What is Clean Language?

This is an interesting question to answer as a certified Clean Language facilitator I like to think I know and yet the process it self has taught me that words and behaviour are always open to interpretation.

Therefore this is my interpretation and I have referenced the interpretation of both my peers and my mentors for you to compare and then come to your own conclusions. 

What is Clean Language?

Clean Language for me, is one of the most efficient solution focused questioning techniques I have come across. It is a tool for learning how you process information and learn.

It has quite literally transformed how I understand the world around me and how understand myself, which has in turn enhanced every relationship that matters to me.

It all starts by using this process to enhance the relationship you had with yourself. Then you can apply this learning to every relationship from clients, staff, family and friends.

It has been a process that has given me insights and understanding that were so out of my awareness before that I could never have achieved harmony in my home or my work without it.

Where does Clean Language come from?

Clean Language is a questioning technique designed by David Grove in the 1980’s, who gave it a way on a generosity framework. As a psychotherapist he recognised when looking at many transcribes that the way a question was constructed influenced the ability of any given patient to answer. The ability to answer then influenced the patient’s ability to develop solutions and understanding.

Reducing Assumptions

With this in mind David cleaned up the questions, stripping them of any leading and where ever possible reduced the assumption. Let me put this in context for you.

When I ask the question what do you need to do to grow your business?

This question is ‘loaded’ with the assumption you have to ‘do’ something where as you might need to be more confident or have more time. This also assumes you want to grow your business. 

To me what Clean Language questions do is make it more efficient to get to the solution without assuming what the problem is.

One of the fundamental principles about Clean Language for me is to ask questions you don’t know the answer to but you think there is a good chance the other person will.

So a clean way of asking the above questions would be:

And when business what would you like to have happen?

Clean Language is a framework of questions and principles that focus your attention on:

  • What you would like to have happen rather than what you don’t want to have happen
  • Resources and strengths you have already that can be transferred to achieve this outcome

The affect of asking Clean Language questions with a clean intention is that you reduce the assumptions we all make in every day language and behaviour that all too often result in miscommunication.

What is a Clean Intention?

A clean intention for me is asking questions to benefit the recipient of the questions. The intention is for them to gain the clarity and understanding of what they would like to have happen and the best solution or outcome for them.

A Clean intention involves the questioner holding back their opinions, suggestions, emotions, needs and wants long enough to allow the other person to gain greater understanding of themselves.

The Power of Metaphor

David Grove went onto to develop an awareness that we often talk in metaphor approximately once every 6 words and that these metaphors could be ‘brought to life’ if developed. When you ask Clean questions of a metaphor, as though the metaphor were real, greater awareness and understanding can be achieved.

These explorations can give the individual the opportunity to really understand complex matters that are often hard to articulate with words alone.

Have you ever found yourself saying, “I can’t find the words to describe it”

Metaphors can bridge the gap between language and hard to articulate subjects like emotions. Metaphors can make it easier to understand ourselves and for others to understand us.

How can you practically apply Clean Language?

I originally trained in Clean Language because I wanted to improve the relationship I had with my coaching clients.  I therefore worked with Marian Way of  Clean Learning and author of Clean Approaches for Coaches

Marian was trained by Penny Tompkins and James Lawley, psychotherapist themselves who followed David Grove’s work and modelled ‘how’ is was asking the questions. They then developed a system to train individuals how to ask the clean language questions in order to develop metaphors, track them and evolve them. This process is called “Symbolic Modelling” and you can find out more here Clean Language

Alongside this Caitlin Walker of Training Attention also met David Grove while working with youths in central London. Although the principles are the same in terms of questions and ethos her experience of how to practically apply it was  different.

Caitlin was working in a completely different arena and therefore had to adapt the way the questions were introduced and asked. Caitlin over 10 years has developed a way of working with groups using Clean Language questions and principles and this process is called ‘Systemic Modelling’.  You can find out more about Caitlin’s journey here and her book is about to be released April 2014.

My Practical Applications

With this all mind when I learned this process I had developed my own unique way of ‘how’ to introduce it and when to apply it.

Today at Step by Step Listening we facilitate our sessions following 10 simple principles based on the ethos of clean intention and using many of the Clean Language questions.

Clean Conversations

We use a combination of symbolic modelling, systemic modelling and clean language questions to facilitate group sessions that empower you to learn how to improve your listening skills.

We now work with businesses that want to increase customer retention and build a profitable business off the back of positive customer feedback.

The great thing is that these skills are transferable to the home and we also love empowering families to increase the harmony in their home.

When you clean up your conversations you are guaranteed to improve efficiency, increase productivity and most important of all you will achieve harmony both at home and work.

To find out more please do check out our case studies here of how being asked Clean Language questions and using Clean Language principles in conversation have helped our team and our clients:

  • Case Studies for at home
  • Case Studies at work

If you would like more information about Clean Language please contact Sheryl Andrews at Step By Step Listening or sign up to our Free Guide or Social Media networks to get more information and to stay in touch with us.

About the author

Sheryl Andrews, MD and founder of Step by Step Listening and mum of a blended family of 5 children, is no stranger to challenging conversations, lack of self belief and an overwhelming sense of not being enough. On the outside to everyone else you might have thought all was okay but how she was feeling inside was a different story. 6 years ago she discovered Clean Language developed by David Grove in the 1980’s, which is a questioning technique that is fast becoming the most effective way to change thoughts into action. It has been fundamental in providing Sheryl and her business partner Ros with the resources they needed to grow an international business whilst maintaining harmony at home.

When you improve how you listen to yourself and others you can increase customer retention and influence how often your clients refer and recommend you.

With a free no obligation chat what have you got to lose? Apart from the problem?

How to make good decisions

Sheryl Andrews

Founder and Communication Coach


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