
  • Add Clean Space questions into other spatial models, such as Robert Dilts’ SCORE model (Symptom, Cause, Outcome, Resources, Effects)
  • Use different things, such as photographs, objects or self-created sculptures to mark the spaces.

6. Facilitate couples or groups as well as individuals

Take your process-design skills one step further and create a Clean Space process designed for the particular group you want to facilitate. Tailor it to the kind and size of group, the topic and purpose of the session and how much time and space is available.

“I used Clean Space to facilitate some Head Teachers - and they loved it! It enabled them to dig deeper into why some aspects of teaching practice were successful and revealed what was holding some teachers back from progressing further. Clean Space also gave them several insights into how space was used effectively (or not) in the classroom.” (Jackie Arnold)

7. Help your clients – whether individuals or groups - to see the whole picture

While Clean Space starts by helping people to separate out their thinking, it culminates in a network of spaces – and clients will start to see links and patterns across those spaces. They will be able to find out how the spaces impact one another and once they see these relationships, their thinking – even if it’s been ‘stuck’ for ages – often changes. It’s common for clients to spontaneously start changing things around as they learn more and more about their topic, as they begin to see the whole picture. And the new structure that emerges can go with them after the session: Clean Space is a vehicle for deep transformational change.

“Clean Language and Clean Space are quickest and most effective ways of helping to gain clarity of thought that I have come across in 30 years of marketing.” (Lizz Clarke, Managing Director of LCM)

8. Pay attention to different kinds of information

Being effective as a Clean Space facilitator is about not doing - not commenting on the client’s content, not trying to solve the client’s problem and not trying to make something happen. Less is more.

You don’t even need to know what the client’s topic is for Clean Space to work effectively.

This way of facilitating frees you to pay attention to the structure of the network that’s forming and how the client is responding to it, enabling your client to pay full attention to their own world, explore it in detail, gain new insights and draw their own conclusions.

“I was keen to experience Clean Space and I wasn't at all disappointed as my 'clean space landscape' quickly became psychoactive under Phil's expertly minimal guidance. The questions, which can seem illogical when taken out of context, make perfect sense when you are focusing on an issue which you care about. And it is tremendously valuing to have someone pay exquisite attention to what you say and how you say it.” (Jenny Heath, after experiencing Clean Space for the first time as a client)

9. Get your own personal development

As well as learning about your own ‘stuff’ in the role of client, you will also gain personal development by learning to pay attention to your clients and their spaces in a different kind of way. You will learn how people structure their experience, and about the importance of space. You will begin to notice more spatial metaphors. You will find out how to keep your ideas and opinions to yourself, how to direct attention using your voice – and all kinds of other things which can expand your worldview and become important skills.


How you can learn Clean Space


Tags: marian way, david grove, james lawley, clean space, coaching, insights in space, personal development, group facilitation

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About the author

Marian Way

Company Director & Trainer, Portchester, Fareham
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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