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Trust Factors in Clean Language Coaching


Trust is an important aspect of any kind of coaching. The ICF lists 'cultivating trust and safety' as one of the core competencies of coaching and defines this as (1) partnering with the client to create a safe, supportive environment that allows the client to share freely and (2) maintaining a relationship of mutual respect and trust. And clean coaching is a particular type of coaching, so how does trust work within a clean coaching session?

In this video, you will see me talking with Caitlin about three kinds of trust that you need to have as a clean coach:

  • Trust that your client has all the resources, creativity and wisdom that they need within them to solve their problems, generate new ways of thinking and make changes for the better. This is fundamental to clean coaching; since you are not going to give them ideas, tell them what to do or share our thinking with them, you need to trust that they have some ideas, insights or answers for themselves.
  • Trust that simply asking clean questions and modelling their metaphors (and NOT trying to change anything) will help the client to uncover new aspects of their landscape that will make a difference in their life. When you ask questions about the words a client uses, you are inviting them to think new thoughts. David Grove believed that the words people use to describe their experiences are not 'accidental' choices but come from somewhere deep in the client's system, in their history, in their unconscious. By inviting them to consider these words - and their gestures - you can help a client to uncover the structure of their own thinking, which in turn gives their system a chance to update in a way that is congruent for them. Once you can trust this will happen, then it becomes clear that your job is to make your own model of the client's model so that you can ask questions that are a good fit with what's happening for the client. This often also involves being OK with not knowing what's going on, but asking questions anyway.
  • Trust in your own skills as a coach, including your ability to recognise metaphors, ask clean questions of them, model the landscape and keep your own ideas to yourself. This doesn't mean that you won't have ideas - but that your ideas will inform your questions rather than being stated or being embedded in those questions. 

We believe that these three aspects of trust together create the supportive relationship and the ability for the client to share freely that the ICF is promoting - i.e. where the client can trust you as their coach. And, because you are only asking about the client's own words and you're not adding in your own ideas, the client will begin to develop a trust in themselves, that they can make new discoveries and change in the way they want to.

Just as it takes time to build up trust in any relationship between two people, so it takes time to build up trust in these different aspects of clean coaching. I mentor a lot of coaches and it will often be one of these aspects that's getting in the way of them doing their best work. A new coach may imagine a client won't be able to answer the question, "Where is...?" so then they don't ask this question and the whole session is carried out at a more surface level; the structure of the client's mental models are not as clear as they could be. And while you will come across a few clients who have an aversion to this question, mostly it's that the coach thinks it's an odd question to ask, so they don't trust it, or that the person will be able to answer it.

In the video, we talk about how people on our trainings often ask how they can adapt the process for particular people (managers won't be able to do this, my students don't think like that, etc. etc.) - and it is true that coaching someone who is not in your training cohort can initially be a bit different. After all, everyone in the training group has heard all the same explanations and done all the same activities; they know what is expected of them as clients - while those outside the training group don't know the ropes. There are some additional nuances that come into play as you start working with a wider range of people. What are the signs that someone is ready to respond to a 'whereabouts' question? What if a client talks 'too much'? What if they only speak about their problems? Last week I spoke with one coach who's realising they need to take make more considered decisions about where to direct a client's attention; another who wants to learn how to pick out outcomes more easily; one who realises that her questions often 'give away' what she is thinking (i.e. when she's not trusting herself, or not trusting the client); and another who is learning to trust his own signals that something in the client's landscape not adding 'adding up' means it's a good idea to ask about it (rather than ignore it).

When we are training people to work one-to-one using Clean Language, it's generally a 2-stage process, which starts with learning the basic skills, learning to trust the process etc. and then moves on to more nuanced work, where each coach has different challenges to work with. Those starting out with our Clean Language: Core Skills training get to grips with these nuances during our Fine Tuning programme (this leads to Clean Facilitator Level 1); those who choose the Clean Coach Certification Programme (leading to ACC accreditation with the ICF) receive group and 1-2-1 mentoring as part of the process. So you start your learning journey in a supportive cohort where everyone does 'know the ropes' and then branch out to work with different clients as time goes along.

I also got to thinking how it's also important for me to trust that trainees have answers, and how much better my training sessions go if I spend time finding out what people want and what they already know rather than acting on what I think they need or know. Then I am responding to their actual needs and the training is more efficient and more likely to be effective. When I was preparing for the Practice Group session last week I had one activity ready that I knew might take up a third or half of the session, and I was trying to think of another activity, when it occurred to me that I could simply frame the evening, tell them about the one activity, and then trust that group members would have good ideas for other activities. So I arrived at the group and told them this - and, not surprisingly, it was true - they were completely capable of thinking for themselves what would be a good way to use their time. 

Do check out the video, which talks about other aspects of trust, including working with groups and motivation, as well as some of the things I've mentioned here.

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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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