Should I tell my Client I am ‘doing Clean Language’ with them?

This question was the subject of a discussion at a recent training. Most of my clients know I will be using Clean Language with them - the reason they come to me is because they are particularly interested in receiving this kind of facilitation. But if you are working in the corporate world as a marketing expert or a project manager, or if you are just introducing Clean Language into your coaching practice - should you tell your clients that you are using this tool?

The question arises because when we start questioning people in this way, they start to access different kinds of information, sometimes at quite a deep level quite quickly. We always recommend that you get permission to ask people these kinds of questions, by simply asking "Would you like me to ask you a few questions to help you clarify that?" although whether you want to frame the questions as 'Clean Language' will depend on the context.

With this question in mind, Lizz Clarke, Managing Director of LCM Ltd, a marketing agency based in Fareham, decided to run an experiment at work. She chaired an internal meeting, during which she limited her contributions to Clean questions, except when her particular knowledge was needed, when she went into ‘input’ mode. She felt she was getting far stronger contributions from her team and no one seemed to notice that she was doing anything different.

Towards the end of the meeting, she asked if it was OK to take the opportunity to practice some Clean Language questions with them - they knew she was learning the skill... They said yes, but after only two or three questions one of them said the questions were odd and they couldn't answer them!

Later the same day, a potential client came in, and Lizz interviewed him 'cleanly' - with a couple of staff members present. She says that the information she got from the client was particularly rich. Afterwards she mentioned to her staff that she'd been using Clean Language; again they hadn't noticed.

So it seems that if you prime people that something different is about to happen, they become alert and see the questions as a bit strange, whereas if you simply slip them into a conversation, they are just viewed as everyday questions (which they are, of course).

It may also pay to look at the phraseology you use when you ask someone for a practice opportunity. I prefer 'practice with' to 'practice on' and I would advise against asking someone if they can be your guinea pig, or, even worse, victim!

Incidentally, towards the end of Lizz's day of experiments she noticed that one of her members of staff was asking many more questions than they normally did when discussing a project with a client. They weren't necessarily clean questions, but it seems as if some good modelling had been going on during the day!

Tags: clean language

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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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