This weekend, I’ve been playing with Clean Language at Play14 in London. Wanting to turn up prepared, I searched my metaphorical toy box for Clean Language games.

I was surprised just how many Clean Language games there already were… as long as you flex the meaning of the word ‘game’ a bit.

In the end, I introduced four in a single hour-long session.

1. Speed Clean

Created by me (Judy Rees) in collaboration with Wendy Sullivan, based on Metaphors At Work by Caitlin Walker.

Purpose: to get participants talking to each other; develop participants’ self- and other-awareness; to learn about each others’ working styles; to introduce metaphor and its role in cognition; to introduce Clean Language questions.

Preparation:  Ahead of the game, each participant is asked to come up with a personal answer to the question, “When you are working at your best, you are like… what?” and offered examples of possible answers (including obviously-metaphorical and non-obviously-metaphorical answers) while being told, “There are no right or wrong answers: whatever comes up for you is fine.”

With large groups, establish a signal to bring the group to silence to hear instructions.

Two questions are displayed or, ideally, handed to each participant on a card or handout.

  • “What kind of X?”
  • “Is there anything else about X?”

Instructions: In this quick-fire game, one person will be talking about their answer to, “When you are working at your best, you are like… what?” while the other encourages them to keep talking by asking these two short questions. In these questions, X represents one or more of the other person’s words. Your challenge is to ask only these questions and not to add any of your own words. You have two minutes – at the end of that time the leader will give a signal to switch roles.

Play: The talkers start by stating their answer, the questioners question. After two minutes, they are asked to swap roles. After both have had a turn, the group is asked to swap partners and go again. And again. Three turns each, in all.

Variations: The starter question can be varied to reflect the theme of the event, for example: “When you are coaching at your best, you are like… what?” at a coaching conference. The game has been played with very large groups (max so far 400). Invite any observers (or those without partners) to notice what happens to the relationship between pairs of partners.

More details at https://judyrees.co.uk/metaphor-get-group-started/

2. Switching Attention (this needs a better name!)

Created by Wendy Sullivan. 

Purpose: To get participants directing each others’ attention with precision using Clean Language questions, away from problems/obstacles/impediments and towards what they would prefer.

Preparation:  Ahead of the game, each participant is asked to come up with at least two problems (ideally fairly small ones).With large groups, establish a signal to bring the group to silence to hear instructions.

One question is displayed or, ideally, handed to each participant on a card or handout.

  • “And when <problem>, what would you like to have happen?”

Instructions: Working in pairs, notice what happens when you ask this question about the problem. Remember, you are not trying to fix it! One partner states the problem, the other asks the question and listens to the answer. Then you swap roles. Don’t discuss the problem or ask more questions. The routine goes: statement, question, answer, swap roles.

Play: Aim to have everyone ask, and be asked, the question twice.

Gotchas: Facilitator isn’t timing this, and turns will vary in length. Don’t let people drift into big problem-focussed discussions in any ‘spare’ time: make sure they keep switching roles or give them something else to do (eg. listen to other pairs). In the debrief, be aware that responses to this question will vary widely, depending on the person and on the type of problem. The question has a tendency to guide attention in a positive direction: it’s not a magic cure-all!

Variations: A longer and more elaborate game in the same vein is 15-Minute FOTO by Mike Burrows

3. Clean Change Cards

Created by Judy Rees and Wendy Sullivan 

Purpose: to get participants familiar with all the core Clean Language questions; to highlight the freeing effect of using random CLQs; to develop skills in choosing what to ask Clean Language questions about; self coaching.

Preparation: Get a pack of these cards: https://www.anglo-american.co.uk/index.php?page=publication&publication_id=23334

Variations: Too many to list here.

Demo: Video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NghFdGC-B9U

4. Clean Cards: Nature

Created by Silvie de Clerk and Jennifer de Gandt

Purpose: To provide a Clean-based guided coaching format; to get participants familiar with all the core Clean Language questions; to highlight the freeing effect of using random CLQs; to develop skills in choosing what to ask Clean Language questions about; self coaching.

Preparation: If they are still available (I’m afraid I don’t know), get a pack of these cards: https://cleanlanguage.co.uk/articles/articles/309/1/Clean-Nature-Cards/Page1.html

Variation: Alternatively, use other picture-cards such as https://www.amazon.co.uk/Picture-Cards-Barefoot-Coaching/dp/0992898919 in combination with the Clean Change Cards.

Play: The picture cards provide a starting point for a coaching journey using randomly-drawn Clean Language questions.

5+. More Clean Language games

What other Clean Language games could be in this list? People have combined Clean Language with Lego, with Story Cubes and many other facilitation tools. Wherever you want to engage participants with each other and increase their self- and other-awareness, Clean Language can help.

Please tell your stories and ask any questions in the ‘comments’ below.

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