Clean Language - From Contempt To Curiosity - Clean Language - using powerful questions to understand each other

Hi guys,

I have heard about clean language in one of the podcast episodes of

Nathy Ravez where she had as a guest Charles-Louis de Maare, whom I know from the visualization training I did with him.

I was curious to find out more so I read the book “From Contempt To Curiosity - Creating the Conditions for Groups to Collaborate using Clean Language and Systemic Modelling” by Caitlin Walker.

I find this method very useful in different settings, either in getting all perspectives in a room where people need to be heard, or in coaching sessions, it is very versatile and has been used for many years in various areas.

So I will share here my notes from it and next week I will share more about how you can use it for teams.

What does clean language mean?

Clean language is about asking questions without projecting the other person's answer. It is about accepting and extending what has been said.

You know these situations where you would like to reappraise for example using repositioning reappraisal and you seem not to get the other person's perspective?

There is a good situation where clean language can support well.

The idea is to respect the other person's opinion even if it does not make sense to you and ask questions until you get their perspective. Clean language helps to do this in a fast way, using a few questions.

What would a clean language conversation look like?

There are several questions to be asked and the main idea is to relate to what the other persons just said in order to build the next question on it.

Here is an example of which questions can be asked:

Example of dialogues extracted from the book:

“A: What would you like to have happened?”

Guy: I would like to get more in touch with my feelings so that I can write better songs about them.

A: What kind of feelings?

Guy: deep ones.

A: And is there anything else about these feelings?

Guy: They are inside me.

A: And where inside me?

Guy: deep in my heart.

A: And do those feelings have a size or a shape?

Gus: Yes it is like this ( cups his hands together)

A: And when it is like this, that is like what?

Guy: It is an onion, a rich red onion. “

Separate what you see from what you hear

“While you are listening to the person you are modeling, you need to separate what you are actually seeing and hearing from the sense you are making of it. You are distinguishing what is being presented from what is being inferred.

At the same time, you are detecting patterns in that person and, in order to do this, you have to know some of your own patterns.

You also need to be able to open your senses up to the person you are modeling. So that you can listen to words , spot gestures and be in touch with sensations and emotions.

Some key principles of Clean Language I gathered from the book:

  • repeating some of the words of the other person and adding a clean question related to them - this one relates to the mirroring with words from the article I wrote about the Chris Voss podcast
  • start a conversation from the position of not knowing
  • when you want to gather perspectives in a room, you can ask them to imagine and share a metaphor about that topic and then ask several times questions like “Who’s different to that?” or “Who’s not like that?” and encourage them to share different views
  • it is about meeting people where they were, not where we might wish they were

Bottom lines:

Clean language and systemic modeling that are described in the book of Caitlin Walker are super helpful to be used in many situations for facilitated sessions, coaching, or simply in conversations with each other. Want to try it?


Hope it is useful for you as it is for me as well!


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