Review: Clean Language – Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds

Clean Language – Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds
by Wendy Sullivan & Judy Rees



This is a beautiful little book which is well-written and full of useful insights. Clean language consists entirely of questions and it is intended to offer a new way of thinking about how people’s minds actually work. It also helps people to explore their internal metaphors and enriching these metaphors in a way that can lead to an enrichment of their external lives. It is also well illustrated with lots of little cartoons which help to explain the text very quickly.

Clean Language was developed by David Grove. It consists of very simple but powerful questions which go further even than NLP in focusing solely on process and leaving the content entirely up to the client. The twelve basic Clean Language questions are shown below in three groups.

Developing Questions

  • (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) is there a relationship between X and Y?
  • (and) when X, what happens to Y?
  • (and) that’s X like what? [used for eliciting a metaphor]

Sequence and Source Questions

  • (and) then what happens? or (and) what happens next?
  • (and) what happens just before X?
  • (and) where could X come from?

Intention Questions

  • (and) what would X like to have happen?
  • (and) what needs to happen for X?
  • (and) can X (happen)?

These questions are all that is used in most Clean Language sessions, often using the same question several times in a row to get the client to explore their internal representations more fully.

It takes a while to get used to the questions and asking them in exactly the form that they are given can be challenging at first. When I thought about using them, I sometimes felt that they were too constraining and that I wanted more freedom.  However, when I talked to a friend about a difficult issue that he was working through, I primarily used these questions and despite the strange syntax at times they caused no confusion and were very helpful in getting him to sort out his own internal issues and to enrich his metaphors for how to move forward.

I’ll be coming back to Clean Language and a related topic, Symbolic Modelling, over the next few months as this is such an interesting area that I have signed up for an online course with a British training school. I’m looking forward to that and in the meantime, I’m planning to enjoy using Clean questions when I want to focus entirely on process and leave the content entirely to the client.

One thought on “Review: Clean Language – Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds

  1. Brian you’ve made an important discovery – clean questions are processes differently by the client, by the facilitator and by observers. The challenge is for each person to not to assume their perspective is shared by the others. This is particularly important for the facilitator. Their job is attempt to appreciate the way the client is processing the questions. This is a kind of calibration but different to the way it is usually done in NLP. I’ve lost count of the number of times a trainee facilitator has said to us that their client was stuck, when it was they who were stuck, not the client.
    Best wishes with your venture into the world of metaphor, clean language and symbolic modelling.

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