Clean Change’s Associate Director, Margaret Meyer reflects on her use of Clean, and how it has developed to include a variety of business uses since she first trained.

Recently I’ve been to a number of seminars emphasising the importance of relationships. Even in the most hard-edged commercial environments, the business of doing business just goes so much better when rapport and relationship are involved. This is hardly news for those of us involved in the so-called ‘helping professions’: relationship-building is the foundation of our work.

Until I trained in Clean Language it had never occurred to me that it was possible to involve someone’s personal metaphors in the conversation, let alone build relationships through metaphor.

I did my first training in Clean with Wendy Sullivan in 2005. Like many Clean trainees, I was initially puzzled about how I could apply this amazing technique to more of my work. In the years in between I’ve gradually added more and more ways of including Clean across more of my work: these days hardly a day passes without my using some aspect of the Clean repertoire (such as the Framework for Change, or Clean set-up, or some of the Clean Space protocols) with a client or company.

Before I trained as a coach and consultant, I thought I knew a lot about relationship-building. I worked in international cultural relations. I flew around the world (from China to Lithuania to Jordan) to meet people from all walks of literary life: aspiring writers, agents, critics, culture ministers. What that experience taught me was that the art of super-fast relationship building hinged on a lot of asking questions – followed, of course, by some high-quality listening.

I was just beginning to understand the power of the right kind of question to open up communication when I came across Clean Language. After two days’ training, I decided to take those amazing 12 Clean questions to work. Just like my passport, they went with me everywhere. In fact, they became my passport to meaningful networking. My conversations simply shifted into a different gear, because even the most jaded diplomat would respond to being asked what they would like to have happen.

Now I am using these skills, not only in personal development and relationship-building contexts, but also for commercial results. I have found that Clean translates to an astonishingly wide range of professional settings:

  • Last month I went to Germany to facilitate a metaphor development workshop for one of the world’s biggest sportswear brands. Asking Clean questions about that team’s metaphor maps got them thinking in new ways about the brand’s future and its possibilities.
  • This week I’ve used Clean questions, together with Clean’s ‘Framework for Change’ model, to coach finance executives. In a session with a struggling senior manager, simply wondering out loud whether what she’d been telling me was an outcome or remedy was enough to precipitate a moment of real insight.
  • Next week I’ll be returning to a previously struggling firm of professional advisors whose financial fortunes were, well, far from healthy. Using Clean Space to plot out their metaphorical (as well as literal) scale of charges revealed an out-of-awareness ‘threshold’ beyond which they felt they simply could not charge. Some sequencing questions got to the moment of ‘just before you feel that charge is too high’: to describe this as an ‘aha!’ moment would be an under-statement. Let me simply say that this client used the momentum of that insight to take over the session, continuing to use Clean Space to develop their own outcome landscape. Their next step includes generating a new business plan using Clean Language and Clean Space.
  • Next month, Clean-trained colleague Ian Crawford and I will find out whether our Clean consulting interventions have won the consulting industry’s most prestigious award. Our work with the Independent Police Complaints Commission has led to Ian’s consultancy (www.sequena.com) being shortlisted in two MCA Award categories. Ian and I used Clean (Language and Space) all the way through the IPCC project. We used it to set up every workshop, get the client scoping outcome landscapes, model and mature the proposed changes, and to capture the learnings from every session. We even used it between ourselves to debrief at the end of each project day. It’s also rewarding to know that one year later, IPCC are using Clean questions – in fact, a Clean approach – across most of their 80 or so change projects.

Margaret’s experience indicates how valuable Clean skills can be across a wide range of business contexts – and while on one hand it seems surprising how broadly it can be used, on the other hand, given that we are using an approach that targets individuals’ metaphors, which seems to be very close to the heart of human experience, it would be more surprising if Clean didn’t have applications that spread far and wide.

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