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When You Elicit a Metaphor, Then What Happens?


Practice Group Report

We started this month’s meeting with an ‘Open Space’ type beginning, by asking for ideas about how we could spend our time together. Everyone then voted for the two items on the list that most attracted them. The following suggestions were put forward, with the number of votes each received in brackets:

  • To be facilitated cleanly to find a (life) partner (1)
  • Using Clean Language with ‘away from’ people (2)
  • Distinction between modelling and change work (3)
  • When you elicit a metaphor, then what happens? (4)
  • Modelling of “What is Clean to you?” (2)
  • Using Clean Language to model someone’s resources (that you want to take on) (2)
  • Can Clean Language be used to get through limiting beliefs? (5)

As a group, we decided to spend our time on the two ideas with the most votes, starting with: “When you elicit a metaphor, then what happens?” And finally, the group decided that we would explore this question by watching one facilitator working with one client, followed by a group discussion.

This idea had come from the same person who’d suggested “To be facilitated cleanly to find a (life) partner”, so she volunteered to be the client and to work on this outcome. Nigel agreed to facilitate and we were off!

It wasn’t long before a number of symbols emerged – a magic wand, the right path, a road sign, a puzzle, a frame, feet, dancing… and we also noticed that during the facilitation, the client was meta-commenting, saying things like:

  • “I don’t see us going into metaphor here?”
  • “I am so curious, what is all this scribbling?” (We were taking notes.)
  • “This repeating is getting irritating.”

And finally, and with real feeling:

  • “Yes but what happens when I have got all these metaphors floating around?”

It suddenly became clear to the group that we had all assumed that the question, “When you elicit a metaphor, then what happens?” had been posed from the point of view of the facilitator – but it was actually asked from the position of this person as a client. She had done several short pieces of work in practice groups and had ‘unearthed’ quite a few metaphors, but nothing had changed.

During the break we talked about this and when we reconvened, the group (including our ‘client’) agreed that it would be good to work on this as a client outcome. Before that, though, the group were interested to return to the question of using Clean to work with a client’s ‘limiting beliefs’, and so we asked our client if she could verbalise some of her limiting beliefs in relation to the metaphors that had already been developed. These were:

  • I’m not allowed to exist
  • I don’t know where I’m going.
  • I don’t know where to go – and I will never find out.
  • I can’t trust anything.

Marian took over the ‘facilitator’ role and began to find out more about all the metaphors that were floating around. There were a trillion pieces that needed to arrange themselves into a road sign that could be read. Alternatively, the sign might already be there, and the pattern might suddenly become clear, like a quantum shift. But “I am jumping between these bits / metaphors and still not getting anywhere – like a dog chasing its tail.”

After a few more questions, the client’s frustration was palpable. And when asked what she would like to have happen, she replied that she would like to walk away. But there was no sign to show her which way to go. “We are back to square one.”

This was a great example of a bind, and modelling what was happening in the moment, and Marian explained this to the group. Afterwards, the client told us that this change of focus was instrumental in bringing about a shift in perspective. After a few more questions, she realised: “Maybe it doesn’t matter.” The whole metaphor landscape changed and a new metaphor – of foraging – emerged. The trillion pieces floating around became all kinds of trees which stay put: “You pass them by and they stay put – you don’t carry them with you.”

This was quite an intense evening, although we also laughed a lot. The group agreed that it was good to have a choice of topics, so we may well go through a similar process at the start of our next meeting.

NB The client has given her permission for this report to posted on this site.

Image by kalhh from Pixabay

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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