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Cleaning Up an NLP Process


Practice Group Report

Jenny Heath led the meeting. She wanted to have a go at cleaning up an NLP process devised by Gemma Bailey, of People Building. The idea that Gemma presented at NLP South a few months ago was to ‘personify’ a problem (e.g. ‘the monster’) and then have an interviewer (Gemma suggested Jerry Springer) ask questions of the ‘monster’, with the audience offering encouragement. Towards the end of the interview, the ‘monster’ would be asked how things could change, and interviewer would check with the monster’s owner whether this would work. This is a fun way of doing a ‘parts integration’ process, which Gemma has devised for when she works with children.

In our cleaned up version, we worked in threes. We each came up with a metaphor for a problem (by asking, And that’s… like what?), which were not always people. Some of the chosen metaphors were:

  • Dennis the Menace
  • ideas jumping up in the air
  • a dark tunnel
  • a small boy
  • sand running through my fingers and shoelaces tied together
  • a runaway train

Next, the ‘interviewer’ asked Clean Language questions to develop the metaphor, before asking, What would you like to have happen? and What needs to happen? Next, we each drew our metaphors on card and then we discussed our drawings in (new) pairs. Finally, we wrote a message to the problem on the back of the card.

What did we learn as a result of doing this activity?

  • Most people in the room experienced a shift in their perception as the person with the problem, with our newcomers being pleasantly surprised by what they experienced / discovered. One described it as ‘an unbelievable journey’.
  • Nigel had been unable to think of a problem, so chose a ‘random metaphor’ to work with (a large leaky umbrella), which also transformed into a resource metaphor (a hovercraft). We talked about how this ‘random metaphor’ idea could work alongside Clean Language questions to help the ‘real’ one emerge.
  • Jenny noticed that the ‘parts’ which were a big feature of the NLP exercise did not really feature at all in the cleaned up version. Of course, the idea of ‘parts’ is itself a metaphor which would need to be introduced by the interviewer - and that working cleanly prevents this from happening so that was bound to happen. To keep the concept intact would mean being much more directional - e.g. asking the client to think of a time when part of them wanted one thing and part wanted another, and then developing two metaphors - one for each part.
  • In general terms, we agreed that cleaning up a process involves thinking about the questions you want to ask, and your intention for asking them, and then swapping them for clean (or cleaner) versions. For example: “What would you like to have happen?” is cleaner than “What are your goals?” Lisa said she has used this idea with the Core Transformation process, and it worked well.

We spent the last few minutes of the meeting adding to our list of possible topics for next year:

  • Group metaphor process (we’ll do this at our next meeting on January 19th)
  • Emergent Knowledge / Power of Six
  • Use of Lego to build metaphor models
  • Clean answers (a topic at a recent meeting of the Bath / West Country Practice Group)
  • Developing a random metaphor into a resource metaphor (as Nigel did)
  • Use of Clean Cards
  • Clean Feedback model
  • Clean Set Up

A big thank you to Jenny Heath for providing a stimulating topic - and to everyone who came along.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

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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