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3. Responding to 'the unusual'

Human beings seem designed to do out-of-the-ordinary things, which by their very nature cannot be covered in our model or guidelines. David Grove was an expert in noticing when a client engaged in idiosyncratic behaviour, and adept at using the process to bring this to their attention. This usually resulted in the space becoming instantly psychoactive – and that's exactly what you are looking for.

We have found a couple of frames useful in becoming adept at noticing and finding ways to incorporate the unusual. One is to: "Have no expectations, but great expectancy – and give up the need to know why things happen as they do." (Caroline Myss) This attitude can result in a heightened appreciation of unexpected client behaviour – from the blatantly obvious to the very, very subtle (which is when size certainly doesn’t matter!).

Another frame we have adopted – from Milton Erickson – is that of ‘utilise, utilise, utilise’. In other words, make use of what's there and what happens in the moment. The “no-waiting signs” story in our original Clean Space article is a lovely example. Another example of utilisation occurred during a Clean Space group process (see Section 5) where James was facilitating:

A female participant, M, was asked “And what do you know from there?”. She rushed across the room to another female participant, Q, who was sitting quietly in another space. When M arrived she put her arms around Q. M’s momentum resulted in Q lying on her back, with M sitting on top of her saying “I love you”. Q looked both surprised and far from enjoying herself.

To say I was taken aback would be a typical British understatement. I took a deep breath and said to Q, “And is there a space where you would like to be right now?”. She extricated herself and moved some distance away, focussing on M who was by now lying on the floor. “And what do you know from here?” I asked Q. She replied “That was totally inappropriate.” Using the same question I facilitated a short dialogue between the two women before returning to the agreed group theme.

Below we list a sample of client behaviours which do not fit neatly into the model. These are categorised into three groups:

3.1 Client doesn’t go to a new space
3.2 Client does something spontaneous
3.3 Other behaviours

Rather than attempt to memorise what to do in each case we recommend you review the examples and look for a pattern in the way of responding to the unexpected – then you’ll have a good idea what to do – whatever happens.


Can’t physically get to a space

Once you have facilitated a number of clients through Clean Space it will not be too long before one of them says they want to go to a space that they cannot physically get to. It might be because the space is "on the ceiling" or "underground" or "On top of that building" or "Outer Mongolia" or "cloud coo-coo land"  “inside my body”.

If David Grove couldn't arrange it so the client can physically occupy the space – ladders and a bit of ingenuity worked wonders – he used a neat trick he called a proxy space:

And find a space (you can go to) that can stand for (or represent) that space.

You then have to choose whether to continue as usual:

And what do you know from here?

 Or preserve the perspective of the original space, e.g. a space on the ceiling:

 And what do you know from up there?’
David Grove employed a different tactic when, on a cold and wet winter’s day, a client said the space they needed to go to was on the other side of the street. They received the instruction:

Go to that space, find out what you know from there, what the space knows, and anything else you know from there about these spaces here [points to the existing spaces in the room], and report back.

Can’t find another space

If while wandering around a client says they can’t find another space to go to, just wait until they stop moving, then ask:

And what do you know from here?

or alternatively instruct them to:

And return to one of the other spaces.

Doesn’t want to go to a space

I (James) remember one client replying to "Return to there [gesture to a previous space]" with "I don't want to go there again." My response was:

And find a space that knows something else about ‘not wanting to go there again’.

This approach employs three clean concepts: utilisation; working in the here-and-now; and adjacency.

This instruction accepts the client's intention to not go to that space again, and it invites them to find out something about their in-the-moment reaction to that space. In so doing the client’s attention is directed to an experience ‘next to’ the one they do not want to go to.

Alternatively, simply accept their statement and invite them to:

And return to another space.

If it seems appropriate later in the process you might use an early Clean Language question to test their willingness to go to that space:

And would you be interested in going to that space [gesture to it]?

Under no circumstances should you pressurise or even imply the client should go to a space they do not want to visit – even if you think it would be in their best interest to do so.

In Section 7, Example 2 is a mini-case study of a client who didn’t want to (or couldn’t) go to a particular space in their network.

In rare cases a client doesn’t want to return to Space 1. You must accept that and find some other way to complete the process. Given that the client has expressed a preference (to not go to a space) you could hand the choice over to the client:

And find a space where you would like to finish.

Then ask the ‘Finishing’ questions from there.

Doesn’t move when asked to

What do you do when you invite a client to ‘find another space’ or ‘return to ...’ and they do not move? If you are sure they have heard your instruction, depending on the circumstance you can:

Wait (until they say or do something, and then respond to that)
or ask:
And is there a space you would like to return to?

If neither of these seem fruitful, it might be time to use a Clean Language question:

And what would you like to have happen next?
And what’s happening right now?


Moves on their own

Just wait until they stop and continue with the process.

Apparently steps out of the space they are occupying

And what does this space know?
And what’s the difference between this space and that space?

Moves a post-it note or their statement/drawing

And what do you know now?
And what’s the difference between there [gesture to old location] and there [gesture to new location]?

A special case would be if the client moves the Space 1 post-it note. As the process requires you to return them to Space 1 to finish, we recommend you stick with the process and when it is time to do the ‘Finishing’ routine, revisit the new Space 1 first, and the original Space 1 last.

Removes one or more post-it notes

You can still refer to the now empty space from another space:

And what do you know from here about [gesture to the empty space]?

If the space has lost it’s psychoactivity or meaning for the client then it can be ignored for the rest of the session. If it remains an active part of the network, continue to involve it in the usual way.

Also, you still have the option to invite them to:

And go to that space [gesture to empty space].
And now what do you know from here?

Keeps moving (and doesn’t stop in one place)

Wait, wait, wait. However, if they start saying what they know while continuing to move, try something like:

C:    As I move around what comes to mind is ...
F:    And is there anything else you know ‘as you move around’?
F:    And is there anything else you know ‘as you move around’ about [gesture to an existing space]?
F:    And return to [gesture to an existing space].
F:    And what do you know from here about ‘move around’ [gesture to where they moved around].

Amends content of drawing/statement

And return to [gesture to Space 1].
And now what do you know from here?

Continue establishing a network or return to spaces as appropriate.


Asks you a question

Whenever possible answer with as few words as possible and in such a way that you affirm their question and do not decide on behalf of the client, e.g.

C:    Do you mean that space?
F:    Yes.
C:    Do you mean that space or that space?
F:    Either.
C:    Can I go to a different space?
F:    OK.

Can’t answer

If a client says something like “I can’t answer that question” or “I’m stuck here”. An obvious response might be: “Find a space were you can answer” or “Find a space where you are not stuck” but these are not clean because (i) they do not honour the client’s “can’t” or their “stuck”; and (ii) they probably come with an intention for the client to change. Cleaner responses would be something like:

And is there anything else you know when you can’t answer that question?
And find a space that knows something else about ‘being stuck’.

‘Know’ doesn’t work for the client

Very occasionally a client will have an unproductive response to the word ‘know’. They might say “The word ‘know’ doesn’t work for me” or “There’s something about ‘know’ that’s not quite right.” Just accept that and ask them what word would “work” or is “right”. Sometimes it will be ‘believe’, ‘think’ or ‘feel’. Whatever it is, use that in place of ‘know’.

Takes the whole thing completely literally

Penny and I have only ever seen this once. If it does happen you really don’t have much option but to stick with the process. First, you never know what’s happening unconsciously. And second, you can never know when the space might suddenly become psychoactive, e.g. the client starts to use metaphor or sees the symbolism in the configuration. Whatever the shift might be and however small, utilise it and build on that – slowly, slowly, slowly.

You run out of time

It doesn’t matter how far you have got through the process, always leave yourself enough time to return the client to Space 1 and to go through the ‘Finishing’ routine. If something unexpected means you need bring the session to a close, simply have the client return to Space 1 with the instruction “And notice what’s different.”

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