Imagine having a conversation for over an hour with someone and that person only ever asking 5 questions, whilst you answer them. The same 5 questions, over and over again. Seems… repetitive? A little… frustrating? Yet surprisingly if those 5 questions are a particular, ingenious set of little questions, then actually it is not frustrating at all… but enlightening.

Clean coaching is a way of coaching someone using just a few questions – actually 12 questions, although 4 to 5 of them can be used a lot of the time. And by just using those questions, and repeating back the client’s words, the coach facilitates the client from a state of unknowing, or being stuck, to being able to move forward, and for things to be clear. It’s called clean language because the words of the coach are ‘clean’ – they don’t add any of their own words, advice, interpretation or opinion. They just repeat back, and ask those magic questions.

What makes these questions so powerful is that they are questions that aim to uncover metaphors. Then the coach and the client are talking in metaphor, rather than real-world language. This moves the conversation from feelings and behaviours to metaphor. Someone wanting more confidence when managing a team might be talking about being ‘like the captain on a ship – able to confidently manage the crew’, or someone wanting to feel happier might be ‘like a red balloon floating on the breeze’.

What the questions help the client to do is discover what actually has to happen for them to be the captain of the ship, or the red balloon.

What happens in clean coaching is that when the metaphor of the client is explained, understood, changed or resolved, then this is actually what happens in real life when the client returns to work. By working through the metaphor, they understand more about themselves, and real-life issues change or resolve.

“When a person’s basic metaphor changes so does their view of the world, the decisions they make and the actions they take.” (J Lawley, P Tompkins)

Clean language questions include: And what would you like to have happen? And what kind of ‘X’ is that ‘X’? And that’s ‘X’ like what? And is there anything else about ‘X’? And whereabouts is ‘X’? (‘X’ is a word that the client has mentioned.)

Some coaches exclusively use Clean Language to coach clients, others use the technique sometimes, and some coaches just use an awareness of it to be able to explore metaphors in coaching to help their clients.

Clean language can be especially helpful when a client seems really stuck. Sometimes then, everyday questions on real-life facts, goals, feelings and behaviours, just aren’t enough. That is when I sometimes use the approach. By exploring metaphor, you can then access another whole level of information just not accessible before, with amazing results.

“Metaphor has finally leaped off the page and landed with a mighty splash right in the middle of our stream of consciousness. The waves rippling out from that impact, are only just beginning to reach us.” (J Geary)

To find out more about Clean Language visit:

Sarah Alexander, Vivid Communication, Director, Coach and Trainer.

James Geary, 2011, I is another. The secret life of metaphor and how it shapes the way we see the world
James Lawley and Penny Tompkins