How does Clean Language work with different representational systems?

Clean Language and NLP

This is one of the ways in which Clean Language is rather different from NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming).

NLP pays particular attention to the representational systems (also known as sensory modalities or VAKOG) being used by a client. When they think about a particular thing, are they primarily seeing, hearing or feeling it ‘in their mind’s eye’? Which of the sensory systems is dominant? This information is elicited by observation and/or questioning, and then used to partly determine the form of any intervention: for example, someone who reports seeing a picture of an unhappy experience might be urged to move the picture around, change its brightness and colour density etc.

Most NLP techniques can be performed in any of the three main representational systems, or use multiple modalities, but almost all written technique descriptions use the visual modality (see/visualise/picture etc). As a result, a steady stream of disappointed new NLPers can be found online asking: “Does the fact I don’t see pictures in my head mean I can’t do NLP? How can I improve my ability to visualise?”

Clean Language sweeps this aside by avoiding using modality-specific words in the questions. Rather than asking, “What colour is it?” the Clean Language facilitator asks, “What kind of X is that X?” This forms of question helps the client to pay full attention to their internal world, their emerging metaphoric landscape, rather than struggling to try to work out whether they are seeing, hearing or feeling the information they report.

A Clean Language facilitator may occasionally use a ‘Cleanish’ question such as, “Does X have a colour?” when it is consistent with the landscape that has already been described. For example, suppose the client has reported that there are three flowers, and that one is red and another is orange. In this context it would be reasonable to ask, “And does the third flower have a colour?”

The specialist Clean Language question, “And does X have a size or shape?” may appear, at first glance, to break this rule. But on reflection, notice that in fact it’s possible to know something’s size or shape in multiple sensory systems. I know my phone’s size and shape not only from seeing it, but also from feeling for it in the dark.

The Clean Language facilitator does not need to know which representational systems are being used by the client because he is not going to use them in running a technique on the client. In Clean Language, it is not up to the facilitator to make change happen. As the questioning process continues, the client may come up with changes of their own, or may have the experience of change ‘just happening’ within their metaphoric landscape. The change comes from the client, and fits them perfectly, and so is likely to stay changed, permanently.

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