Our guest is Marian Way this Tuesday April 7th. Marian is from England, where she started out teaching math and later worked for 20 years in the Weight Watchers, where she and a colleague developed the POINTS diet. Now she runs her own training, coaching and facilitation business. Her specialty is Clean Language, a process for helping people to explore their own metaphors to gain new insights into their thinking and behavior patterns, which can lead to profound change.

What is Clean Language?

“My life has ground to a halt.”

If someone you know said this to you, what would your response be?

Some people would show concern or empathy, some would listen, some may ask questions and find out more, and some would give some well-meaning advice. Many of us would respond with a mixture of concern, listening, questions and/or advice. Of course, your actual response would depend on the relationship you had with the person in question and on the context you were in.

What most people wouldn’t do is notice, or draw the person’s attention to, the metaphorical nature of this remark. And yet there’s likely to be a vast amount of information – and the potential for resolution or getting going again – contained within that metaphor.

Enter David Grove…

During the 1980’s, when US-based psychotherapist David Grove was developing ways to resolve his clients’ traumatic memories, he noticed that many of them described their symptoms in metaphor, and he discovered that by asking about these using the client’s exact words encouraged new insights and possibilities for change. Their perceptions of the trauma began to change. He experimented with different questions and found that questions which ‘interfered’ with the client’s experience the least were in fact the most effective in bringing about change. Clean Language was created as a means of questioning clients’ metaphors in a way that neither contaminated nor distorted them.

Penny Tompkins & James Lawley

In the early 90’s David Grove was the subject of an extensive modelling project by UK-based psychotherapists Penny Tompkins and James Lawley, who studied the specific patterns of David’s interactions with clients and incorporated them into a generalised model, which they called Symbolic Modelling. Their work has enabled David’s discoveries and techniques to be applicable across a wide range of clinical, education and business contexts.

What Modeling Is

In general terms, modeling is the process of gathering information about the activity of a system with the aim of constructing a generalized description (a model) of how that system works. The purpose of modeling is to identify ‘what is’ and how ‘what is’ works – without influencing what is being modeling, although the modeling process itself inevitably influences the person being modelling.

What a Clean Language Facilitator does

A Clean Language facilitator assists a client to model their own patterns of thinking and behavior – i.e. to self-model. they do this by:

  • acknowledging the client’s experience exactly as they describe it
  • orientating the client’s attention to a specific aspect of their perception
  • sending the client on a quest for self-knowledge

The resultant model can then be used by the client to inform future decisions and actions. This can happen both consciously and unconsciously.

There are Four Components of Clean language…

They are:

  1. Syntax
    Clean Language uses only the client’s words and a specific set of Clean Questions (below).
  2. Vocal Qualities
    When using the client’s words, the facilitator matches the way the client speaks their words. When using the Clean questions, the facilitator uses a slow delivery and rhythmic tonality, with an air of curiosity.
  3. Nonverbals
    The facilitator draws attention to the client’s nonverbal gestures by replicating them from the client’s perspective within the syntax.
  4. Clean Questions
    There are approximately 30 Clean Language questions altogether, although some are used much more frequently than others. These include:
  • And is there anything else about … ?
  • And what kind of … is … ?
  • And that’s … like what?
  • And where is … ?
  • And then what happens?
  • And what happens just before … ?
  • And how do you know when … ?
  • And what would you like to have happen?
  • And is there a relationship between … and … ?
  • And what needs to happen for … to … ?
  • NB the … represents the client’s words

What Does ‘Clean’ REALLY Mean?

The ‘Clean of Clean Language is a metaphor. It reprsents the intention of the facilitator to keep their assumptions to a minimum. Facilitators achieve this by:

  • ensuring everything they say and do is related to what the client has said or done… so they questions are not asked in any specific order, but each question is chosen after the client has finished speaking
  • using and honoring the client’s words rather than paraphrasing them
  • only using questions that are justified by the logic of the client’s information
  • making only minimal assumptions about what the client means – and being ready to change those assumptions as more information is revealed
  • not introducing any metaphors of their own – the only metaphors that Clean Language utilises are the universal metaphors of time, space and form

What are the Benefits of ‘Clean’?

For facilitators, one of the major benefits of this approach is the knowledge that the insights, solutions and transformations that occur during, an after,a session come from within the client’s own system – and are therefore likely to be a good fit and be long lasting. Clean Language ‘gets to the parts that other methods cannot reach’. Other important benefits of working in this way include:

  • a deep appreciation of and respect for the uniqueness of every individual
  • a better memory
  • enhanced listening skills

Clients new to Clean Language often remark that this is the first time they have felt really understood by anyone. having their words, their metaphors and their own logic listened to, honoured and respected by another human being can have a profound effect on a person. The more they recognise that this honouring is taking place, the easier they find it to ‘open up’. they too, benefit from the knowledge that any decisions and actions taken as a result of this work belong to them.

©2008 Marian Way http://www.apricotisland.com/

Marian is in Portland this May with an extended program, which covers Clean Language and two related processes: Symbolic Modeling and Clean Space. Learn more about Clean Language and Marian at http://www.apricotisland.com/