What Unites The Clean Mini-Models?

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!

4 thoughts on “What Unites The Clean Mini-Models?”

  1. What could happen ?
    More open minds. Genuine listening without constraints or personal bias. .. like those who blindly follow 1 book/belief vs stripping it back to simplest concepts and finding truth in the simplicity

  2. Rev. Larry Mason

    Hello Judy,

    As I may have mentioned before, I first was introduced to techniques of communications that were not at all within the Matrix of the Clean Unified Filed. Some were useful – some not.

    My first attempts to understand internal and external communications began when others did not accept my point of view, which seemed obviously very clear to me, causing concerns over my ability to survive.

    My journey into the field of communications began at a early age, albeit just skimming the subjects, initially as a student and client, as I did not want to lose my identity at the whim and wish of another more wise thought process … Parent, Teacher, Manager or Psychotherapist.

    And so, I studied Psychology, Psychotherapy, Hypnosis, NLP and of course was on a spiritual quest to understand myself as I found many were in their own morphemic field of reality which was so different then mine, even as we shared a common thread or two.

    With the typical mutterings that left me confused, yet intrigued, with the seemingly unnecessary complexity of simply sharing a thought, I was lost in the wondering where it all begin to be come unmanageable? Until I tried my hand at Quantum Physics, which addresses all things at the smallest particle of existence … Oddly, at this point, I found Clean Language, I located a class given by a Ms.. Judy Rees, in England.

    Perhaps an odd comment, yet perhaps relevant at least in my story, ‘in our intention and perhaps Primal Need to Communicate, we tell stories’. Over time, the words we use became a metaphor and sometimes a single word, mixed with emotion, body language, tonality, tell a story in which the single word is the key to a rich, personal history that would fill a volume perhaps equal to a set of Encyclopedias {for those who remember what set of Encyclopedias were}.

    Where David Groves set us upon a Path of Discovery into the subterranean areas of our personal sub conscious caves, others, such as Caitlin Walker, have taken up the challenge to explore how to map out how we can better communicate our personal tunnels within and at the end of the process, not be contaminated with the well formed intentions of others which do not honor our stories as they are, perhaps unintentionally, manipulative as they desire to rewrite our stories with their metaphors which do not convey our meanings. Confusion abounds …

    Perhaps this is all part of Human survival as I know I can get lost in a good story and wonder whose cave I have unwittingly entered into, sometimes wondering if I found clues as to my own sub conscious mysteries.

    As all written at early hours of the morning, as I awoke from a series of dreams and subject to current thoughts and challenges that others want to overlay on my unique life’s story, I may not be responding to your comments of bringing Clean into an unclean environment.

    Clean Language allows me to visit others caves – to enjoy the simplicity and complexity of their unique Quantum Field of Thoughts.

    Thank you for the article

  3. Thank you for this post, Judy. I’m relatively new to Clean, and this question has been on my mind. One point that I have been struck by as I begin to learn more is how much lineage seems to matter to Clean practitioners. David Grove, Penny Tompkins, and James Lawley are always mentioned and practitioners generally mention whether or not they have met and spent time with these three people directly. There’s no “have to” about this mentioning, and so it is interesting to me that it is happening. I’m guessing that there’s a lot of tacit knowledge that goes into being Clean and so a tendency toward discipleship / apprenticeship gets generated.

    Your phrase “Clean Stance” resonated with me. If a coalescence of symbols, language, norms, values, and artifacts constitutes “culture,” then I think that we can talk about Clean Culture. At the moment, more than any specific use of Clean, it is this Clean Culture that interests me. I want to be part of it and I want to spread it. I wonder about what the effort to be content-free / minimally directive could mean for the (hypothetical) development of “Clean Art,” which seems like it would have to come into existence for Clean to become a full-fledged culture. (If you know of anyone who has been thinking about this / working on this, I would love to know how to get in touch.)

    I look forward to learning more and perhaps meeting some day.

  4. Hi Lisa, I believe the main reason that Clean practitioners tend to mention each other a lot is that for many years, it was the only way to acknowledge the creator(s) of the work.

    Because so little of it was written down, we couldn’t use references in the normal way. Instead, course manuals and even taster handouts would include exhortations along the lines of, “Whenever you mention these ideas, please acknowledge David Grove as their source.” This became a pattern of acknowledging known sources of later developments, for example: “This exercise was created by Caitlin Walker with Dee Berridge.”

    There have been a number of instances of people taking major offence when they’ve felt under-acknowledged, the aftershocks of which (and I understand, in one instance, the “ongoing eruption”) are still being felt.

    I suspect that the result ends up *looking like* obsessive discipleship, but I don’t think that’s how the “insiders” experience it, or intend it.

    As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I think there’s quite a lot of Clean “craft” out there, which is part of the culture. Over the years it has been quite contentious, with people taking offence at all kinds of things I would never have expected. For example, when I put this little promo video together for the last Metaphorum, I was really quite scared that I would upset people. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dkv9gum7DwM – but it landed well. Other things I’ve done, thinking they were uncontroversial, have caused quite major ructions. Most Clean practitioners are initially extremely reluctant to get marketing materials out there, because whatever they do doesn’t feel “Clean”.

    Deliberate “Clean Art” is less widespread, but it does exist…

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