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.