Like other coaching approaches, Clean Language coaching is outcomes-focused, with an emphasis on getting clients to set their own goals, writes Clean Language coach Margaret Meyer. But unlike some other coaching approaches, this is done by asking questions – the simple but powerful Clean Language questions, which are used to gather information, clarify outcomes, and identify what needs to happen for clients to achieve the changes they want in their lives.

A Clean Language coach doesn’t try to interpret or reframe the client’s answers. Clean questions are ‘clean’ because they use only the client’s exact words and phrases. It’s a profoundly respectful way of working. Clients who’ve experienced the quality of a Clean coaching session very often comment on the fact that they’ve felt truly listened to and respected – often for the first time.

When used well, the Clean Language questions also bring into the client’s awareness a special kind of intuitive information held just outside the client’s everyday consciousness, in the form of metaphor. Recent research shows that up to 95 per cent of thinking is done in the unconscious mind, and much of this thinking is unconsciously expressed in images or metaphors. Metaphor has been described as ‘the native language of the unconscious mind’. Each of us has a unique network of personal mental metaphors that powerfully influence not just our thinking but our behaviour too. In fact, we live our metaphors. Someone who thinks of their professional identity as leading a Formula One pit crew will live their work very differently from someone whose working style resembles a strolling musician.

Metaphors pack a lot of important information into a small package – including personal beliefs and values. For this reason, metaphors have a powerful role to play in coaching. Discovering the metaphor that exactly captures the personal qualities and resources needed to make a change can make a huge difference to a client’s motivation. A client finding – and then living with – their metaphor for their goal can connect that person with an inner wellspring of inspiration.

In Clean Language coaching, as a client becomes aware of the metaphors which underpin their thinking, these metaphors very often transform. Now the client is free to ‘rehearse the possible’, finding choice points and experimenting with new, more constructive ways of thinking, believing and behaving. As the metaphors change, the client’s inner world changes and this is often accompanied by natural and lasting real world changes.

For example, a client may describe her life as ‘a constant battle’. Perhaps without being consciously aware, her life is organised around – even dominated by – patterns of thinking and behaving that reflect her ‘battle’ metaphor. She’s seen as isolated and at times combative by colleagues. In Clean Language coaching she explores what she would like instead: life as an alchemist. The new metaphor comes to life in the space around this client. She can be specific about even the smallest details (shapes, sizes, colours, sounds). Through exploring what’s important about being an alchemist she gets in touch with a way of being, at work and at home, that expresses something of her talents and beliefs. She now has a better understanding of what motivates her and how she can express her identity at work.

Outcome-focused, respectful of each client’s own best ways of doing things, highly resource-oriented and alive to progress, Clean Language coaching builds motivation in every session. Clients are in the driver’s seat, with responsibility for deciding the pace of progress, whether to continue and exactly when enough has been achieved.

Clean Language coaches don’t tell clients what to do, nor do they attempt to solve problems or difficulties. They’re experts in asking questions in ways that respect clients’ views of the world, both inner and outer, while seeking to help people resolve complex issues, create more choice points, and move forward. By staying out of the client’s way and paying attention to their resources and all-important metaphors, coaching with Clean Language dramatically increases the likelihood that changes made will stay changed. 

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