Clean Communication

Clean Communication is a set of techniques and approaches that allow for more straightforward communication where you can more easily understand others, help them understand themselves and get through with a minimum of misunderstanding.

Through my work with severely traumatised people, I have had the opportunity to refine and extend the approach and questions developed by psychotherapist David Grove in the 1980s, known as Clean Language. In my world, this is the most important skill in all communication of any kind - and literally vital in therapy or coaching.

The goal of "Clean" is the same as when you clean a wound - you want to clean it so it can heal, and you want to avoid infecting it with any bacteria from yourself at all costs.

It means a neutral approach that is 100% about the other person, so much so that you try to make yourself "invisible" and just hold up mirrors in front of them.

Some basic rules of the approach are:

  • Don't assume anything
  • Don't reciprocateUse the other person's words, verbatim
  • Use the words in the same tense and conjugation
  • Do this even if the grammar "sounds really weird".

The reasons for this are how the brain works. When you use Clean according to these principles, you often put the other person into a self-reflective safe hypnotic trance, where they can become aware of what they really mean, want and are trying to say. Any 'impure' communication from you, such as saying 'what a good thing' or 'what a shame' or changing their words, risks 'waking' them up from this process.

The "Clean Language" questions are like a formula - where you replace X and Y with the other person's words. The basis is 12 questions, I list them here in the order I usually test them - I say test because no communication is a cookie recipe - you have to constantly self-calibrate every response you get - without trying to understand. It all happens inside the other person - you don't need to know what is happening as long as they say it has helped.

Clean Language questions

Identify the pain

  • What kind of X (is that X)?
  • Is there anything else about X?
  • Where is X? or (And) whereabouts is X?
  • Is there a relationship between X and Y?
  • When X, what happens to Y?
  • That’s X like what?
  • What happens just before X?
  • Where could X come from?
  • Then what happens?

Identify the gain

  • What would X like to have happen?
  • What needs to happen for X?
  • Can X (happen)?


You ask "how is it?"Answer: "so-so"

You follow up with, for example, "what kind of SO-SO is that SO-SO?"

The answer could be anything, but it helps the person to reflect on "of all the SO-SO's I've ever experienced, which SO-SO is this particular SO-SO?"

It could be "I don't know"

Then you can follow up with "What does SO-SO like to have happen?"

It often feels alien the first time you try it, I thought so. But, it is only when you start to understand how the brain processes information that you can realise the importance of the wording. I could explain in detail, but it doesn't fit here. I say like my grandmother: Try it.

If you are considering learning this, I run workshops at regular intervals.

If you who meet vulnerable individuals as a coach, therapist, teacher, social worker, HR, counsellor, priest. For those who present things to others. If you want to communicate effectively and safely regardless of who you are talking to.

You will learn how to communicate with words, energy and body language. How words affect the nervous system and emotions. Simple basics of Clean Language - an unbeatably simple and effective technique. You will be able to communicate, understand others and be understood at a deep level.

I share my experiences from training PhD students in presentation skills, working with traumatised clients and ten thousand hours on stage.

You can find the next workshop here>>

Further Reading