What Is Clean Language?

This answer dates from 2013. For a more up-to-date take on the question, see https://judyrees.co.uk/clean-language-about/


If you’re interested in understanding people, how they think and how they change, you’ll want to know about Clean Language.

Clean Language book coverIt’s an impressively versatile tool for finding out out what people are really thinking and feeling, and for deepening the connection between people. In the hands of a skilled practitioner, it’s also an effective way to help people to change – in coaching, in therapy, or in a range of other situations.

At its best it can be like DIY brain imaging – both facilitator and client get a completely new view of the way the client’s thoughts are structured, and how things are connected in the mind.

But it’s not a language! It’s a system of questions, and an associated process for asking them.

The questions themselves aren’t magic. They’re elegantly simple, but they’re ordinary questions.

Clean Language was created by the late David Grove. He was one of the first people to realise that metaphor is the native language of the unconscious mind, and he devised Clean Language to enable him to work therapeutically with the metaphors which people used spontaneously when they spoke. (Did you know we use about six metaphors per minute in English? And it’s similar in other languages.)

Penny Tompkins and James Lawley later studied what David was doing and created the Clean Language system I use in coaching, and that I wrote about, with Wendy Sullivan, in the book Clean Language: Revealing Metaphors And Opening Minds.

There’s lots to love about Clean Language. The structure of the questions forces you to really listen to what the other person is saying, so you can get much clearer about what they really mean and avoid expensive misunderstandings. That makes Clean Language valuable in all kinds of everyday business situations, in education, in healthcare, and with family and friends.

In this kind of context it’s not a technique, it’s a way of communicating – Dutch Clean Language enthusiasts translate the name as “Clear Communication”.

And when you start to use Clean Language to explore a person’s own metaphors, the metaphors which underpin their thoughts and behaviour, things reach a whole new level. It’s as if the lights go on inside their inner world. In the hands of a skilled facilitator, it’s fascinating and exciting, with new discoveries about themselves at every turn.

As the exploration continues, symbols in their metaphorical landscape may take on a life of their own, often changing of their own accord. And when the metaphors change, everything changes! Frequently, longstanding emotional issues simply melt away.

Is it like the NLP meta model? No, not really. The most similar change process I’ve come across is Eugene Gendlin’s Focusing. But that doesn’t use metaphor in the same way.

It’s in its way of using a person’s own metaphors that, as far as I can tell, Clean Language is unique.

The best way to understand it it, really, is to experience it. Why not try a phone or skype session? (Free sample sessions available at the time of writing).

Click here for a list of the core Clean Language questions.

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