Penny Tompkins & James Lawley on Questions, Quests, and advanced Clean Facilitator training happening January 2022


modeling, clean, symbolic, client, learning, quest, model, convergence, training, developmental, working, penny, modelers, question, james, experts, moment, language, talk, happening


This is a 13 minute interview with Penny Tompkins & James Lawley


In 2015 I got the idea to create an advanced facilitator training to help me continue to hone my skills. I was so pleased when Penny Tompkins and James Lawley agreed to bring their goodness to the California coast and share what was new, inspired, and in their current focus. We call this event Clean Convergence. It has been a blend of fundamentals training, a retreat, an advanced workshop, and (beginning in 2017) Clean Language Interviewing.

Seven years later we are still going strong.

For January 2022, we will focus on two different areas. The first is the Symbolic Modeling Retreat where over three consecutive Saturdays you are facilitated toward your own desired outcome, can watch others be facilitated, and have the opportunity to ask questions at the end of each day. Places in this retreat are strictly limited. 

The second is honing your clean facilitation skills through participation in the Advanced Clean Facilitator workshop, previously called Enhancing and Integrating your Symbolic Modeling Skills. For this workshop we will meet over three consecutive days (January 28, 29, 30) and will be focused on fine tuning your modeling skills. Or as Penny so wonderfully calls it, gaining excellence in “sending your clients on a quest”.

Please enjoy this interview. It is short, interesting, and if you choose the video it is a lovely thing to see and hear the excitement Penny and James still carry in teaching this methodology. More than 25 years in and it still captures their passion!

If you are keen on learning more about Clean Convergence 2022, you can find links at the bottom of this page.


Sharon Small

Interview Transcript with Penny Tompkins & James Lawley

SPEAKERS: Penny Tompkins, James Lawley, Sharon Small

Sharon Small  00:23

Hi, I’m Sharon with the Clean Language Institute. I’m here with Penny Tompkins and James Lawley and we are going to talk a little bit about Clean Convergence 2022, what Clean Convergence is and why you might want to join us. So welcome, Penny. Welcome, James.

James Lawley  00:43

Thank you for sharing.

Sharon Small  00:47

Nice to have you here.

Penny Tompkins  00:48

Thank you

James Lawley  00:50

from across the pond.

Sharon Small  00:53

Previous focus areas of Clean Convergence have been things like working with choice points within a symbolic modeling session, working with symptoms and systems, how to look at those, pay attention to those with symbolic modeling. Big stuff, defining moments, life patterns even. And last year, we did some working with emergence. So this year in planning Clean Convergence, you guys mentioned working taking a deep dive into the modeling process. And any you were just saying something really interesting about modeling as a

Penny Tompkins 01:36



Going On A Quest

Penny Tompkins  01:39

And if you know the roots of the word for question, it is quest. So a question, since a person’s attention on a quest to find an answer. And that is the core process that we do in symbolic modeling, asking the Clean Language questions, because we want to direct the clients attention through our question, to a place where they can have insight, they can discover something new about themselves, where our question has the maximum opportunity for them to learn.

Penny Tompkins  02:31

So a lot of the art and skill of what we do, and how we do modeling, is by learning where to direct the client’s attention. And it’s an art form and in the training in 2022, gosh, just a couple of months away, then we are going to spend time with a group of modelers in how we do that, and how people don’t have to do with the way we do it. But to help participants find their way of asking those questions so that they have maximum effect for the client and their metaphors. And that is, we’re going to be doing that in a number of ways. But that is essentially going to be the core of what we do, because that is the core of what we do.

Sharon Small  03:33

So the quest of the question, and the question sending the client on a quest, and being able to track that. Thank you. So James, I was hoping that you could speak a little bit about the structure of how are you and Penny going to be taking us, because I’m including myself in this too, Clean Convergence is my advanced training playground. So how are you going to be taking us through this learning?


The Structure of Learning

James Lawley  04:06

Well, you know, I think there’s a very interesting model, developmental model, called the Dreyfus. And Dreyfus developmental model that looked at how people go from novices, to beginners, to competent, to proficient, to experts. And the key thing about that is you have to have a different learning environment or way of learning as you go through those levels.

James Lawley  04:35

And so, classic training is great at the early stages, but this module is aimed at the higher levels. And so what we’re going to do, instead of us delivering a training, we’re going to look at some videos of live sessions, and we’re going to take them apart and we’re going to debrief what happens that means we invite the client to go on this quest or this quest this quest. How we are making those choices? We’re going to use group activities to work with some live between the group and, and for people to recognize their own choices and learn in the moment from their own choices and from their colleagues. And then of course, there’ll be activities people are doing and they’ll be getting personal feedback during those activities from us, and the other expert resources who are helping us out. So that’ll be the main kind of ways that the process will work.

Sharon Small  05:51

There is a prerequisite for this being an advanced Symbolic Modeling facilitation training, having a working knowledge of Clean Language and symbolic modeling the PRO model, how to ask the clean questions and having some experience having put some Symbolic Modeling and Clean Language into practice. So when this is a little bit different environment, and we’re using this idea of a quest, what would you like the participants of this training to come away being able to do that might be a little different from what they can do now?


The Next Step

Penny Tompkins  06:34

Well, I would say, for everyone on the on the park all the participants on the training, to take their next developmental step. We operate from a developmental way of thinking, which, which means that you can only take your next step. So whatever level someone comes in at, if they can leave having moved on their knowledge, their practice, one step now, and maybe more. But that is what I’m after. Because that’s how you build. And once you’ve taken a few steps, it becomes easier to take the next and the next. And that’s what I want to see happening with support from all of us.

Penny Tompkins  07:29

What about you James?

James Lawley  07:33

So, you know, we’ve been asking Clean Language questions for over 25 years. And the interesting thing is they’re the same Clean Language questions that we asked 25 years ago. And they’re the same Clean Language questions that people get on their first Clean Language Training. So what makes the difference between, as people rise up that developmental curve, is how they use those questions. Where do they send people? What kind of quest do they send them on? And in order to do that, it’s a selectional process. How does the facilitator select, out of the all the information that clients given you, and they always give you a massive amount, how do they select this piece to ask the question of that invites them to go off on that quest. And what’s happened over 25 years, we just got better and better at selecting the piece that is a valuable piece for that particular client at that particular moment. That’s really what we are experts at doing. And all of those wonderful topics that you talked about, that we’ve covered in the last six years, every single one of them is predicated on on our ability to model and then apply it in those application areas. And so the modeling skill is the absolute bedrock of everything that we do, and there is no coincidence that we call it symbolic modeling.

Nuance and Group Support

Sharon Small  09:24

Yeah, and and it seems to me over the years of learning this there is always something new. There’s always a nuance of a way to get to something valuable for the client a little more quickly, by noticing something different. By, like you were saying Penny, by pointing their attention just in a little bit more refined manner. And one thing with Clean Convergence that’s been really interesting to watch and wonderful over the years is seeing quite a variety of learners from people who are just really beginning to dig into symbolic modeling to those who have been using it with clients for years. And and the group really working with each other and everyone learning at some subtle level of change. So that’s been really brilliant.

Sharon Small  10:18

Is there anything else that you might want to say to anybody who’s watching this video to encourage them if they’re wondering, ‘gosh, is this for me?’

James Lawley  10:29

Well, we’ll be looking at Symbolic Modeling where we take in the the context, mostly, of working with a client. But actually, developing the skills to model in this way, is just supremely useful anywhere.

A Great Example – Modeling In Action

James Lawley  10:51

Yesterday we were talking to a special needs teacher in a school, and how the ability to model what’s happening in the classroom, what’s happening with the individual children who need her help, the value of being able to see that going on and not get caught in the detail and the story that’s going but to be able to pick out the vital pieces, the patterns, the behaviors between not only the children, but the interaction between their teachers, and that comes from ability to learn how to model.

James Lawley  11:29

And so here was an example. She was observing a class and then [had] to write a report on it. But what she was effectively doing was applying all these modeling skills to that without asking a single Clean Language question. And I am sure she could not have pinpointed such really interesting things without having that ability to pick out the stuff that comes from a modelers perspective. Penny, would you like to add anything?

Penny Tompkins  12:02

Just, for me, one thing I love about Clean Convergence, and this format that we’re going to be doing, is the time we have for questions and answers, because people learn a lot. You can plan a training, you can plan all sorts of things, but people can ask about what’s relevant in the moment. And we can all learn from that. And then that will spark something in someone else. So that people’s learning needs are being met in the moment by having the time just to sit and discuss things for a little bit. So as well as doing one thing I like about this event, is having the time together to do that. That’s one of the special things for me. Thank you.

Sharon Small  12:55

Well, this has been really nice. So what we’re really looking at is the, I like that expression, the bedrock of of how to help a client quest and find out more about what they’d like to have happen and bring it into their their landscape.

Sharon Small  13:17

So I did want to just end with Clean Convergence 2022 will be in January. We do have a personal development retreat that we’re taking wait-list names for. So if you’re interested in the retreat, please let let us know.

Places still available

Sharon Small  13:36

And we do still have places on this advanced training where Penny Tompkins and James Lawley will be really getting into the meat of the kind of modeling and kind of questing that we do in the Symbolic Modeling process. And again, we just ask that you have a working knowledge of Clean Language, Symbolic Modeling, and understand how to utilize the PRO model, because that is an important aspect of this work. And is there anything else that you guys would like to add before we finish our little chat today?

Penny Tompkins  14:11

Just thank you for inviting us to come along and have a chat.

James Lawley  14:14

Yeah, I’m really looking forward to it. It should be great.

Sharon Small  14:18

Thank you both for years of such great learning and I can’t wait for January.

Penny Tompkins  14:27

Me too. Thank you

What Can You Do Next? 

JOIN US or find out more


or Register Here! 

Questions, curiosity? Contact Sharon 

Symptoms & Systems: A conversation with Penny Tompkins & James Lawley

Symptoms & Systems: A conversation with Penny Tompkins & James Lawley

This last weekend I had a chance to have a conversation with Penny Tompkins and James Lawley on their upcoming workshop – Symptoms & Systems: A Clean Approach – happening January 11-13, 2019 here in California.

The following is our conversation broken into three segments.

Segment 1 is about how working with symptoms and working with systems is more similar than we might suspect on first blush.

Segment 2 is musings about metaphor and the power they pack.

Segment 3 is our reasons we think learning live, face-to-face, eye-ball to eye-ball is the stickiest way to learn Clean (or any hands on skill).

As well as the video and audio provided on this post … We would like to invite you to join us for a Q&A call via Zoom meeting on October 20, 2018 – Yes, that is this coming Saturday!

You can register here for Ask Us Anything October 20, 2018

If you have a bit of Clean under your belt or have been wondering about working with metaphors with individuals or even groups, join us for this 60 minute ‘Clean Party’ where you can ask us anything about Clean Convergence 2019, the workshops that are on offer, and even any questions you have about Clean Language full stop.

Now … on to the conversation:

Segment 1 – It’s Not Two Things (7.5 minutes)

In this seven and a half minute segment, Penny and James talk about the workshop they are offering in California, January 2019 – Symptoms & Systems: A Clean Approach.

Now don’t worry. It’s not all just dry information about the workshop. It’s really quite a deep conversation about clean language, working in metaphor, and how this kind of thinking and questioning can help you in your work and life. 

So enjoy segment one and then head on down the page for segment 2

Register here for Ask Us Anything October 20, 2018:

Or check out Clean Convergence 2019 here: https://cleanlanguagetraining.com/clean-convergence-2019-sharon-small/

Segment 2 – Musing on Metaphor  (10.5 minutes)

This segment is about ten and a half minutes. James and Penny go quite deeply into working with metaphor and the difference that makes for people and organizations.

So enjoy the next ten and a half minutes and we’ll see you soon for Segment three.

Register here for Ask Us Anything October 20, 2018:

Or check out Clean Convergence 2019 here: https://cleanlanguagetraining.com/clean-convergence-2019-sharon-small/

Segment 3 – Like a Dog on a Bone  (5.5 minutes)

This short segment is about learning life and why one would want to travel halfway across the world to learn face-to-face, cheek-to-cheek and eyeball-to-eyeball with real live trainers not just in clean language, but in any skill you’re learning.

Register Here for Ask Us Anything October 20, 2018:

Or check out Clean Convergence 2019 here: https://cleanlanguagetraining.com/clean-convergence-2019-sharon-small/

The Janus Position

The Janus Position

It isn’t just for interviewing.

I just taught a one day Clean Language Interviewing intensive at the HPRCT (Human Performance, Root Cause, and Trending) conference in San Antonio, Texas on the 22nd of June. In this training we talk about a frame James Lawley and I call the “Janus Position”.

Janus is an ancient Roman god with multiple faces. He represents transition, doorways, duality, the beginning and the end.

The Janus position is one of multiple perspectives, including that of the interviewer. Imagine your face in the middle of this image.

Interviewer + Purpose + Interviewee = Janus position

I+P+I creates the Janus position for the interviewer






When interviewing, one is often responsible for multiple desired outcomes:

  • Conducting a comprehensive interview
  • Meeting the legal, ethical, and outcome requirements of their position
  • Meeting outcomes desired or made explicit by management or leadership
  • Gaining rapport and willing participation from the interviewee

Within this there is a prioritization of outcomes depending on the context and conditions of the interview.

Not all interviews are created equal. The question any interviewer must have is:

  • What is the primary purpose of this interview? Who/what is this for?

An example of this might be a qualitative interview in which the interviewer wants to know an interviewee’s experience on a roller coaster. In this interview the rapport and comfort of the interviewee becomes a primary outcome, as well as their connection to their internal state.

In a quantitative interview (for cause evaluation) the priority might be the interviewee’s working memory and the interviewer’s obligation to the cause analysis and corrective actions that are to come partly from their interview information.

A reporter’s purpose might be personal gain through story writing regardless of the outcome to the interviewee (think Paparazzi) or seeking objective facts with the purpose of informing the public of data they do not currently have access to.

The Janus position requires keeping multiple purposes in mind all at the same time. This can be complex and require an occasional review of action to purpose. It is easier to get off task than you might imagine; a juicy bit of information that catches the interviewer’s imagination and curiosity, a secondary condition that arises in an interview that needs attention, a conflict of personality or temperament that creates undue tension in the interview room, a frightened or worried interviewee. These are some of the types of interference that can arise.

Questions an interviewer might ask themselves prior to starting an interview are:

  • What is my purpose?
  • Who or what is this interview for?
  • What is the primary kind of information I am seeking?
  • How will I work with information of other types that come up in the context of this interview?
  • What is the time line for this interview?
  • Do I have the opportunity to revisit the interviewee or is this the only opportunity I have to ask questions?
  • Is there a pick-list I am required to use and where might be the best time to place these questions in the interview?
  • Who else might need a copy of the information elicited in this interview and what form are they expecting it in?

I am writing this article because recently I had need of the Janus position thinking in a personal aspect of my life. It was not an interview and did require a clear idea of purpose to make the best of a difficult situation.

My parents, now 95 and 86, were moving from a 3000 sq ft home to a 1000 sq ft apartment in an independent living complex. A very good move and excellent timing. This meant that my sister and I needed to be in Texas to help them. It meant looking at their treasures, helping them sort and choose what meant the most to them and what they would keep, items that meant a lot to them and they could not keep, and generally doing whatever was needed to make their transition easier.

Independent of that, it also meant my sister and I managing ourselves to keep our relationship in the forefront and the ‘cool stuff’ we wanted secondary.

Hmmm, you are beginning to see my purpose as I write.

  1. My parents comfort and ease of transition
  2. My parents feeling happy that their treasures were not going to end up in an estate sale
  3. Keeping my relationship with my sister intact as we sorted through and divided anything of value that was left from the move

Emotions were high, we were all quite fatigued from long days, and tolerance began to wane.

I asked myself these questions:

  • What is my purpose?
  • Who is this for?
  • When that is the purpose, how do I need to be (behavior and attitude) to meet this purpose?
  • How will I work with less than desirable behavior that might come up? (in both myself and others)
  • How do I need to be to come out of this feeling good about myself (meeting my need for congruence and primary values)?
  • Is there a pick-list? ie: what is on my list as a daughter that needs to be met within everything else that must be done and where do we place those actions/questions?
  • Who else is involved that needs to be kept in the loop?
  • What would I like to have happen? Yup, I did include my lil ol’ self as part of the larger outcome.

Each day I reminded myself who this was for: my parents. What my purpose was: to make their transition as stress-free as possible. This meant consciously determining my attitude and behavior prior to arriving at the house and during interactions with my sister and mother.

What I came to:

  • memories do not live in things
  • people over stuff
  • relationships over acquisition

It is not necessary for you to come to determinations as I have above, and you will find that keeping the thinking of a Janus position will be helpful in both your interview practices and personal/work interactions.