I was teaching Clean Language to a small group of managers this week. It was an open course, delivered through a mainstream business training company – and to my great surprise the attendees hadn’t looked up Clean Language beforehand! They knew it was something to do with improving communication, and that was enough for them.
They wanted practical tools and techniques to take away, so I focussed on sharing some Clean mini-models. In particular, we looked at:
- How to clarify what someone wants – from a particular meeting, for example – even when they don’t initially know the answer themselves
- How to discover the subtle differences between that people actually mean when they use the same word
- How to explore the differences between different people’s working styles
- How to divert people’s attention away from problems and towards desired outcomes
- How to speak up about the impact somebody’s had on you, without giving offence
- How to help someone to make an action plan to move towards what they want.
Each of these topics has its own Clean mini-model. Each of the models is useful in its specific context.
To me, it’s obvious that each of the models is either made up of Clean Language questions, or derived from Clean principles. But it wasn’t obvious to my students. “It seems like a patchwork of different ideas. What unites them?” I was asked.
A similar question emerged at the heart of a meeting of Clean thought leaders in Thailand recently. The 20 people there described applications of Clean in extraordinarily diverse contexts, from psychotherapy to schoolrooms, business transformation to community dispute resolution.
“What unites us?” we wondered.
The Thailand group agreed that a key thing that united us was a “Clean stance”: that when we work Cleanly, we seek to acknowledge, respect and nurture other people’s sense of their own experience.
We agreed that someone working Cleanly will:
- pay close attention to what others say and do
- make space for others to speak their truth
- notice the uniqueness of each individual’s view
- seek to understand their own intention for the interaction.
And none of that’s unique to Clean, of course.
There are some unusual, probably unique, aspects of Clean:
- asking the Clean Language questions
- using Clean syntax
- inquiring in a specific way about the metaphors that others use.
But, we agreed, it’s possible to be working Cleanly without using any of these unique aspects. You could still be part of what we thought of as the Clean community.
Most of the mini-models I introduced used Clean Language questions. But not all! The Clean Feedback model, for example doesn’t use any of Clean’s unique features. It was created by Caitlin Walker, not by David Grove.
But it still counts as Clean. No wonder my course participant was puzzled!
It turns out that what unites the Clean mini-models, or what unites the Clean community, is actually quite hard to define. What I’ve tended to imagine as a fairly unified Clean field, made up of people connected by a passion for the work of David Grove, doesn’t have to be seen like that. Which is pretty obvious when you think about it Cleanly…
And when it doesn’t have to be seen as a unified field… then what could happen? I’m curious. Please comment below!