It was all over an Oreo

It was all over an Oreo

I remember the look on my daughters face. 

She had just come to me “Mom, if you twist the cookies just like this, she carefully twisted the two flat cookies that sandwiched the frosting in-between in opposite directions, you can eat the middle!” 

That’s when I did it.

Instead of delighting in her discovery and asking her a question “What else can you do with an Oreo sweetie?”, all 30 years of Oreo eating experience culminated in an enthusiastic burst and telling her all the ways she could crunch, munch, dip, crumble, peel, lick, and eat an Oreo.

Thats when the face I remember happened. I had taken all the joy of discovery from her Oreo adventure.

I know, it was only a cookie. But it was her cookie, her growing up discovery, her adventure and what I had done was, in essence, appropriated her adventure and overlapped it with my own experiences. I stole it from her.

She never shared a new way of eating an oreo again.

The thing is this kind of behavior in any domain takes something from those we are talking to.

New ideas, a creative adventures, problem solving, as soon as we give unsolicited advice or stories about how we did it, what we might do, our previous experience we rob others of something essential that comes with personal discovery.

Its more than “Don’t give me advice honey, just listen”. Hear that as “I am going to tell you something and even if it’s in your domain of experience, or it’s painful, or frustrating … I want to retain ownership of it.”

This skill of letting others own and keep their experiences, their joy of solving, and adventure of discovery is something Clean Language has given me.

It sounds small … but please don’t underestimate the power of asking rather than telling.

Would you like to know more?

Check out this post from 2015, Ask, Don’t Tell ,for a more comprehensive look at using Clean Questions affirmatively.

Hipsters Got It Going On!

Hipsters Got It Going On!

It’s like a revival.

Read or listen – as you please.

I’ve been thinking a lot about social media and what seems to be major move towards doing everything online and, ya know…I’m not sure about the on-line-ness of the future.

When I was a kid reading sci-fi and as I grew older reading technological projections…what we’ve got now, is not what was promised or projected.

I think Hipsters and maker-culture are on the edge of something more than just fair-trade eco-commerce.

They are a segment of young people striving to have an experience of the world around them. Not a virtual experience, but one infused with quality over quantity and relationship over volume.

This is where you see dot com millionaires opening micro-breweries where they are the brew master, creating something amazing with their own hands.

Where MBA’s are ‘retiring out’ and opening leather shops where items are hand crafted by artisans sewing in the back area of a retail outlet in full view. A place where customers can watch bags and belts being made.

This culture is not new

…and the up-serge is mostly happening in the US where mom and pop stores have been edged out by big box shopping culture starting in the 1970s. Here we are 50 years later. Going back in time to something that simply feels better.

This is also a future (past) that I think is more in line with our neuro-biological needs as human beings.

Think hug and the spectrum from a virtual hug, to a light tripod hug, and a genuine, full armed, ready to get to know you like you belong hug.

Embodied heads aside, and keyboard life as its own thing, there is a confusion and lostness that is leading to critical mass. Insuring that we have our online persona all tooled up is not the full answer.

I struggle with online training for many reasons. Not because it is not valuable or do-able in a nice ways with technological resources at our finger tips – but that it can only go so far.

And I know there is an incongruence between my message and that it is being sent via email…then again, this is not a training.

Learning online

… is a great way to gain more knowledge, to study for conceptual learning, and to meet others with similar interests from around the world. I have even read that when studying for a test learning online has an advantage for helping one retain intellectual information.

Learning face-to-face, hand-to-hand creates relationships forged in common experience, learning deep skills developed in real time with living variables (that would be people), and conversations that only happen during meals and downtime.

You know, the musings and questions we often have after reading something, trying a new way of doing things, putting our new skills to work.

Maker culture is not about fast food, fast friends, or fast results. It is about slow food, deeper social connections, and results that last.

Clean Language is a maker-culture.

It is an art.

Art happens with skill, skill happens through experience, and experience happens through exposure.

Learning a certain level of competency in Clean Language can happen in virtual learning environment.  And those you find teaching Clean Language at a high skill levels have had high quality, in-person, face-to-face, live, hands-on training at some point in their learning career.

Clean Language is a hands-on, skills based way of working with others.

Humans are complex and there are subtleties in learning that are simply better captured when you are face-to-face, when you can see even small gestures that might be out of screen vision online, watch and respond to eye focal points, notice skin tone changes, vocal changes clearly, and when learning get real time feedback by a skilled trainer.

So bottom line …

Q: Can you learn Clean Language online?
A: Yes.

Q: Will it be more difficult to become very good?
A: Yes

Q: Will you need to be more self-motived to practice, show up on keyboard to chat groups & virtual practice rooms, learn more on your own, and sustain your own momentum?
A: Yes

Q: Will you get the real time feedback you need to improve in subtle and meaningful ways?
A: Maybe

Q: Will it be comprehensive with gesture, line of site, and subtlety of movement?
A: It is limited in this scope.

Q: Will it be good enough to add to your current practice or skill set?
A: It depends (on many variables)


Wanna get close and do a little hands-on learning?

We would love to have you join us at one of our live events.

Clean Coaching is Green Coaching

Clean Coaching is Green Coaching

I was in a small health food co-op the other day and on my way out I saw a local green directory titled Solstice.

I looked at the book, paused, walked out the door, then turned around walking back in and grabbing a copy for myself.

What happened as I walked out the door was an unrecognized thought came as a full-fledged association between sustainable, green living and the principles of the work I do.

What came to me was Clean Coaching is Green Coaching, ecologically sound for the heart and mind.

It seems to me that Clean Language and Symbolic Modeling have all the markers of an organic, sustainable, bio-diverse way of working with others.

All the reasons we may have for adding more organic, diverse foods to our diet and reducing our intake of additives and preservatives could be the same reasoning we use in choosing the form of therapy/coaching for OUR sustainable future.

Why take such care for your body if you are going to let others influence your mind through methods that have been robbed of their essence in a drive for conformity?

That’s like choosing those beautifully shaped, perfect looking, nutritionally cardboard vegetables you can get in most supermarkets over the strange and wonderful sustenance that comes from organic farms.  Sometimes the vegetables are a bit weirdly shaped (we all have a bit of weird in us) but they are packed with micro-nutrients.

Green is an overarching term used in relation to the ideas of organic and ecological sustainability.

Green living is about how to reduce our impact on the planet, support natural systems, create a lifestyle that works with nature and does no long-term damage to the planet.

It’s meant to reduce our carbon footprint and encourage spending our money in ways that cast our vote for products that have a “green” quality.

Being Green contributes towards maintaining the ecological balance of our environment and preserving the planet with its natural systems and resources.

Green living is free of synthetic additives, preservatives, and unnatural influences.  And is seen as good for self, good for other, and good for the planet.

Clean is an overarching term that we use to describe a philosophy in coaching and therapy that is designed to preserve and utilize the natural ecology of a person’s nature.

No additives, pesticides, or growth enhancers needed for good people to grow into who they want to be.  Others do not need our inferences, suggestions, or strategies to grow.

As Clean facilitators we do not add our input into the client’s ecological system.

Organic and bio-diverse, we help create an environment for change by utilizing exactly what the client provides us.

Our intention is to utilize what naturally occurs in a client’s system, do no harm, and promote connection to the naturally occurring resources of the client.

This creates change that belongs to the person, not the coach or facilitator.

It is designed and developed by the client, for the client, and, in so being, is sustainable.

Mother nature knows best…and so do our clients.

Would you like to learn more about how Clean Language might be useful to you and your practice?

Join one of our webinars on a Tuesday of your choice. You can sign up HERE

Hope to meet you soon.

The Wisdom of a Small Cup

The Wisdom of a Small Cup

I like coffee

I drink two American size mugs of coffee every morning between 7 and 9 am. That’s 12 ounces each! (350 ml). My cup is an elegant white bone china cup with a light curve that fits my hand perfectly, lovely on a cool morning.

But, I’m a sipper and my coffee gets cold as it sits on my desk.

I remember years ago when I was training in Japan. I went to a coffee shop, ordered a cuppa and was stunned to silence by the extremely small, delicate cup of coffee I was served. It must have only been 4, maybe 5 ounces at the most.

Hot fresh coffee, uhmm!

I hadn’t ordered an espresso, cappuccino, or other ‘small’ drink. And at first I was thinking .. Really? Is this all I get? It was a shock coming from an American coffee culture where a small cup comes as a ‘mug’ or in a large paper cup.

But what I found was this small, delicate, 5 oz coffee was one of the best cup of coffee I’d ever had. It was an awakening and I learned something important.

First, the Japanese roast a mean cup of coffee.

And second, when you drink your coffee from a small cup, the coffee stays hot from top to bottom and it tastes better.

No microwave needed, no throwing out cold coffee, and no tall cup to tip over on your lap top or desk when you talk with your hands .. Or your coffee table when your dog walks by and wags its tail.

I began to wonder, how is interviewing like drinking coffee from a small cup?

Here are two ways I’ve discovered:

  1. On a relational level, you want rapport and trust of your interviewee.Essentially you want to keep the interview warm from start to finish. 
  2. At the questioning level, you want to be sure the interviewee can answer your questions easily and without confusion. You might say the interview stays warm from ask to answer.   

If you go in with a big mug full of pre-formulated questions, pick lists, complex multi-segmented questions, or accidentally asking a question that takes your interviewee off-tangent, the interview can turn cold.

Without the two things above, an established sense of trust and easy to answer questions, an interview can easily become an intervention or even an interrogation.

There is no microwave to warm up a cold interview once it has been derailed. You’ve just got to let the work of friction … or reduction of friction do its work.

Here are a few other things Clean Language Questions in an interview process can help with…

Decrease & Reduce

  • leading or content heavy questions
  • dual or multi-content questions
  • conflation of terms
  • confirmation bias
  • addition of content (that would be yours)

Increase & Develop

  • questions that can be answered easily
  • rapport & trust of the interviewee
  • sequence or time lines
  • data accuracy / authenticity
  • better recall by your client (and you)

I would like to offer you a space at my Clean Language Interviewing workshop in January 2019 where I will be joined by one of the worlds primary experts on using Clean principles and questions in an interviewing frame.

~ You will learn to serve your questions in a small cup
~ You will have a resource for keeping rapport warm from beginning to end – even with   the most difficult interviewees
~ You will have a functional way of repairing communication or mis-understandings
~ You will have principles to draw on that underlay what information you choose to ask about and how to formulate your questions
~ You will have a more flexible and useful notion of questions that out serves the over used and simplistic notion of ‘open’ and ‘closed’ questions

You will have a way of working with duel outcomes – when two or more people within the interview process have different or conflicting outcomes in:

  • Coaching
  • Sales
  • Management
  • Leadership
  • Hiring
  • Qualitative interviewing
  • Cause evaluation and
  • Auditing

Are you curious?

Head over to our trainings tab or join one of our complimentary webinars under the work with Sharon tab. There you’ll find a link to sign up on a Tuesday of your choice.

Alright, until next time
be well
think well
question well

On Symbolic Modeling Lite

On Symbolic Modeling Lite

This is a transcript for a 19-minute video chat with Penny Tompkins & James Lawley on August 28, 2017, about Penny & James original three-day training format “Symbolic Modeling Lite”.

This is the same training I, Sharon, will be presenting January 7-9, 2019 in California. It will be our 4th year of Clean Convergence – a four-part Clean Language training program given yearly that includes Symbolic Modeling Lite, an advanced training course, a self-development retreat, and Clean Language Interviewing training.

Symbolic Modeling Lite is designed to give a broad stroke overview of the entire Symbolic Modeling process and basics of Clean language that provide a scaffolding for practical application of and continued learning in this process.

All grammatical anomalies simply reflect the conversational nature of this document. (2500 words, approximately 10-12 minutes reading time)

If you are a “real paper” person, click HERE for a pdf that you can print and read.

Would you like to watch the video? You can do that here: Youtube Link

Would you like to listen to this post instead?  Click the sound cloud icon below to listen


Sharon: Hi Penny, Hi James

Penny & James: Hi Sharon

Sharon: It’s good to see you this morning. Thank you. I’m so glad you were able to make time.
Today we were just going to have a conversation about the Symbolic Modeling Lite format and what we’ve found with that being a very useful for people, grounding them in the Symbolic Modeling, getting them used the process, giving them a bigger picture.

I’m really curious, because the structure of Symbolic Modeling Lite is a little different to how I began teaching Symbolic Modeling. I’m curious how you come up with that particular three-day format, the Symbolic Modeling Lite?

Penny: Well we spent years teaching the process and we put the emphasis on various pieces of Symbolic Modeling and what we discovered was that people needed a framework, what we call a scaffolding, in order to, when they’re just starting out, to have a model that they could be thinking about when they are asking Clean Language questions of their clients and working in metaphor, because metaphor is a different way of working with most individuals, when you stay in that experience the client is having and the metaphor can go in any direction.

Of course, clean language questions direct attention. And we discovered that this framework, the Symbolic Modeling Lite, could be a framework that would, in a way, help direct the facilitators attention on what to pay attention to in the clients landscape. So that we found a lot of them really appreciated that rather than trying to select what was important without having something to guide them.

Sharon: Some kind of larger frame to know where they were / are in the process.

Penny: Yes, and we like the metaphor of scaffolding, because scaffolding is something you use and then you eventually take down.

So, people once they know how to do a session with Symbolic Modeling Lite, then they can start to look at other ways that they may find useful themselves in relation to the type of information the client is giving.

Sharon: Oh, nice, OK, So, giving them a framework that lets them have a bit more creativity and lateral with their client once they’re working with them.

Penny: Yes, yes, but I would say that to become proficient at Symbolic Modeling Lite is the place to start, because the whole Symbolic Modeling Lite … it’s a practical overview of the whole process.
So that in three days people can see, either what they are facilitating or what others are facilitating, how the whole process can go through the client’s information and learn that in a three day period. There is a whole-ness to it.

Sharon: For me, I think of a map. When I was teaching my introductory classes a little differently, concentrating on going deep on early skills, I experienced the participants having a bit of lostness.

They had the knowledge of what was next, but didn’t have the experience of it.
And this particular format, the Symbolic Modeling Lite format, these three days, seems to really give the participants a nice experience of what they are aiming towards [as facilitators].

James: It’s very hard when you start if you don’t know where you’re going.

While every session is unique, this Symbolic Modeling Lite gives the facilitator an idea of the kind of journey they are going to go on, so they know, generally speaking, the kind of, where they are in the journey, not just the end point. Where they are, the key four or five stages that there are in a traditional coaching session for example.

Sharon: And I’m wondering how have you found this format fitting in with continued learning for people who really want to become proficient at Symbolic Modeling?

James: Well, it’s like a lot of things … you can look at the Symbolic Modeling Lite process and it looks fairly simple, and it is. And then you look at it again and you realize there’s a little bit more too it, and you look at it again … and you realize there’s a bit more to it.

And you know we have been revisiting this process over and over and we still discover these interesting depths to it.And it is the way we start all of our sessions more or less. Surely all of our coaching sessions, we start with this process, we stick to it, and then as the session unfolds, so then the experience we have comes in.

It provides, to use a different metaphor, a foundation on which to add all the other skills, so you have a solid base on which to add other skills. And there are plenty of other advanced skills to get.

There are plenty wonderful subtle ways to notice what’s happening with the client, and model their landscape, and drop in those questions that really give them something to think about, but, it really helps to have that basics.

And the other time it’s really useful is when it … you know everybody now and then gets lost. We’ve been doing this 25-years, but still occasionally we kind of go “I don’t know what’s happening”. Whenever that happens we go right back to the basics. Right back to the absolute rock basics and we start again from that.

Sharon: It kind of relieves the need for clever. I sometimes tease that Symbolic Modeling is the cure for being clever.

And I agree that that iteration from ‘Oh, this is simple’ … I remember when I first started I thought … I watched the video, I read the book and I was like “Oh, I can do that!” And then I got about four questions in with a real human being and I’m just like grateful that my mind was clear enough to say “Oh this is really more, this is more than what I just watched.”

Penny: One thing that I really like about the three-day Symbolic Modeling Lite workshop is for a lot of people new, learning the process, is it helps them see what happens when you have a process that is desired outcome focused.

It isn’t that we avoid problems, we simple don’t address them until we use the Symbolic Modeling Lite framework to facilitate the client to have a fully embodied desired outcome landscape, a desired outcome metaphor. And by putting their attention on that and the embodiment of that through the metaphor, changes their relationship to their original problems and issues.

And to see learners, new learners, discover that … the difference that can make, is quite delightful. And how to work with problems from that state of “This is really what I want” and it’s like [the problem becomes] whatever.

Sharon: It’s a whole different animal, isn’t it?

Penny: Yes, to use a metaphor.

Sharon: Another metaphor, right? This is so funny, because we’re talking about a metaphorical process and in order to describe it, It’s, we’ve, been popping up – oh wait, another one! – popping up metaphors left and right.

James: David Grove once said that Clean Language questions are simple, because people are complex enough. And I think when we were designing the Symbolic Modeling Lite process, that was really present in the back of our minds. How could we make a process that’s as simple as possible that allows the person we’re working with to be as complex as they what, but we don’t have to get lost in their complexity?

And, that doesn’t mean we direct the process, because at the same time one of the challenges we had one designing this was how do we design a process to work with a complex adaptive system called a human being, that does all sorts of stuff, that all do their own, their unique, their metaphors are unique. In 25 years we’ve never heard two metaphor landscapes the same.

All sorts of wonderful things happen, surprising and unexpected things happen – how do you design a process that allows you to work in that emergent way? And it’s got to be simple in its structure, but flexible enough to respond to all those things that happen. Because those things happening are not the problem, those things happening is the process working!

Sharon: What comes to mind too, is there’s a lot of talk about flexibility. When you said flexibility, what happened in my mind is I thought about that there are a lot of innovations happening with the use of clean questions – all sort of, I call them mini-models, easy to apply, kind of mini-models. But a lot of these, almost every one that I’m aware, of has come from someone who has the grounding and the training in Symbolic Modeling.

This is like the ‘ground Zero’ of using this kind of methodology and thinking process to do something different.

Penny: I think that is absolutely accurate. And not only have those innovators have the Clean Language questions, they know them in every cell in their body and they have had experience of working with metaphor, but, also, they have learned more about modeling, and modeling is a key piece.

Once you are experienced modeling a client’s landscape, that modeling can generalize and you can take it to other areas. And I think that’s where a lot of the new processes are being taken into business, education, everything else. I think that is where a lot of that emerges from.

Sharon: Yes, modeling, the skill of modeling itself and the principles of clean and then having the questions and the thinking behind it to navigate what you come across, up to.
…So awesome.

James: And to respond to what’s happening in the moment, because, you know, it’s all happening right now. And one of the principles behind a Clean Approach which is, whatever the client presents and in whatever way they present it, that’s enough. We don’t need anything else. There’s plenty of material to work with. You just need to work with what you are given.

And that’s an interesting kind of discipline for the facilitator to simply stay with what’s presented by the client and stay within the framework and the logic of that.

And what the Clean Language questions combined with Symbolic Modeling Lite does is it disciplines the facilitator to do that. And that is a skill in itself. Because we all want to put in our advice and our suggestions and our metaphors and you have to learn to step aside for a while

Sharon: There is one other aspect of the Symbolic Modeling Lite, this particular three day training, that I think is really valuable for people … is that if someone doesn’t want to continue – I have noticed I have professional coaches come in and its given them just enough to begin to apply clean in their practices, work with their clients – And some have gone on to train more and some have found that it’s just enough that they have that framework to continue to learn from and iterate with, rather than leaving [a partial training] half baked, let’s say.

Penny: Having trained it for years and seen many participants, many people learn that, the process, particularly in a coaching environment, if you become proficient in Symbolic Modeling Lite, then especially in coaching, then probably, I’m guessing, perhaps 70% of clients, 80% of clients, that will be all they need and you need.

But as we know, there are clients that have binds, complex problems we call binds and you learn to model them out in metaphor. But here’s the interesting thing, in order to identify a specific bind a client is experiencing, we start with the Symbolic Modeling Lite framework.
And it is out of that the specific problem, the specific binding nature of that landscape emerges. So how you get to that is through those three days.

And then there are things that you can work with those more complex things. But for a lot of coaches that’s all they need for their client base.

Sharon: Well I’ve been really thrilled that you shared your Symbolic Modeling Lite with me and that I’ve been able to begin to use it with participants.

Penny: Well, it’s lovely to see you teaching it as well.

James: And I think the kind things people appreciate on this three-day workshop, in addition to the framework, the overview, is the demonstrations of real sessions using the process – live in the moment where you don’t know what the clients going to bring up, you don’ what the topic is going to be, you just use the process and its real.

And I think that people learn a lot from real demonstrations that are not kind of pre-planned or anything.

Sharon: No made up scenarios, no pretend and ‘put this other persons hat on’.

James: And people get a lot of their own personal development when they’re in the client role on those three days as well.

It’s amazing how much you can get from someone asking you those questions. And how much those metaphors, the metaphors do so much work, but you’ve got to experience it to believe it!

Sharon: It’s a bit like a presenting dream in Jungian Analysis. I have a metaphor that came up in my first training in early 2006 and it’s still alive for me. It’s changes a little and it is still really present and profoundly useful to me even now, years and years later, and that was in one of my first trainings.

Penny &James: Right, great.

Sharon: Well, it’s going to be great to have you guys here in January. This will be our third year, and my third year doing this Symbolic Modeling Lite. I am looking forward to having you here for your advanced programs and the retreat, and James, for Clean Interviewing.

(Note this was recorded in 2017. We are in our fourth year of Clean Convergence)

Penny & James: Yes.

Sharon: And, you know, when I first began teaching it [Symbolic Modeling Lite 3-Day program] I wasn’t sure if it was going to be enough – and I am just so glad I went ahead and did it, because what I found is just what you are saying … this scaffolding, this framework, this broader view, this map, so participants know where they are and really give people the opportunity to choose whether they want to go further and deeper into the process or if this is just enough for what they want to have happen.

Penny: Well, great. California here we come!

Penny Tompkins and James Lawley will be in California with me for Clean Convergence 2019 from January 7th through January 20, 2019.

Find out more here: https://cleanlanguagetraining.com/symbolic-modeling-lite/