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Using Clean Language Principles in Coaching Sessions


Having had three clean coaching sessions with Marian working on my own challenges, I have now started to apply just two of the techniques she uses with my own coaching clients and I have been very impressed with the results: first the outcome question, “What would you like to have happen by the end of this session?” and second, repeating back exact words, regardless of grammatical sense.

Just to put this in context I should explain that I run Speed Coaching sessions with clients as a final step in a three day interpersonal skills programme. And so you know the setting I work in, my client is a large telecoms company.

In the particular situation I am describing, I have worked with a group of 6 people for two days and each brings to the group a particular interpersonal challenge that they would like to solve. The group works with them to come up with solutions to this challenge and they then make written commitments to take certain steps during a 6 week ‘back to work’ period. We then all meet up 6 weeks later and review their progress, congratulate them on their successes and explore anything that has either not gone to plan or anything new that has arisen in the intervening 6 weeks.

On the afternoon of the follow up day and as a way to send them off with a spring in their step and as a consolidation of all the hard work they have put in, they each get a 30 minute time slot with me to discuss whatever is on their mind. It is at the start of these 30 minute Speed Coaching sessions that I used to ask the question: “What would you like to talk about?” followed by supplementary questions to get them to consider how they wanted things to be different. Essentially I was setting up the coaching session process to start with problem and then we’d move towards outcomes.

Having had my own sessions which have been all completely transformational, I recognised the power of this different start question (“What would you like to have happen?” to focus and guide my own pre-session thoughts and actual session process, and I thought this was worth a try with my clients.

I wrote the question up on the flipchart for them all to see in the morning of the third day and asked them to think about it. As they were a fairly reflective bunch, this was essential. I then had the question displayed during their session and I placed it behind me but facing them.

The results, as I say were impressive; the conversations were instantly outcome-focused instead of problem-focused and if they deviated, I was able to repeat the question and get them back to their outcome(s) very quickly. I knew their issues pretty well and it was clear to me when they strayed back into the problem and it was when this happened that I asked them if they thought they had gone back into the problem and then guided them back to the outcome by repeating the question. I wrote down exactly what they said.

I then used the second technique of repeating back the exact words they had used, regardless of grammatical sense. During my sessions with Marian I am always particularly impressed with the level of extreme rapport she uses. There are several components to this and I would say I routinely use many of them as part of my tool kit anyway e.g., tonal matching, body language matching (we sit facing in our speed coaching sessions), repeating back their words. What I did differently was to repeat back their exact words regardless of grammatical sense and then either leave a silence and wait for them to say more or say “Is there anything else about….?” Depending on the words they had used initially, the question I then used did in some cases sound quite clumsy but no one seemed to notice or react to the slightly odd syntax. I started to realise that my previous attempts to put what coaching clients said into a grammatically correct follow-on question had probably broken rapport.

I shall continue to use these two Clean Language techniques and I am keen to incorporate more.

Photo by Proxyclick Visitor Management System on Unsplash

About Liz Brant

Liz Brant is a coach and trainer. You can contact her via http://www.pineappleconsulting.co.uk

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