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James Lawley

James LawleyJames Lawley offers psychotherapiy to individuals and couples, and coaching, research and consultancy to organisations. He is a co-developer of Symbolic Modelling and co-author (with Penny Tompkins) of Metaphors in Mind: Transformation through Symbolic Modelling, (with Marian Way) Insights in Space: How to use Clean Space to solve problems, generate ideas and spark creativity and an Online training in Clean Language and Symbolic Modelling. For a more detailed biography see about us and his blog.

Do your Clean Space instructions have wiggle room?
By James Lawley | Published  26 07 2011

Since my last blog I've reflected on subtle differences in some Clean Space instructions. For example, note the differences between:

Find a space that knows ...

Find a space that knows about ...

Find a space that knows something about ...

Find a space that knows something else about ...

I think in the first three, the addition of each extra word gives the client a little more freedom.

'Knows' is definitive. There's not much wiggle room. What does the client do if they don't know? (You'll find out – and you work with that.)

'Knows about' offers the client the chance to go straight for the 'know' or to use the 'about' to go meta, and get a somewhat distanced perspective.

'Knows something about' is most permissive. As long as the client knows 'something', anything, then they can carry out this instruction.

'Knows something else about' is the odd one out because it only makes sense if the client has already said something about the '...'. In which case it is instructing them to elaborate an experience rather than starting an exploration of a different experience. (Of course, whether something is an elaboration or new depends on how the person punctuates their experience.)

It is not that any form of words is better than the others. All of these instructions are useful it depends on the circumstances and where you would like to invite the client's attention (and body) to go next.

In deciding which form of words to use I am making a judgement about how easy it is for the client to go straight for a knowing and how much they need a more open, permissive instruction. Factors I might take into account are:

How new is the information the client is likely to access? Old information is usually known, newly emerging information may need to be stalked awhile.

How definite is this client's general way of being in the world? Do they make categorical statements, or is their language peppered with: might, could, probably, I guess, maybe, I think, etc.

Is it time for the client to find out if they can make a definite statement, choice, decision, plan, etc.?

(There are no doubt plenty of other factors that I can't think of right now.)

Also, having observed hundreds of clients in CS processes, I can tell you, most will do their own thing, often regardless of the question or instruction. And that's just great. That makes my job as facilitator so much easier because the client is actively involved in designing their own process. (As always, there are exceptions. For example when a client keeps doing their regular pattern perpetuating their unwanted response.)

However, this doesn't give me permission is say anything in the hope that the client will make of it what they will. I learned from David Grove that being precise with language is part of the art form. Not so much because of the direct effect of that precision, but more because of the meta-message it sends to the client. Most clients like to feel that their facilitator knows what they are doing and are following their personal process closely. Precise questions can send the unspoken message that the facilitator is doing both. (Again, there are exceptions. Sometimes a too precise question can signal that the facilitator is trying to overly control the client's process. And almost always, the client can sense the facilitator's intention.)

The skill is to have the capacity to be very precise and artfully vague, because then you can choose the degree of precision that seems appropriate. If you don't have a wide range of these skills, you have limited choice.

If we return to consider the combining of Clean Space instructions and Clean Language questions as I did in my last blog, it is worth remembering that a question gives the client an option to say "I don't know" whereas an instruction is (usually) much harder to resist. And unlike many other therapeutic processes, we want the client's system to resist our impositions.


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