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There are various frameworks a life coach can use in their practice. Below I will share with you the basics of Clean Language framework that I find extremely useful. So much so that I use it as a self-coaching tool too. Read on to learn how you too can benefit from it and don’t forget to try it out – it’s FREE!

One of most common feedbacks a typical life coach receives sounds something along the lines: “No one’s ever listened to me that way before…” Let it sink for a while: Most of the people you speak to on a daily basis don’t feel that their true needs and challenges are being heard or understood. How can this be true?

“Most of the people you speak to on a daily basis don’t feel that they are being heard or understood”

Great communications skills are absolutely paramount in sales, project management, stakeholders’ expectations management, negotiation and everything in between.

You know when you meet a great communicator. They are the likes of Dale Carnegie who rightly said that you can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you. Great communicators are first of all attentive listeners. Add to that genuine curiosity in the opponent’s opinion and willingness to find the solution that will actually work and you have the recipe for success.

Good Listening Skills

What is your definition of a good listener and how would you know if you weren’t one? It is a well-documented fact that we are most likely to agree with people who agree with us and ‘speak with our own words’. And while good listening encompasses so much more than just adopting your opponent’s words, it is one of the quickest ways to gain the rapport; be it your colleague, potential lead or the board of directors.

We can all learn from Buddha who said that the quieter you get, the more you can hear. While Buddha has most likely referred to a lengthy mediation session, I invite you to explore how it can be applied to our daily work. Learn to keep your own judgments, experiences, and visions out of the discussion. Remember Carnegie – it is not about you, it is about their needs. Start focusing on your opponent’s words more than on your inner running commentary and your chances to ‘make more friends’ and sales will increase exponentially. But what about the speaking part of the communication process?

Watch Your Language

As mentioned above, steering clear from your inner commentary will do you a big favour. By presupposing certain outcome you risk projecting it to the outer world on your client or business partner. We all remember the embarrassing story that happened to one of the most influential women on the planet, Oprah Winfrey when she was told off in a small luxury goods shop in Austria. The sales assistant presupposed that the woman doesn’t have enough money to buy the handbag and made her employers famous in one day. Not the kind of fame you would dream of.

By not imposing your own expectations or judgment on the opponent, you create a ‘safe’ or non-judgmental space where ideas and visions can be shared and embraced. This will come handy in brainstorming sessions, strategy planning, branding, marketing, HR, and of course sales.

Go ‘Clean’ Language

Clean language is one of many ‘communication models’ that can transform how you communicate within the business and in personal life. Developed by David J Grove, a New Zealand ‘Counselling Psychologist’, during the 1980s and 1990s, it was initially used in clinical psychology. But due to it’s simple yet effective structure that is extremely easy to apply, it has successfully spread into other contexts and suits perfectly for use in our daily lives.

Clean Language helps people to convey their own meaning, free of emotional or other distracting interpretation from others.

The fundamental principles of Clean Language are quite simple:

  • Listen attentively.
  • Keep your opinions and advice to yourself as far as possible.
  • Ask Clean Language questions to explore a person’s statements.

Listen to the answers and then ask more Clean Language questions about what the other person has said. The aim of this questioning technique is to map the landscape surrounding the issue or subject, not to offer a solution to what you perceive to be an issue.

An example of ‘Clean language’ application working with career objectives:

A: What areas you would like to improve?

B: I think I could do with more confidence.

A: And what kind of more confidence is that?

B: It’s when I know that I will meet the deadline, every time.

A: And what is important for you about meeting deadline, every time?

B: If I meet the deadline then I will have more time to focus on learning new skills.

A: And what kind of new skills?

B: I would like to learn new software…

It is evident from the example above how employing ‘Clean language’ can benefit your business and your daily life. And if you think of the effort it will take to get your staff up to speed with Clean language principles, think what is the price of NOT doing it.

The good news is, below are the twelve basic Clean Language questions for you to use and you can pick just a few favourites to start with.

And before you delve into the Clean Language, I invite you to watch this highly recommended video:

The basic Clean Language questions (established by David Grove)

In these questions, X and Y represent the person’s words (or non-verbals)

  • (And) what kind of X (is that X)?
  • (And) is there anything else about X?
  • (And) where is X? or (And) whereabouts is X?
  • (And) that’s X like what? (this gets you the metaphor that you can then explore)
  • (And) is there a relationship between X and Y?
  • (And) when X, what happens to Y?
  • (And) then what happens? or (And) what happens next?
  • (And) what happens just before X?
  • (And) where could X come from?
  • (And) what would X like to have happen?
  • (And) what needs to happen for X?
  • (And) can X (happen)?
  • (And) in which way? (An additional question courtesy of Toby & Kate McCartney)

What kind of X (is that X)?” and “Is there anything else about X?” are the most commonly used. For example, someone may say “I need to be more attentive” and your response would be “What kind of attentive is more attentive? They may say “less of a scattered” and you say “What kind of scattered? Is there anything else about less of a scattered?” As a general guide, these two questions account for around 50% of the questions asked in a typical Clean Language session.

Clean Language Online Self-Coaching Tool

I can’t stress enough the benefits and the effectiveness of Clean Language both in Coaching Session and in Business – team management, client expectation management, preparation of a proposal, customer service – you name it.

To give you an opportunity to familiarise yourself with Clean Language questions and their effect, Business Coaching Journal team has developed Clean Language Online Self-Coaching Tool inspired by the exercise at some Life Coach Training Courses (In particular, Toby & Kate McCartney).

Clean Language Exercise

  1. The exercise suggested to write down Clean Language questions on strips of paper, fold these or arrange on a table face down.
  2. Then present a problem or a goal you would like to work on in a way of a question: “What would you like to have happen?”
  3. It was then suggested all participants must take one paper at a time with Clean Language question written on it.
  4. After answering the question participants were to draw another piece of paper and continue with the process until the stripes of paper ran out.

While this exercise is a very simplistic self-coaching tool, it is great for challenging one’s perceptions and patterns of thinking and dealing with the problem or a goal.

Now you can too try out this exercise, courtesy of Business Coaching Journal. You can find this Clean Language Self Coaching Tool on the sidebar of each article page and at the bottom of your article if you are viewing from your mobile.

Enjoy and don’t forget to share your feedback with us!

If you are interested in finding out more about Clean Language, make sure to check out Judy Rees website and training.