Clean Language

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Clean Language is deeply agreeable to the client’s heart and soul.
David Grove

I discovered Clean Language during a Meetup @Flixbus in Berlin

There are loads of articles about this way of communicating (there’s a list of links at the bottom of this post) and therefore, I want to write about my very personal opinion.

The goal of Clean Language, is to make your conversational partner find the answers him or herself.

Let me demonstrate by an example, which I have often experienced myself. I used to consult clients about  online shops. At the first meeting, I wanted (and needed) to know, what the client wants and needs and which ideas and expectations he or she has. To find out, which vision should be realized.

When there was no corporate identity (yet), I asked the people about the shop’s features and also the design. Me: “What colors do you like? Any preferences? Is there anything you have seen on other shops?”

Most of the times, the client had no specific ideas. The standard answer was “Just make something”. That was bad! At the beginning, I started to make some interface mockups (mostly three) and showed them online in a protected area.

After the client had a look, long mails would arrive in my email agent with all the things the client didn’t like. suddenly, the client knew what he or she wanted.

Great, but creating mockups takes time, which could have been filled with goal oriented tasks. Would I have known Clean Language, the kick-off meeting would have been different.

As a facilitator (as the one, who asks the question is called), I would have asked the following question “Please imagine your site and tell me, when you see it”. When the client (in the double meaning of the word, because in Clean Language the interviewee is also called client) would signalize, that she or he sees the site before her or his mental eye, I would start to ask neutral questions like “What do you see?”, “Which colors does the site have?” and soon.

At the end of the interview, the client would have described a complete image of his or her shop. Would have made life a bit easier 🙂

This approach can be used in several scenarios. Also when working with a team. For me, personally,  the retrospective is the most important event in Scrum. This is come-together is the one, in which the team also debates non-functional subjects, to use Scrum jargon.

The reason, why I regard this event as one of the most important ones, is the fact that the people in the team can speak their mind. May it be about the professional part of the project, or about personal subjects.

For me, as a servant leader, it is of utmost importance to work with a team that feels secure, respected and understood. To communicate in a  clear fashion creates transparency.

Some people are less brave , when it comes to speak their mind in a group, or don’t really know what bothers them. Clean language is a great tool to make it easier to overcome hurdles and to speak free and to let the interviewee find out things by himself.

Clean Language was developed by David Grove.

Grove’s Clean Language was initially designed to address the needs of patients who were suffering from traumatic memories, particularly to facilitate in their capability to resolve blocks and phobias. This was achieved through the description of subjective experiences and identifying specific phrases, which are then made less abstract to elicit the link between speech and lived experience. Grove’s work on Clean Language also spawned the field of Emergent Knowledge.


Here some examples, which I coped from

The questions containing the verb ‘to be’ help to keep time still and are mostly used for developing individual perceptions:

  • Is there anything else about that … ?
  • What kind of … is that … ?
  • Where is … ?
  • Whereabouts … ?
  • That’s … like what?
  • How many … are there?
  • Is there is relationship between … and … ?
  •  Is … the same or different to … ?
  • Is … on the inside or the outside?

A clean question has three functions:

  • To acknowledge what the client has said
  • To direct their attention to one aspect of their experience
  • To send them on a quest for self knowledge
  • Another example from Wikipedia:

Clean Language questions are designed to reduce to a minimum any influence from the facilitator’s ‘map of the world’ via his or her metaphors, interpretations or unwarranted assumptions. They are also designed to direct the client’s attention to some aspect of their experience (as expressed in their words or non-verbal expressions) that the facilitator has noticed and chooses to highlight for the client’s potential learning. An example dialog is as follows:

Client: “I feel strange.”

Non-Clean Language facilitator responses might include:

  • “I know this can be uncomfortable.”
  • “Are you ill?”
  • “Do you want to feel normal?”
  • “What would happen if you didn’t?”
  • “Stop complaining!”

Clean Language facilitator responses might include:

  • “And where do you feel strange?”
  • “And what kind of strange?”
  • “And that’s strange like what?”
  • “And is there anything else about that ‘feels strange’?”
  • “And what happens just before you feel strange?”
  • “And when you feel strange, what would you like to have happen?”

Some life coach training suggest the following Clean Language self-coaching exercise:

Write down the Clean Language questions on strips of paper, fold these or arrange them randomly on a table face down. Then decide on a problem or a goal you would like to work on by answering the question: “What would you like to have happen?”

Take one paper at a time with a Clean Language question written on it. After answering the question, draw another piece of paper and continue with the process until the strips of paper run out.

There are also  a pack of cards with questions which can be used during an interview.

You can buy the cards in English here:

In German:

Sorry for the bad quality, but I just made a quick snapshot of the book on my bookshelf 😉

There are some games, which can be performed during workshops On this site, you can explore the details

I am quite fond of this approach and I will surely execute this communication tool in the future.

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