Metaphor: How To Get Your Group Started

If you’re already aware of the power of metaphor and Clean Language to help people understand each other (and themselves) better, you may be wondering how to introduce it to your group or team.

I’ve done this a lot over the years, so I thought I’d share a few tips.


  • Share your excitement! Tell people you’ve learned something new, and describeIMG_1126 the impact it’s had on you.
  • Explain why metaphor is so important: it’s the native language of the unconscious mind, it’s the atom of thought. It makes abstract thoughts tangible, so they can be explored and discussed.
  • Have some stories to tell about how Clean Language and metaphor has helped other groups – for example, “Caitlin Walker taught this to lecturers at Liverpool John Moore’s University, to use in tutorials. Their results increased from 49% achieving first and second class honours degrees to over 73%, and this has remained consistent to date.” (Julie McCracken, Clean Language In The Classroom, p73)
  • Ask the group’s permission to give them an experience of it, which will be fun, interesting, and will help the group to get to know each other better. Say that it will take about an hour.
  • When you get that block of time, take the group through an activity where each person comes up with a metaphor and is asked the 2 Lazy Jedi Questions about it.
  • Use “When you are X-ing at your best, you are like what?” as your question to generate a metaphor. X could be “learning” or “working” depending on the context. (Caitlin Walker, From Contempt To Curiosity)
  • Give people time to think. If you can feed the starter question to them early (in the email inviting them to the meeting, for example) do so. Offer examples of possible answers to get people started. Make it clear that there is no right or wrong answer – and if they want to use something “silly”, that’s fine.
  • Do a quick demo with a confederate if you can.
  • Keep the activity fast-moving, lighthearted and fun. “Speed Clean” can be an easier way in than earnest conversations in pairs.


  • Start by attempting to explain what Clean Language is, or by recounting its history. Go instead for what it does!
  • Describe your own metaphoric landscape in any detail. “And then the jail turned into a golden cloud and floated off into the distance…” sounds too woo-woo for most groups.
  • Try to squeeze a group experience into anything less than 30 minutes (and that would be extremely tight).
  • Try to be too Clean. Instead, give clear explanations and instructions to help people get that first experience.
  • Let people get hung up on using the exact wording of the Clean Language Questions (in this first experience). People will find asking the questions much harder than answering them.
  • Put anyone on the spot by demanding an instant metaphor in front of the whole group.
  • Try to achieve too much in a single session. Leave them wanting more!

If you’d like to learn more about using Clean Language with groups and teams, I’ll be running a short course very soon. Please contact me for details.

4 thoughts on “Metaphor: How To Get Your Group Started”

  1. Judy, I love your work. I would be very interested to pursue further courses or lines of enquiry you may suggest with groups or teams.
    Many thanks

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