Writing in 1998 about the philosophy and principles of Clean Language, David Grove wrote that the role of a Clean Language facilitator was to ‘visit the client’s model of the world, and unfold solutions that are conducted within the language and logical boundaries of that world’.
What Grove was referring to was the inner world everyone contains, and the emphasis on paying attention to ‘that world’ holds as true today as it did in the 1980s. Exploring inner worlds isn’t exactly a new concept, as any poet or mystic will tell you; it’s not even new within the personal development sector. Yet, it’s one of the features that makes Clean Language unique. The Clean approach is based on the recognition that exploring these unique worlds, which are rich in resources, and populated with symbols and metaphors that contain our personal ‘code’ about the way we experience our values, beliefs and behaviour, can be a life-changing experience.
In a Clean coaching session, Clean questions, with their distinctive style, are designed to help someone not only to make contact with their inner world, but to become immersed in it. The questions allow profoundly respectful exploring of the words, phrases and symbols that are the landmarks of someone’s inner terrain. A Clean Language coach or facilitator acts as a kind of guide – rather like a Sherpa, someone who is expert in helping others negotiate unfamiliar, sometimes challenging, terrain. Tenzing Norgay, the Sherpa mountaineer who literally climbed to fame with explorer Sir Edmund Hilary, was widely acknowledge as having played an integral role in getting them both to Everest’s summit.
This isn’t to say that Clean coaching is like mountaineering – although it certainly can involve some high-altitude experiences. What is true is that the possibilities of an inner landscape will be discovered, explored and unlocked. When a client is able to find new potentials, new choices, often in unexpected forms and places, the possibilities for change increase dramatically. Some of these possibilities can be very subtle. After all, it was somewhere above 28,000 feet, nearing Everest’s summit, that Tenzing and Hillary found an all-important split in a wall of rock and ice. Negotiating a way up that apparently impassable split proved to be Hilary’s route to achieving a long-held ambition. Though literally true, this story is a good example of the kind of subtly profound changes that can happen in a Clean coaching session.
Climbing Everest ultimately redirected the course of Hilary’s life, an example of how change on the outside can lead to profound change inside. Clean coaching works the other way round. When a client’s inner world changes, their outer world can change too, often with lasting results. You don’t have to go all the way to the top, but you can if you want to.