This all sounds a bit mechanical. What is the art of Clean Language?

Introductory Articles

When you first come across Clean Language, the idea can sound a bit mechanical. Only 12 questions? Just these questions combined with the client’s words?

You may have been encouraged to practice using random questions (perhaps using the Clean Change Cards or their counterpart on the I-Phone), or you may have experienced one of the automated question-askers which exist online. These can be valuable to help you get started, to make the point that there are no ‘wrong questions’ in Clean Language, and/or to enable you to facilitate yourself. But they are a pale shadow of a ‘real’ session with a trained Clean Facilitator.

The art of Clean Language – and it is an art, not a science – is in directing the client’s attention. The facilitator is not trying to make change happen, or coming up with clever reframes, activities, or scripts. They are directing the client’s attention to their own inner world.

At the next level, the art of Clean Language is in bringing the client’s metaphoric landscape to life. For this short time, it’s as if the metaphoric symbols are more real than the ‘real world’. The symbols will be spread out in and around the client’s body: they may have form, colours, sounds, smells. They may interact with each other, changing without any deliberate effort on the client’s part. And as they change, the client’s thinking changes in parallel, and this new thinking drives transformation.

Within this process, part of the facilitator’s art is to keep the client’s attention focussed on goals and resources – the things they like and want more of. This can be summarised as “Go for the good stuff!” There are a number of reasons for this, but one of the most important ones is that keeping this aspect in mind will make the process as pleasant as possible for all parties.

People tend to know a lot about their problems, and may use big, obvious metaphors to describe them (e.g. “My life is hell!”) But exploring metaphors for problems tends to bring the client’s catastrophic fantasy ‘to life’, with all its associated monsters, dragons, pits of despair etc, and its associated emotions, which are not usually pleasant.

So the art of Clean Language is to direct the client’s attention away from problems and towards the things the client likes and wants more of – their goals and resources – and metaphors for them. There are specific techniques to do this such as the Framework for Change devised by Penny Tompkins and James Lawley, which is taught on Clean Change Company’s Modules 2 and 3.

Within this framework, the most effective Clean facilitators tend to work with metaphors which have been mentioned spontaneously by the client: they don’t often ask the client specifically to come up with a metaphor. So part of the art of Clean Language is in listening carefully to what is being said by the client, and noticing the metaphors they use. Research has shown that we use up to six metaphors a minute in ordinary English conversation, so the facilitator may be spoilt for choice!

And how do they choose what to ask about, from all the metaphors for goals and resources? Maybe that’s the real art of Clean Language!

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