Dragon Hunting With Clean Language

What’s lurking out there? It’s easy to get quite scared: out there beyond the mist, beyond the trees, in the deep, deep looming darkness… there could be dragons. Or even scarier kinds of monsters. Is there anything else about those monsters?

And, when you don’t know what’s lurking out there, and there could be dragons or scarier monsters, what would you like to have happen?

One of the high-value applications of Clean Language for agents of change is that it gives you tools for effectively accompanying your clients into the unknown – especially when it’s unknown to you, as well as to them. You can be useful as you walk alongside them into the dark valley of the change rollercoaster, or the “complex” domain of David Snowden’s Cynefin framework.

Consultants often pitch themselves as been-there, done-that experts. And of course, one of the things that’s handy in the unknown is a guide who knows the way. The big danger in this situation is paying for a guide who turns out to be as clueless as you are. Then you’re even worse off: not only have they trousered your cash, they’re distracting your attention with bright shiny things.

A more useful approach as you walk into the unknown is to know how best to walk into the unknown! And that’s what Clean Language facilitators learn to do.

David Grove, creator of Clean Language, used to talk about taking the client’s attention just beyond the edge of what they already know. Not into the depths of the dark, mysterious forest, but just beyond.

We usually start by asking about the known knowns, to get people comfortable, before digging into the known unknowns, unknown knowns, and finally down into the unknown unknowns. At each step, the question aims just beyond the now-known. And at each step, we listen carefully, pause, and think: “What must be there for what is there to make sense?”

The same approach can be used within organisations, to break down “silos” and build richer, more connected, collaborative networks.  When connecting with someone outside your bubble, start with the relatively easy stuff, the known knowns. The weather. The coffee. “How was your weekend?”

Then there’s a next step: to ask a slightly trickier question, one which might actually make them think. To listen to the answer – and to ask another question. To ask these questions, and to answer them, feels slightly risky.

It’s not surprising. Each question probes into the darkness, just beyond the known – and there might be dragons there!

But there might not. There probably aren’t. And when your questions enable people to open up, and to be slightly vulnerable, that’s where the magic happens.

3 thoughts on “Dragon Hunting With Clean Language”

  1. Brian Dooley

    Judy, This post simply and attractively articulates the CL inquiry.
    Perhaps I’ll eat it.

  2. Tim Tolmachoff

    As my first name is George-as a child I always imagined myself as St George and kept my litlle rubber sword on my side in case I were to encounter a Dragon -the result was to slay dragons to help protect the world and make it a safer place to live. You are really funny that you picked on my Dream. My sword today has taken the meta – phorm of Clean Language- Evey day after prayers I stand in front of a mirror and practice mindfulness (to be present) so that when I enter the unknown with my client I help them name the organization and patterns of the symbols of their dragon-what I am beginning to intuit / see are People generating a new experience before their “souls” / eyes and actually getting on their dragon to go off in another positive direction. Ever day I also practice seeing the faces of my many possible clients so that as I observe their faces when I am with them on the “battle field “ I see their gestures and eye movements pointing me to where their Dragon is hovering- I do this to try to Inuit a symbol or two to ask a lazy Jedi question(s) about the symbol(s) – what I am experiencing is that the client begins to resolve their quandary. I now know I am on the right track and need to do my Clean Language push ups every day to get stronger at this very important process. I also now am certain that this is perfect for Mediation and Arbitration because the more parties to a negotiation can see and get on their dragons the better they can express their “needs” in a dispute which will them reach resolution and if I am required to judge and render a decision I will have much better information in order to todo so( kinda like Solomon needed to make his famous decision on who was the real mother of the baby)
    Any way Judy you have given me enough to keep me on Track for carrying out my Dream for hopefully another thirty years – thanks
    If you ever come to Houston let’s meet so I can shake your hand.

  3. I am new to the idea of Clean Language and I’m fascinated!
    What if the world could adopt the curiosity to understand rather than the jumping to emotional conclusions based upon the stories in our heads (follow social media for examples of this)?
    I’m looking forward to adding Clean Language to my study and then onto my future clients.

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