Most Exciting Friday Night We’ve Had In A Long Time

Most Exciting Friday Night We’ve Had In A Long Time

My partner James and I were driving home Friday evening from San Francisco. Traffic was deep and it was doing that fast and slow thing that often happens during post rush hour.

We were at a slow ebb and I noticed smoke ahead. At first all I could see was the smoke. Then I saw the spinning bike. James, a motorcycle rider from way back thought … “isnt that funny, he’s doing 360s in the middle of the road while traffic is slow”. I was thinking someone just went down!

What a great example of how two people can have the same information and very different interpretations!

Unfortunately, I was right…a motorcyclist and his bike had gone down in the middle of the freeway!

I pulled over to the side of the road. Stopping the car I asked James to call 911 and I went into the road to see if the rider was OK.

One of my best kept secrets is that I used to ride as a volunteer EMT in a make shift ambulance out of Yellowstone National Park in the early 80s. It was a lovely old station wagon rigged with an IV rod and just enough room to do CPR. And that was followed by many years of wilderness first aid training through most of my 20’s.

The bike lay still at this point and the rider was laid out flat on his back in the center lane. Another man and I were the first to arrive.

The rider was conscious, I let him know that 911 had been called and help was on the way. I asked his name and how old he was – I told him I was there to stay with him until the ambulance arrived. As I talked to him and began to triage his injuries I found myself using my clean questions without thinking.

Are you aware of any pain or discomfort Tom? Yes, my lower back, he stated.

Anywhere else? No, just there.

What kind of pain is that Tom?, “Its just through my back, sharp.”

I began to check him further. Can you move your arms? Yes, he said.

Great Tom, you’re doing really well. Now without moving your legs, can you wiggle your feet? Yes.

Are you allergic to any medications? No.

Simple questions related to what was happening now. Not all of them classically Clean, but clean in the context of what was happening, needed to happen (medical attention) and easy for Tom to answer.

At that point an EMT, who was on his way home from shift, had pulled over and walked back to us. I gave him the information I had up to that point: Tom, 67, lower back pain, sharp, can wiggle feet and move arms, not allergic to any meds and not sure about medications he may be taking”.

During this episode two other motorcyclists pulled up and asked if they could help. I asked them to station themselves where they were, in the same lane, just north of the fallen man and his bike.

A tow truck driver who was passing pulled his rig pulled up on the South end of the accident, essentially blocking the fallen man and his bike from the traffic that continued to try to pass on either side of the accident. I went back to Tom, the rider, to stay with him as I had promised until the ambulance arrived and the police had begun to take control of the traffic flow.

It was my experience with Clean that helped me stay present, focused and calm. There are times in interviews or Symbolic Modeling work that terrible details arise and in these moments it is up to us as the facilitators to stay calm, present and listen intently.

It was only a brief interview, helping gain a small bit of insight for the professionals that were on their way – the police, the ambulance drivers, and other EMTs that arrived at the scene. And, I believe, just that small bit helped.

All I could think of was what information was most important to get prior to him possibly passing out. Name, age, medications, basic physical triage while he could think and talk.

So, apparently Clean Interviewing isnt just for academics and business!

I know there are Police using Clean Interviewing skills to keep their assumptions out and the anxiety of the interviewees to a minimum (yes, both victims and possible perpetrators). Caitlin Walker of Training Attention has done some great work in the UK with police and other government agencies. And this was the first time I had a chance to test my metal in an extreme situation.

I do wonder if the police involved had Clean skills, how their interviews with the witnesses might have been different, better or more useful. All they asked me was did you see it?Since all I saw was the spinning bike and not the actual hit, my partner and I were let go to drive on.

If you are interested in how Clean Interviewing can help you in your teaching, coaching, management, academic, Cause Evaluation interviews or even critical events, I have a treat for you.

I met with James Lawley and recorded a short conversation about using Clean Language in your interview process and what we will be doing in January at the Clean Interview training.

A Conversation with James Lawley on Clean Interviewing

Here is an audio Version for download and ease of listening

James Lawley is the co-creator of Symbolic Modeling and he and his partner Penny Tompkins have made major strides and studies in the use of clean questions and principles in interviewing processes. Not only their use, but even better how to determine the level of clean used in interviews and how that may or may not have had an effect on the information being gathered.

James Lawley and I will be teaching Clean Interviewing in January 19-20, 2019 here on the Central Coast of California.

Click Here for the Clean Interviewing information and registration page

The end to the story … What happened: The motorcycle was splitting lanes. We saw this as he passed the car on our left (between the middle and far left lane). What we didnt see was that a driver went to change lanes from the far lane to the right and lightly tapped the front wheel of the bike that was in his blind spot. I know this because the other man on the scene with me was the driver of that car. And James, my partner, worked traffic on the side of the road with a man who was right behind the bike who did see the whole thing – from start to finish.

Ask, Don’t Tell… A touchstone for effective facilitation

Ask, Don’t Tell… A touchstone for effective facilitation

Ask, don’t tell” is an extremely simple and extremely powerful principle that forms the foundation of any effective facilitation.

Why telling fails

Whatever a person’s issue or desire may be, when we find ourselves telling them, what are we saying? We are either telling them…

  • What we think they should do
  • What we would do in their situation
  • Or about a comparable situation that happened in our past.

Each of those pieces of information has something in common. It is in reference to us, not to the person concerned.

Experience shows that the most profound way we can help another person is when they discover their own resources for themselves. These resources might take the form of ideas, dreams, a vision of the future they would like to experience, decisions, values, beliefs, metaphors, and more.

A solution that uses your own personal resources will make perfect sense to you, but it may be totally inaccessible or meaningless to another person, because we each have our own highly unique personal landscape of meanings. Very often, a person will find a solution offered by someone else hard to understand. It simply doesn’t make sense in their world.

Comparing one person’s situation by referencing someone else’s situation (which may be similar but can never be the same) is unlikely to be the key to the ideal answer they are looking for.

Honestly, how many times have you done something because someone else has told you to do it?

Offering someone a solution, when a solution has not been asked for, can also create resistance or even resentment (say, if the person does not follow your advice).

However, when a person designs their own solution, they intuitively know what has to happen in order for that solution to be realized. They know what steps they need to take (whether that’s actions, decisions, or acceptance) and they are fully prepared.

Of course, there are always normal, practical situations where a friend may ask, “I know you have a lot of experience in this area, what do you think I should do?” where you may freely offer advice that has been requested.

But how often do all of us offer unsolicited advice, in all areas of life? It’s really hard not to do! I have been training in this for years, but I know how often I slip into telling my partner (in particular) what to do.

A stance of open curiosity

Consider the possibility that — no matter how much you understand about another person’s issue — you will never be able to know enough about what it is like for them to be able to prescribe the right solution. Any fix that I suggest you apply in your life must be somehow foreign.

The right solution may only come from intimate appreciation of the person’s whole ecology. That means it can only come from them.

Therefore, the best way to help someone to arrive at the ideal solution is not primarily for us to understand, but to facilitate their understanding.

Ask, don’t tell.”

“Ask, don’t tell” says that we respect the other person’s model of the world, and respect their ability to resolve what is happening for them. In taking that stance, we allow the other person to interpret and classify information in a way that they want to, so that it makes sense to them.

I find that simply remembering that touchstone “Ask, don’t tell” helps me to maintain a stance of open curiosity that can be the key to understanding for both sides.

First, open curiosity helps you to access more information, so that you can better understand the situation.

And it also helps the person you’re talking to also access more information, which can help them gain more insight into what they would like to have happen, and if there are any steps they may need to take in order to achieve that.

Changing the habit

First, it’s important to challenge our core beliefs. Do you believe that each person has the ability to come up with their own solutions? If not, it is going to be very difficult to resist trying to offer solutions.

Spot when you’re using “I” statements. Flip it into a question, preferably a question that is open, neutral, and clean.

Examples of clean questions include…

  • “Is there anything else about that?”
  • “What kind of (…) is that? (…)?”
  • “When that is happening, what would you like to have happen?”

For example, I wonder if you have ever said something like, “That’s just victim thinking. What you should do is write out some affirmations.”

That sounds like quite a normal statement that a person might hear from a friend, a coach, or counselor. But when we look at it, we can see how it might be less than helpful.

  1. It labels the other person a victim.
  2. It judges their thinking as wrong.
  3. And it states that the way to fix their thinking, and to solve their issue, is to apply your method.

It’s easy to see how that might cause resistance, how the person may be unwilling to follow the advice, and how it may prove unsuccessful for them if they did.

From my Clean Language training and practice over the years, I have experienced countless situations where the neutral, open, curious stance has not only allowed people to find their own solutions, but to find solutions that are clearly effective, accessible, and often inspiring.

Using questions like, “What kind of (…) is that?” or “Is there anything else?” helps us to understand intimately how things are right now.

And other simple questions like, “What would you like to have happen?” prompts us really to think about how we want things to be in the future. The simple act of reflecting on our situation and desired outcomes really prompt us to other options that may be available.

The combination of exploratory questions defines the gap between where we are now and where we would like to be, which can then lead to investigation into what may be needed to cross that space, creating the opportunity for us to design our own path.

How Clean Language Helped Save My Relationship With My Daughter

How Clean Language Helped Save My Relationship With My Daughter

All I could picture was my heroin-thin daughter running down the road with her coat flapping in the cold wind, thinking, “Oh my God, she’s going to die! She’s going to die.”

There is an epidemic of drug use among young Americans, as well as in many other parts of the world. We’re seeing a generation of college-bound, middle class kids falling into using heroin as a party drug. The consequences can potentially be devastating for the young people.

But What About Parents?

How are parents equipped to deal with this when it enters their families and homes? Tragically, over the past couple of years, I found out for myself. It was hard. To tell the truth, it almost destroyed my relationship with my college-age daughter. I believe that I was so lucky to have the resources of Clean Language available to me. If I had not, I don’t know if I would have gotten through what happened and that precious relationship may not have survived.

My Story

I would like to share my story in the hope that it may offer hope and help to other parents or professionals who have to deal with drug use. In the autumn of 2013, I had started to notice my daughter seemed to be having difficulties. I kept an eye on what was going on with her, and it became apparent in April 2014 that she was using heroin. She was smoking it, which at the time I didn’t even know you could do, and that gives you an idea of how little I knew.

Although she was managing to hold down a part-time job, she had failed two semesters of college and I couldn’t help seeing that she was getting “heroin-thin.” So the drug use was interfering with her school, was starting to interfere with her work, and it was definitely negatively affecting her health.

I brought her home from college and offered her a choice. She had the option to stay home and do her best to clean up, and she had the other option to find her own way which would mean she did not live under our roof. When I asked her, she made it clear that living on the street was not an option for her. So we started the process of getting her off the drug and facing the inevitable withdrawals. Something I learned later in my journey to understand more about heroin is the way it affects the future-thinking part of the brain. My daughter wasn’t really able to think about “what’s next,” – it was really hard for her. We decided we needed more help. She agreed to go to the drug and alcohol program near where we live.

Deep, Dark Trauma

On her intake interview, she was interviewed for about twenty minutes then they brought me into the room.  When I was there, the girl (who must have been in her mid-to-late twenties) looked at my daughter and said in all sincerity,

“You know, most girls, with the kind of drug use that you’re showing have had a deep, dark trauma.”

At that point, I just bit my lip. I didn’t dare open my mouth, I was so mad. I noticed my daughter look from me to the woman and back to me. Neither one of us said anything.

I remember thinking to myself, “I bet you do find that. Because, if they don’t have a deep, dark trauma when they come in, I would imagine that you guys just pick away until they make one up.”

When we got in the car to leave, my daughter looked at me and her eyes got wide and she simply said, “Deep, dark trauma my ass!” We both knew there was no unusual trauma in her life, beyond the normal childhood stresses. I asked her later why she was using and her explanation was that it took her to her happy place and that was all. I learned that, for her, the initial use was all about pleasure and not about running away from any trauma or pain. But, of course, that didn’t fit with the support system that was available to us. To her credit, she attended that service for several weeks but eventually had to give it up. The staff could only keep digging away to find some alternate, dark reason why she was using, as though they couldn’t believe that somebody might actually use drugs for pleasure. Their whole mode of working did not work for my daughter.

Dangerous Therapy

I remember the addiction worker’s comments threw me straight back to a time when I was working with my own memories of sexual abuse and how sick the system was. I spent ten years as a client of therapy, immersed in its victim mentality, until I decided to break free. My own family had started in therapy when my brother was quite young. I remember he was described as “out of control” and he was prescribed various ADD medications. When that didn’t work, they put my mom on Valium — which really didn’t work for someone with four young kids!

That was followed by two years of Transactional Analysis. Over all that time, I did not notice any positive change in my brother. In fact, he ended up creating his own demise at age 24, the victim of a drug-related murder. In my book “The End of Therapy” (2015), I write at length about how frequently therapists make massive assumptions, even when they do not mean to. I also describe how those assumptions can hurt the client, unless either the therapist of the client is able to discern them.

Let’s be clear that I am not saying that no cases of drug use are in response to trauma. What I do say in the book is that forcing people to re-live the “reasons why” they have suffered may not be the most beneficial for them. Reprogramming our thought patterns or behavior using NLP or CBT may help to a degree, but I have always imagined a better way which engages a client’s imagination and passion towards a life that they want, and then help them find the behaviors and actions that will help propel them, in an observable way, towards that outcome. “The End of Therapy” explores my journey that resulted in my finding that better way.


Over the next eight months, my daughter iterated with using on and off. However, I soon realized that when you have been using drugs habitually, and you have friends who still use, it is incredibly difficult to stay off them. That cycle continued until it brought us to the point of breakdown. On one occasion I remember she was coming into the house carrying armfuls of clothes or belongings. I said something to her and she replied “Yes mother,” in a sarcastic tone. I just grabbed whatever she was carrying and told her to get the hell out. She ran out of the house, and I went after her. All I could picture was my heroin-thin daughter running down the road with her coat flapping in the cold wind, thinking, “Oh my God, she’s going to die! She’s going to die.” I could have gone crazy. But I didn’t. I remember asking her to come home, and we were able to talk later.

Life-Saving Tools

I believe that the reason we overcame that breakdown was thanks to the tools of Clean Language.

Clean Language was created by New Zealand-born psychologist David Grove in the 1980s, and it takes a radical stance to therapy, or to any kind of facilitation. In Clean, the facilitator maintains a stance that is outside the other person’s psychic space. They may ask questions — but only Clean questions — and these help the client to discover her or his own answers. The facilitator responds using the client’s language and metaphors, always careful to add no ideas or concepts of their own.

Change Does Not Happen in a Day

I now understand that many processes are iterative, and I can appreciate that my daughter may need to go through the cycle many times, each time making one more advancement in order to reach where she needs to be. In fact, the Clean Language methodology fully embraces iteration. And I have been able over these months to prompt her, gently and persistently, with clean questions like,

  • “What would you like to have happen?”
  • “What needs to happen for this?”
  • “Is there anything else that needs to happen?”

At first, we were only able to think ahead a few days at a time.  And, over time, we could start to look further into the future about what she wanted for her life. Sometimes I think I must sound like a broken record. But it keeps me from speaking the fears and the crap and the manipulation that I could so easily spew out.

An example was that recently I discovered evidence that she was using a little heroin at home. She lied to me about it. I could easily have freaked out. But I didn’t. Because of my training, I was able to access the Clean stance. So I approached her with a Clean question, such as, “When I have evidence that you have been using, and you have lied to me, and using at home while you’re living here isn’t an option, what needs to happen?” She was then free to volunteer information about how she was using. She told me that the clinic knew. She told me she was doing her best, and that she needed to stop seeing certain people. This is the point where I think she really decided — for herself — that living on the street was not for her. That was the point she decided to go to a Methadone clinic.

She has been attending that clinic continually for over eight months making the 35-mile round trip every day without fail. In that type of Clean transaction, I was able to stop and to let my daughter design her own solution. The outcome of this, so far, is that she has been able to stay in rapport with me, which means that when I have a suggestion or an idea (which I always will as a parent!) she is not adverse to hearing me, and is not constantly triggered to defend or to resist. She has remained both compliant and pro-active on her own part. I cannot imagine that, if I did not have access to these tools, questions, and way of thinking, that we would still have this type of relationship.

Is it an ideal situation? No. Is it completely resolved? No. But it is friendly. The Clean stance has helped me not to take it personally and instead to maintain and respect the boundaries that each of us must have. I can honor my daughter’s choices, even if I don’t like them, while looking to what I want to have happen, as a mother.

How Clean Language Has Helped

Where the Clean methodology and stance has been so helpful, and has really been a key to my survival, is that it really helps me tend to my daughter and her thinking, at the same time really keeping my fears and worries and anxieties out of the context of our conversations. If I went in with all of my fear and anxiety over it, I knew we would be at each other’s throats. I know that what I want my daughter to do, and what she is actually doing, are two different things. I want her to stop. I want her to go back to school and be that magical, innocent child again. So it helps my sanity, even when things get heated or when I get anxious. I can ask her Clean questions about what she wants and about what needs to happen to help begin to repair whatever fall-down or disappointment she is having, whether it’s work or the clinic, or even the stresses of living at home.  

Clean Language can help a person begin to design their own outcome, irrespective of what we may think they need. In fact, it is one of the core beliefs that each person knows better what is right for them than we ever can. And that is incredibly freeing. That is the key to me. It is her life, and her choice. Even if I hate what’s happening.

I am so grateful that, even after having had to face the conversation of confronting my daughter with the drug paraphernalia, and telling her that if she continued with those actions she would have to find someplace else to live…the very next day we still went for a manicure, pedicure and a movie together – because she wants to spend time with me. Although she is still using heroin periodically she is doing her best with work and still regularly attends the methadone clinic. But most of all, we have a relationship that is vital. I know that even if my daughter were to have a complete breakdown or were to fall into the gutter, our relationship and deep love for one another, even under incredibly trying circumstances, will keep us close. I have no doubt that I would not have been able to get to this point without the tools of Clean Language.