Extending Clean Language
How to maximize what you learn from Individuals.
This title sounds like a Contradiction.
But if you indulge me for a few moments... I'll make it worth your time.
I've created some questions and patterns of questions that enable us to get more information from Individuals, including ourselves. In the world of 'Clean' they would be considered 'special' or even 'extra-special', but they are not part of the official Clean Community.
Let me start with why I created them, and then move on to the questions themselves.
Why did I go searching?
Most of my adult life has been devoted to finding ways (methods & techniques) to gain more information, solve more problems & pursue more opportunies by treating Individuals as well - Individuals rather than as members of some group. For example, "Because Alice is a woman, what might she think or do..., is replaced by Because Alice is Alice, what might she think or do..."?
In statistical research the members of a 'group' are identical hence always treated as believing, thinking, & acting identically.
For me & my research the only thing that exists in our external shared real world is Individuals. Categories & groups exist only in our heads, as figments of our imaginations.
Each of us is better at some things and worse at others. We
tend to do often what we're good at and avoid what we're not good at.
I'm not basing that assumption on traditional researched statistical
science, but by half a century of personal observations. It's also one
of the fundamental beliefs of John Gittinger, creator PAS (Personality
Assessment System) which I've found extremely useful for over 3
I'll use the terms 'client' & 'facilitator', to simplify things. The 'client' is the one with a personal problem to solve or an opportunity to pursue. They have the biggest stake in the outcome of the process. The 'facilitator' has the more remote role of assisting the client in pursuing the client's personal goals. Examples of client roles are: student, child, patient, & neighbor. Examples of facilitator roles are: teacher, parent, therapist, & neighbor. Notice 'neighbor' appears in both roles and is a more 'power equal' relationship, than the other more up-down power relationships. And when we try to resolve our own issues, by ourselves, we also play both roles.
How does our individual tendency to repeat what we're good at and avoid what we're not, get in the way of helpful advice in general, and the usefulness of the Clean Language Questions in particular?
My personal metaphor for how we remember things...
I view our minds like a castle we've created with several floors and many rooms, which contain the memories of all of our past experiences. Some rooms we go into very often, we find them comfortable. Some we only enter on rare occasions. And a few rooms are closed and locked with a big padlock, these we don't like to go in if at all possible. For those of us with a lot of past trauma we may even block off a whole floor or two to house these experiences. But these rooms contain our life experiences, our past decisions, which both help us, and keep us stuck, from which we can learn very personal lessons if we choose to explore them, just like the more familiar rooms. We may need to have a brave & trusted companion to go in with us, holding our hand. That's where the facilitator role can help, but only if that facilitator is both personally strong, skillful, & occasionally wise.
When we are asked the traditional Clean Question about a topic: "Is there anything else about...? we usually go first to the 'comfortable' rooms and skip over these troublesome rooms. To improve the answers we are likely to get, I'm experimenting with what I've been calling Clean Prodding. I modify the original clean questions slightly to urge the client to explore those less used rooms in search of useful answers.
Even the metaphoric search question: "And that... is like what"? will often involve searching only the rooms with the more 'comfortable' experiences. More on this question later...
When 2 people interact in a cooperative setting, whether clinical or non-clinical, they are usually trying to find some information or 'Answer' they don't already have. They could be trying to solve a problem or pursue an opportunity. I've found that the Clean Language questions are excellent for keeping the client focused on the search and avoiding distractions. However if the information, or answer, being sought is in one of those locked rooms, we may sometimes still fail to access that needed information.
So to elicit this valued information, I believe the facilitator sometimes needs to 'Probe' or 'Prod' or 'Poke' the client to explore the experiences in those pad-locked rooms.
In many traditional settings the probing or prodding or poking is entirely decided by the 'therapist' or 'facilitator' or 'parent' or 'teacher'. On occasion it's done in a rigid & less than friendly manner. Clean Language dramatically reverses this power structure, putting many of the choices of which experiences to explore almost completely in the clients control.
We know, but I don't think fully appreciate, the strength of our preferences & how they shape the way we perceive the world around us.
When I speak about respecting Individuals, I certainly don't mean finding a different approach for each of the almost 7 billion Individuals on the planet. Rather we break them into functional groups relevant to our purposes.
You might use Myers-Briggs (MBTI), GPAS (Gittenger's Personality Assessment System), PCM (Tabie Kahler's Process Communication Model) etc. each has a few preferred dimensions to rank Individuals.
Let's take the T_F dimension in the Myers-Briggs paradigm.
Thinking vs Feeling has been debated for centuries. Head vs Heart is another name for it. Clearly some people use Thinking, Head, to make most of their decisions, while others use Feelings, Heart, to make most of their decisions.
I became a strong T or Thinking, or Head person. The flip side is that my emotions, heart, gets anywhere from 2nd to 100th place in my life and decision making. Not great, but life is not always fair. Now suppose that some needed information to resolve a current problem is buried deep, deep, in my emotional (Feeling) memory.
If I ask "Is there anything else about......" I'll get a non-response -
"No there is nothing else about......"
But suppose I create a specific prod, a probe, a poke, like this:
"Is there any other feeling about......"
It will send my mind into less used areas of my brain/personality, and may, just may, retrieve information that the more general "Is there anything else about......" might miss.
In the Clean Space model, we might ask: "Is there a space that might have some answers but is a space I rarely go into"?
This sends our mind to look in less familiar places for new answers.
Examples of questions:
|| Clean Prodding Question
|| E - I*
|| "Is there an internal aspect about......"
|| E - I*
|| "Is there an external aspect about......"
|| R- F
|| "Is there a more dynamic approach to......"
|| R- F
|| "Is there a more methodical approach to......"
|| S - iN
|| "Is there a big picture about......"
|| S - iN
|| "Are there any other details about......"
|| T - F
|| "Is there any other feeling about......"
|| T - F
|| "Is there any other logical thing about......"
* This dimension Externalizer - Internalizer is present in virtually every system of personality types.
It has strong biological roots in our peripheral vision,
and critical implications in the way we live.
A most personal application, which once actually saved my job is:
Judy Piani's article on external thinkers. at:
She calls Externalizer - Internalizer: Interactive Thinking & Quiet Thinking. Fascinating!
A 2nd, related, way to extend the usefulness of Clean Language to Individuals is the use of Dynamic Checklists. Checklists are used in almost all fields, aviation being perhaps the most popular. Their main purpose is to ensure we don't forget anything, like making sure there is enough fuel aboard.
Atul Gawande has written an excellent book - "The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right". He explores the use of checklists in medicine, especially in the operating room.
I've also expanded their use to supplement our Individual differences. Using my personal example above, I might remember all the analytical questions to ask but forget the simplest emotional concerns. Clean Prodding pushes, or pokes, or prods me into those less familiar areas of my memory. I call it 'Clean' prodding to distinguish it from the rather mean, vicious, even if well intentioned, prodding that some teachers, parents, so-called therapists, & other over-controllers use.
A 3rd application comes by returning to the metaphoric search question: "And that... is like what"? Again, this will often involve searching only the rooms with the more 'comfortable' experiences.
This is an adaptation of a question my son encountered during a workshop on creativity. After the rather typical creativity exercise: "List as many uses for a brick as you can think of...", most participants generated about 15-20 uses or applications. Then his instructor posed an even more powerful exercise: "List as many applications as you can think of, that a brick cannot be used for..." Amazingly many participants came up with 30-40 new applications for using a brick! People would think of a possible non-application, but then in trying to explain why it wouldn't work they often came up with a new connection.
Perhaps a similar provocative, prodding, poking question might be:
"And that... is totally unlike what"?
This article is part of a series of articles about how adopting the viewpoint of Individuology opens our selves to experiencing opportunities & problems differently and hopefully more productively.
I've been using these techniques on myself, as well as parents, teachers, & neighbors for about a year and they've yielded many useful insights, which I believe would not have emerged with the generic:
"Is there anything else about......"
If this technique seems useful, or at least not harmful, perhaps those of you who have access to a wider client base may want to experiment. I'd appreciate any & all feedback, positive or negative, or even neutral (nothing happened). Refinements to my new questions would be especially appreciated.
I'm an ENTP, so there are 15 other views of reality that I'm not very good at.
Last Updated: Tuesday, Mar. 26, 2013 10:51 AM
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