Clean Language: Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds

Clean Language: Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds

Clean Language Book Cover

Authors: Judy Rees & Wendy Sullivan

Reviewers: Claire Caine & Peter Hay

The book’s aim is to put clean language into everybody’s hands – the authors use a metaphor that the book is like the invention and use of digital cameras. This aim gives the book the feel of a “beginners guide” where it is trying to encourage take up and includes some self-development exercises or practice.

However, as the book reveals lots about the process of using clean as well as deeply exploring metaphor, I think it’s a good refresher which gently develops existing practice. There are some great challenges to practice for example giving one third of the time to maturing change. It also works to develop and stretch practice, particularly through metaphor and modelling.

The book has tight boundaries, sticking with twelve clean questions. I was curious to find out more about modelling and the use of the specialised clean question that comes at the very end. I would have liked more about this in the same practice style.

The book aims to introduce the practise of using clean language in a coaching session to reveal new truths or insights to help people become “unstuck” and change by using metaphors. The book is very clear, well written, with lots of reminders sprinkled through the book about the mindset and exact syntax to use in a Clean coaching session.

It provides a great overview of how humans think in metaphor, and how these metaphors can be explored to find out new information or different perspectives for the client. The purpose of asking “clean” questions is to ensure there is no projection of assumptions from the coach to the client.

The ideal audience is someone who wants to be able to explore further areas of knowledge within their client using a focus on language and descriptive metaphors within their conversation.

The repetition of various common themes helps reinforce the learnings from the book. It provides excellent examples on how to practise your learnings, using everyday experiences. My favourite part of the book was where it asked the reader to use the syntax to develop a metaphor for “learning at your best”. I found I learned a lot about myself in that exercise.

The book has a range of well-structured exercises – from spotting adverts and practicing syntax to taking an hour to apply clean questions to learning at your best. I thought these were great, as many of the conversations quoted seem quick and short, with coachees who seem to speak less than mine! As a result, I have sometimes struggled with books and seeing clean working – which this book cut through.

The book isn’t a fully referenced academic study, to allow its focus upon practice. I thought the closing chapters about the many settings you can use clean and then the next steps were very well structured. There were some great ideas for practical steps such as forming a practice group.

I think this focus upon practice is very powerful: not least as it starts to show how clean can be the basis of a detailed and full coaching practice, rather than a ‘technique’ that might be deployed in part.

The content is well structured, with the authors able to articulate in simple language the style and process of a clean language session. You could say that the book is written in a “clean” way! I can see it is powerful because of the simplicity of the syntax. However, sometimes, it can be a challenge to stick to the exact syntax – a point which is stressed within the book as being important to not bring in any “unclean” assumptions into the session.

There are lots of examples and opportunities to learn through practising. The authors group the various Clean Language questions into categories which makes it easier to learn the syntax.

There is a whole chapter focussed on “FAQs” to help the reader learn approaches to managing a clean language session, including a “Traffic Light” model to support the coach in remaining focussed on the desired outcome of the session.

Learning and “practising” is encouraged across the whole book, with the latter chapters also giving lots of example transcripts of clean language sessions, which helps to explain the flow of a session.

The book provides additional references where appropriate. I have started to explore how I can use metaphor within my coaching practise to help the client move forward in their thinking. I have found it particularly useful to practise on myself!

The book really made me think hard about the practice of clean. In particular it pulled out some elements that I have already taken into practice A good use of ethics which is often skirted over (by being non-directional, everything must be fine.)

The way metaphor was developed was very strong with some good ideas for guiding people to explore their landscape. The common use of metaphor was also usefully identified and made me reflect on just how easy it is to miss ‘commonplace’ metaphor. The book was very strong on staying with clean as the client develops actions using their metaphor.


I welcomed the practice focus, which really stimulated reflections on how I use clean by the authors being very generous with their own approaches.

I found the book easy to read, with lots of helpful tips and repetition. It has raised my awareness of the power of metaphorical language within a coaching environment.

Even experienced users of digital cameras can benefit from rereading the handbook and thinking about how they use the full range of features available to them. I found the focus upon practice useful in showing the way in which clean can work so strongly to develop metaphor and embed changes using that metaphor.

The practice insights worked for me in making me think hard about how I use clean and how I can use it more by staying with it.

Reading this book has improved my questioning as I have become more aware of shortening my questions. I have tried to incorporate a clean language approach into my coaching practise, with varied success. I have had limited success to date with clients who are analytical or empirical in their thinking style. The client needs to be open to exploring further using metaphor and the approach needs careful introduction to the client. This is something for me to reflect on further.