Six baby steps to start using Clean Language

What’s the best way to start using Clean Language? I suggest you ease yourself into it with six baby steps.

1. Listen in a ‘Clean’ way: not to respond, but to understand what this unique person is experiencing. Be curious, relax your thinking muscles, and hold your attention fully on the person and what they are saying.

  • Benefits for you: you’ll learn something! And once you get the hang of it’s it’s also more relaxing than thinking hard while ‘listening’.
  • Benefit for them: they’ll feel the warmth of your attention, which most people will enjoy.
2. Listen, then repeat back a few words of what the person has said. That might be the last two or three words, or two or three key words. This has been described as ‘the nearest thing the FBI has to a Jedi Mind trick’. To begin with, it may feel odd, but it is worth persisting.

  • Benefit for you: done well, it builds rapport really quickly – even remotely, or with people you don’t know, like or trust. That puts you in a position of influence.
  • Benefit for them: they’ll feel supported to think more deeply about what they are saying.
3. Practice asking a Clean Language question (try ‘What kind of X?’ or ‘Is there anything else about X?’) instead of an ‘ordinary’ question, in a context where where you’re already asking questions. Just one Clean Language question at a time, mind you!

  • Benefit for you: you’ll get comfortable with the Clean Language questions.
  • Benefit for them: they get to explain things in more detail.
4. Up your game: use two Clean Language questions in succession. (Again, ‘What kind of X?’ or ‘Is there anything else about X?’ in any order.) This might make you (and perhaps the other person) a little uncomfortable. Notice the look on someone’s face when your question makes them think about something they’ve never considered before… and start getting used to it.

  • Benefit for you: you’re starting to direct attention with precision. This is a hugely useful skill for anyone who wants to help people to make changes in their lives, as well as for anyone who ever needs to get information from another person (in an interview, for example).
  • Benefit for them: again, you’re getting them thinking more deeply. As you develop your skills, you can explicitly guide their attention to specific details, or to whole contexts – depending on what’s useful for them at the time.
5. Next, ask a couple of Clean Language questions about a metaphor you hear someone use. Make sure you ‘go for the good stuff’: asking about metaphors for problems or other unpleasant things can be seriously unpleasant. Remember: where attention goes, energy flows – and the person’s mood will follow.

  • Benefit for you: exploring metaphors is absolutely fascinating. It’s like opening a window into the person’s inner world.
  • Benefit for them: metaphor engages both sides of the brain, offers unexpected perspectives, and often leads to new ideas and connections.
6. Guide someone’s attention towards what they’d like by asking, “What would you like to have happen <today/in this meeting/as a result of this conversation>?”

  • Benefit for you: you don’t have to listen to them complaining, or trying to make their problem into your problem. Instead, you can both work together towards what’s wanted.
  • Benefit for them: they’ll feel happier and more purposeful.
What did you notice? And what would you like to have happen next? Please comment below.

The next step from all of this would be to start using a framework for your Clean Language questions. Check out Practical Clean Language for more.

Many thanks for Simon Coles for inspiring this blog post with a session at this year’s Northern Taste of Clean.

3 thoughts on “Six baby steps to start using Clean Language”

  1. This is great. Real steps for easing into using Clean and gaining confidence and comfort while doing so.

    Try these. Some of these steps seem very simple, and are, but can get pretty interesting results.


  2. Nice one Judy. Having attended several wrkshops and seminars with the Masters of clean, who always made it sound such a complex set of questions. David made it look easy, due to his mastery, but modelling it, not so rasy outside the ‘classroom’.
    I acknowledge and understand how you have simplified it which encourages people to put it into practise. One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind, comes to mind. Thank you. Eric

  3. Great “little” article, genuinely inspiring and energising!
    Especially liked the idea of clean listening – without any need or obligation to act [ and of course I might……..]

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