Clean Language is a questioning technique which can form a bridge between the right and left brains, by using the metaphors which underpin our thinking.

It is a tried-and-tested method for bringing an individual’s own metaphors into their consciousness, improving inter- and intra-personal communication. In particular, this innovative approach can help people to develop strong, embodied awareness of their desired outcomes, and can drive powerful, long-lasting change.

The metaphors in our thoughts have a profound influence on our behaviour and yet are usually outside our conscious awareness – we notice them as little as a fish notices the water it swims in. This is increasingly recognised by leading academics such as Steven Pinker and Gerald Zaltman (both of Harvard University).

Asking Clean Language questions about the metaphors a person uses in their language will help to bring the metaphors into their awareness and to make conscious their underlying metaphoric thought, so that the ‘hidden’ is revealed.

Clean Language has its roots in psychotherapy, having originally been devised by therapist David Grove in the 1980s. But it is now used in situations as diverse as sales, school teaching and business management, coaching, complementary health and computing.

By its nature, it respects diversity and is tailored to the specific client, and is therefore effective across different languages and cultures. It can be used in one-to-one contexts or with groups.

The value of Clean Language in outplacement

Clean Language cannot replace advice-based elements of the outplacement process. However, it can have clear advantages in a number of other areas.

By using metaphors, Clean Language-based workshops or coaching sessions can enable individuals to talk about difficult subjects indirectly. This can provide a useful way forward when emotions are running high, or when people may be unwilling to admit aspects of their experience (their hopes, their fears, or even the things they are good at) to themselves or to others.

At first glance, this indirectness may seem like a cop-out. Yet because of the profound impact of metaphor on the right brain (widely exploited by advertising, politicians etc) it can in fact be even more effective than tackling things head-on.

For example, a workshop participant may develop a metaphor for the working life of their dreams. “It’ll be like a three-ring circus, with lots of colour and variety, and I’ll be at the centre of things.” This becomes a compelling, concise and tangible vision of the kind of experience they would like, and which matches their personal values. Holding it in mind will help them to filter potential future roles at an unconscious level.

If they choose to consider it consciously, they may be well aware that the metaphor highlights how important variety, colour and being at the centre of things are for them. But they will not have needed to talk about the dullness of their present role, their unhappiness in it, nor their uncertainties about switching.

In a coaching context, similar principles apply. And frequently the impact is even more profound: clients can safely tackle big personal issues, and they regularly report transformational experiences from a 90-minute session.

Specific applications

A Clean Language workshop will help wherever an individual or group needs to develop, clarify or update their mission or vision.

Within the outplacement process, this would include workshops examining:
• Career choice
• Start your own business
• Active retirement.

Workshops might also be provided for teams of ‘survivors’, helping them to find a new, shared approach in the changed situation.

Within a workshop, participants may also learn the basics of the Clean Language approach, which they might apply in peer support or in other life contexts.

One-to-one Clean Language coaching will help when people are experiencing emotional blocks to progress, such as a lack of confidence, interview nerves etc. The need for a session (or sessions) could arise at various stages of the outplacement process, from ‘tell day’ through to the start of a person’s new life.

Coaching sessions may also be used to develop a personal vision, either as a supplement to a workshop or as a freestanding service using Clean Language-based profiling approaches.

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