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Directing Attention


Practice Group Report

Our topic this month was “Directing Attention”. Of course, every Clean Language session is an exercise in directing attention. That’s what it’s all about – every question is designed to have someone pay attention to some aspect of their experience and to find out more about it. And all of this is, of course, in service of the client’s desired outcome. When we start a session with “What would you like to have happen?” we are inviting a person to consider their desired outcome and when we use the PRO model we are seeking to keep their attention on that outcome. And with every question we are directing attention to the words, metaphors, gestures and other nonverbal elements of a person’s communication – aspects that are generally out of awareness.

So the activity was designed to direct our own attention to the idea of directing – and maintaining - attention. We started by reviewing one of the main tools we have for directing attention: the syntax of the questions themselves. When we use the full 3-part syntax we are performing three functions: starting with “And…” and repeating some or all of a person’s words means we acknowledging what they said, so they feel heard; using “And when…” we direct their attention to some part of what they have said; and by choosing just one or two words for them to consider with a clean question, we are focussing their attention still further.

We can magnify the effect that this focussing of attention has on a person’s system by staying with a particular aspect of someone’s experience for several questions. For example, if someone says they want to be able to think more clearly and their metaphor for that is a clear screen, asking several questions about that metaphor will mean it is really well defined: the clear screen in question turned out to be a high-definition, focussed screen with a thin black outline positioned about a foot in front of the client. Directing the client’s attention to one metaphor over several questions means allows it to develop into a richer, more memorable - and therefore more useful - metaphor.

Working in threes – with a client, a facilitator and a coach – we set out to practice directing and maintaining our clients’ attention on their metaphors for a bit longer than usual, to see what effect that would have. The coach had cards with printed reminders (such as: use the three-part syntax; ask about more metaphorical expressions; if you think there is no more information to be had, ask “is there anything else?” again), which they could hand the facilitator at any time.

Feedback from the session was that the cards were a bit of a distraction – but the idea of keeping someone’s attention on something for longer than usual was a useful one and a nice stretch for the facilitators.

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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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