David Grove's Clean Language
Communicate Clearly and Make Stronger Connections
Even with the best will in the world, one-on-one conversations can fail to get the results we want, or that we expect.
We may make flawed assumptions about another person's point of view, which steer the conversation off course. Or, we might use language that is open to different interpretations, causing misunderstandings and confusion.
Adopting the Clean Language technique can minimize or eliminate these misunderstandings. Following a few simple guidelines, and asking the right kind of questions, allows you to communicate with greater clarity, and to make stronger connections with people.
In this article, we explore what Clean Language means, and how you can use it to improve your communications at work.
What Is Clean Language?
Psychotherapist David Grove developed Clean Language in the 1980s. He realized that many therapists subtly influenced what their clients said during their sessions – and noticed that this was particularly true when both parties were using metaphors.
To combat this, Grove created Clean Language. The approach is simple: the questioner keeps their own thoughts, assumptions and metaphors out of the conversation as far as possible.
And, if the speaker uses a metaphor to describe something, the questioner uses a series of follow-up questions to make sure that they understand the speaker's meaning clearly.
What Is a Metaphor?
In their 2003 book, "Metaphors We Live By," linguists George Lakoff and Mark Johnson define a metaphor as a way of making sense of something by comparing it to something else.
Here are some common examples:
- He has a stormy disposition.
- I'm over the moon about my promotion.
- Sam is the heart of his team.
- Efficiency is the driving force for our department.
- The competition changed, but we buried our heads in the sand.
- I can't digest what you're telling me.
We all use metaphors far more than we realize, and our choice of metaphors says a lot about us as individuals. Metaphors reflect and help to shape our view of the world.
David Grove observed that when therapists use metaphors while working with clients, it can affect the client's decision making and limit their ability to resolve issues for themselves.
The same is true at work. When we use metaphors to "frame" an issue in a certain way, we direct people toward our own interpretation of the situation.