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Scope and Category


Practice Group Report

We started with a ‘Clean Set Up’, asking each other what we would like the evening to be like, what we’d need to be like and what support we needed (with clean questions in between). Individual answers varied, of course, but some common themes emerged, to do with connecting back with Clean Language, and the environment being easy-going, relaxed and fun.

Our topic was ‘Scope and Category’. This is the subject of a book called Six Blind Elephants by Steve Andreas, where ‘scope’ relates to how much sensory-based experience a person is paying attention to and ‘category’ is defined as a collection of experiences. Andreas also categorises the Clean Language questions according to whether they direct a person’s attention to expanding the scope of what they are aware of or to categorising their experience. He says that both types of question are useful:

“Expanding scope always results in more information that can be useful in solving problems. Asking the client to recategorize their experience is also useful, because that associates it with the other examples in the new category.”

During the evening, we experimented with directing our attention to different scopes, by thinking about experiences in different locations and at different times, and by narrowing and expanding the scope of our attention. Andreas talks about ‘nested’ scopes (where one experience is part of another experience), different scopes, and overlapping scopes (e.g. if you become aware of what is happening right now and then shift your attention slightly to the right, it’s likely that there’ll be some overlap between the two experiences).

These distinctions reminded me of four of the ‘Six Approaches’ listed in Metaphors in Mind:

  • Concentrating Attention: zooming in to a particular aspect of experience to find out more about it
  • Attending to Wholes: accumulating different perceptions, so you are aware of them at the same time, and becoming aware of patterns across the whole
  • Broadening Attention: zooming out, or looking at something from a different perspective
  • Lengthening Attention: going forward and back in time to extend the time frame you are paying attention to

Next, we did an exercise from Six Blind Elephants (page 128) which involves thinking about something we enjoy and being asked (repeatedly) what we like about it and what is important about it. According to Andreas, when we ask “What do you like about X?” we are more likely to get sensory based information and when we ask “What is important to you about X?” we are more likely to get a response that indicates a more general category of experience, which takes attention away from the details of the experience itself.

In practice, we found this to be true for some of the examples that came up, but not for all. Some people gave ‘category’ information when asked about what they liked, and vice versa. For example, when one person was asked what it is they like about ‘going on courses’ they said, “Learning, change and growth.” And when another was asked what is important about bush walking, one of his responses was “I see birds, - big eagles and cockatoos.” As with Clean Language questions, although a question may be designed to direct a person’s attention to a particular aspect of / kind of experience, the person may not respond in the way we predict. Being aware of the difference between scope and category, though, can help us to help someone expand the scope of their attention.

In our final activity, we did some straightforward Clean Language practice, with observers noticing which questions seemed to elicit ‘scope’ and which ‘category’. This was obviously a small sample, but it seemed that most questions could elicit either kind of response – except ‘where’ and ‘whereabouts’ which are more likely to put attention on scope.

As usual, we found out what everyone had learned as a result of being at the group:

  • A few people said they were surprised by the power of repetition in the second exercise. One person remarked, “There was a lot more depth to things I thought I knew.”
  • The need to keep practising was highlighted
  • We also agreed that it is important to know whether a person is talking about the scope of an experience or categorising it, and to be able to construct questions to direct their attention to an expanded scope.

We also noted that we had all had the kind of evening we’d wished for during the Clean Set Up. 😊

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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