Northern Taste of Clean – Sept 2015, West Kirby, England

Posted September 23, 2015 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Clean Language, Conference, Personal Growth, psychology

2015-09-18 09.07.04

I took another leap (flight) into the realm of Clean Language last week – in West Kirby, England – which is an area just West of Liverpool – at a very atypical conference/gathering called ‘The Northern Taste of Clean’. This event is now in its 4th year, and is hosted by Caitlin Walker and Shaun Hotchkiss in their home.

It was part social gathering, part conference, focussed on building shared knowledge, community, and finding new opportunities and connections in the Clean Language Community. The forty participants ranged from the well-known (the hosts Caitlin and Shaun, Penny Tompkins and James Lawley, Wendy Sullivan, and Marian Way to name a few)  to  established practitioners in the field making a living using Clean,  to those who are more recent and passionate enthusiasts, wanting to do much more with Clean Language than they currently do. I count myself in the latter group.  

2015-09-20I came away inspired by and learning from everyone I talked to.  Shaun and the many volunteer helpers provided tea and food throughout the day – all vegetarian fare – tasty and homemade by Shaun and others.  Body and mind thrived and even the weather cooperated much of the time – so we could enjoy the sun and beautiful garden, as well as Caitlin and Shaun’s lovely labradoodle Stella.  It was a fantastic event and very much worth the transatlantic flight.

I can’t possibly jot down all the  learnings and rich conversations I had, but I will share a brief listing of the sessions I attended – as much for my own recollection later as for your curiosity, if you wish to read on.

Clean Learning Thresholds, facilitated by Marian Way – a look at modeling the session participants to see when they ‘grasped’  specific subtleties of Clean Language, what happened ‘just before’? What ‘aha’s’ in learning could they recall and what were the conditions that lead to it.  The aim was to identify thresholds and to understand how people cross them. I’ve started documenting my own (from the past 4 years) as a result of this session.

Clean Selling – Simon Coles – a group discussion about the position of Clean Language in the model of ‘Crossing the Chasm’ (link: and why Clean Language is still in the Early Adopters stage.  How can the community support each other in promoting Clean Language in the best way possible such that it might cross to Early Majority stage?

Self-Organizing Systems – James Lawley – a session to learn from participants what principles from Clean or elsewhere might support self organizing groups of people (such as for organizing a conference, for example).  James and Penny plan to host a self-organizing conference in 2016. We broke into groups and reported out on 4 main themes at the end.

Modelling Session Demo – Caitlin Walker, facilitated a participant on her research/writing desired outcome. Caitlin included the observers in the analysis of the facilitated session as it was going on (when put in pause mode). This I had seen in some of Caitlin’s training CDs, but had not ever experienced it in person.   It was powerful and the subject also was able to resolve the issue.

Working with Disaffected Youth – Stuart Clark and James Jeffers – shared fascinating outcomes of their ongoing work in Caitlin’s company – with the unemployed youth of the area right nearby Liverpool.  The techniques come from Systemic Modelling which you can read about in ‘From Contempt to Curiosity’.  James Jeffers had been a participant in the program and is now apprenticing with Caitlin and being paid as a facilitator in the program. It was fantastic having him there as living proof of the transformational nature of Clean Language and Systemic Modeling.  This program has seen roughly 250 of 300+ participants graduate from NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) to EET (now either Employed, in Education, or in Training) with no recidivism.  Many of these youth are from multi-generational unemployed families.  So inspiring.

Clean Interviewing – James Lawley and Caitlin Walker – session to learn how to discern the difference between leading questions and clean-ish questions when trying to collect real data for qualitative interviews. After James and Caitlin shared a brief history of and introduction to  this topic, we were handed a sample questionnaire for study and then broke into small groups to assess the questions in it (categories were strongly leading, mildly leading, or contextually appropriate). After debriefing that, we were guided to practice spontaneous clean interviewing in triads.

Modelling Gender – with yours truly and Caitlin Walker.  This was my proposed session – run in parallel with the pre-set conference sessions – and many wanted to come to it.  In the end we had eight people discussing what their experience of gender is like followed by ‘who is different?’ and other clean questions and discussion. A friend of Caitlin’s who was not part of the conference was invited in  to participate in this session as she has a transgender child (but no support group in the area of West Kirby). Everyone found something new to think about on a topic most never discuss.

For the last session on Day 2, I floated back and forth between two spaces/sessions. The first was titled: Whirly-gig, Clean Space and Emergent Knowledge. It took place outside with one participant at a time on the ‘Whirly-gig’ a contraption that is used to suspend people in space.
WhirlyGig2Each participant can explore perceptions spatially in a unique way while being clean questioned  about a desired outcome and rotated to new positions as requested. If you’ve never heard of Clean Space, you might have to read The Power of Six, by Phillip Harland. Clean Space was a late emerging gift from David Grove prior to his passing.  The Whirly-gig is not required to experience Clean Space, and only one of those exists in the world, as far as I know.

The second session titled Systemic Modeling in the Real World  was given by Jacqueline Surin from Malaysia in which she was interviewed by James Jeffers and participants on how she got to where she is.  I was very inspired by her story. I had not yet met anyone who had put her first career aside to devote herself to Systemic Modeling based on reading Caitlin’s book, from Contempt to Curiosity. Jacqueline had been a well-known journalist in Malaysia!  She inspires me!

A few of the other sessions I had very much wanted to attend were:

Looking for Literacy – A Modeling Approach to Learning to Read – Cricket Kemp – on her proven techniques to help kids learn how to read and spell.

Clean Voice – Sophie Kirkham – a method for retracting your vocal chords

The Advantages and Disadvantages to having an outcome – Shaun Hotchkiss and James Jeffers 

The weekend event was preceded by a two day workshop given by the partner and ex-wife of the late David Grove, Cei (pronounced Kai) Davies on using Clean Language to resolve traumatic experiences. I attended this event purely because of who she is, but also because the topic is extremely fascinating. I also learned about many of the theoretical underpinnings and historical influences on Clean Language from the fields of psychology, philosophy, and anthropology.  Cei has extensive experience working with Trauma victims around the world and gave two very powerful demonstrations of facilitation to two volunteer participants. Each of those lasted about an hour or so, followed by some debriefing and questions. Most of the two days was a lecture/discussion format and was very informative indeed. I got a certificate again for CECs (continuing education credits) – but I have no idea which program would take these! I am neither a certified coach (yet) nor a therapist!

Lastly, flying to England gave me the added opportunity to meet some second cousins I had never met, one family from West Kirby, one from Liverpool, and one from Manchester.   Now that was extremely special for me and for them.  And who knew I have a second cousin twice removed  – a young 12 year old – who performs regularly in London musicals – look him up on Youtube, his name is Ilan Galkoff….

It was an amazing week on many fronts and as always I am so grateful that I have such great opportunities to learn and grow.


How ‘I’ met Virginia Satir

Posted July 30, 2015 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Uncategorized

Jerry Weinberg and me (1)When I was recently at Problem Solving Leadership (PSL) workshop run by Jerry Weinberg and Esther Derby, I had the opportunity to eat lunch with Jerry and to ask him how he had come to meet Virginia Satir.  He was very happy to be asked this question.  

He started by explaining to me how when he was first studying psychology, he had read Frogs into Princes, one of the first Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) books, in which Virginia Satir and Milton Erickson were both mentioned. Based on the publication date of that book, 1979, and Virginia’s birth year, 1916, he had mistakenly assumed Virginia was already deceased.  Some time later – perhaps a year or two, by around 1985, he discovered she was still alive and was astonished and thrilled. He made sure to immediately find out where to meet her and some time later, he was able to. This is the recollection Jerry shared of their first meeting.

‘I could take you right now to the exact hotel in Mt Crested Butte, Colorado, into the exact room in that hotel, and point to the exact spot within that room, even which floorboard – where she was greeting people, one at a time, in a sort of ‘receiving’ line.  The reason I can remember this is that Virginia made each and every person she encountered feel like they were the exact focus of the universe for the time they had with her.  And those minutes felt like an eternity. You see, once I had experienced that kind of attention, it was indelibly imprinted on me.  After that, I was determined to become her student and spent many months and years training with her.  Eventually I became one of her favorite students.”

I saw the deep emotion in Jerry’s face as he described that first meeting (he was on the verge of what I’ll call happy memory tears, though I don’t know if they were sad reminiscing tears to him).  I found joy in myself because he was passing along not just the story of how he met her, but the meaning, and feelings he had at that moment.  And it helped me to understand Jerry in a different way – through connecting with emotion, which is something I cherish.

Jerry has passed on Satir’s influence to many people around the world – whether they know it or not. He has done this through his many great books about software development and consulting and also via his famed Amplify Your Effectiveness  and  Problem Solving Leadership experiential workshops.  Hearing Jerry tell his story first hand in this way, after having soaked up all the wisdom from his Satir-influenced books, was like finding the source of the Nile!

It was a great lunch and I’ll never ever forget it – city, hotel, as well as the table we sat at.

Different balls, different games – metaphors for communication

Posted July 5, 2015 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Clean Language, Coaching, Dialogue, Listening, Organizational Change

Tags: , ,

AlistairGolf Cockburn has written that developing software is like a cooperative game.  Whether cooperation needs to occur between IT and business, program management and teams, architects and programmers – I do not often see the flow of ideas,  solutions and decision-making happening collaboratively. Coaches can not solve communication problems unless there is both the awareness and the willingness to have those kinds of problems solved.  It is a bit of a chicken and an egg issue.

I’ve recently come up with a few sports metaphors for the way the interactions go, or could go, if only deliberate learning would take place around communication excellence.  I’ll use an example to illustrate this. 

The backdrop for this setting is a large agile transformation. It has a fairly lightweight governance process but the leadership must report monthly to the business side whether the IT side is on track for the target deployment. The delivery date was set 2 years earlier and is now months away.  The pressure on IT to paint a rosy picture is high.  The program manager must update the governance reports.  Because the Program Management Office personnel who normally pull that data are on vacation, the program manager asks a coach to fill in last month’s data – using a chart the coach has not seen before. The program manager provides her only a paper copy. There are no calculations, queries or information on where the earlier data came from or exactly what it represents.

The coach  asks a lot of questions about the data behind the graph, but her questions are given short shrift by the program manager – who really can’t adequately answer the specific questions. The coach does as close to what the program manager requested as possible and provides the data – though with some discomfort.

The baseball metaphor

The coach has recreated the graph using a new sheet, augmenting it using her own ‘queried’ information for the current month in question. The coach delivers this to the program manager: “I worry when we present data that may be misleading, especially when the data I have provided is mixed with data from other queries or sources and overall I think the story it tells is different from reality. When I pulled all the data that I think represents the current state, I see a different picture.”

The program manager immediately shoots back: “The data from the tool is just that, data from a tool. It will never be accurate or up to date.” [she looks annoyed and wants to move on to her next issue of the moment. She shuffles other papers and looks back at her email.] The coach does not think that pressing the point will be helpful at this point. 

This interaction is not atypical in the IT and/or business world.  The coach (batter) has pitched a ball.  The program manager (hitter) hits it strong; the ball soars over and out of the stadium and there is nothing left to discuss. Batter wins. 

The golfing metaphor

Here’s another way this could have gone – using one of my favorite listening and inquiry tools: Clean Language.

It starts in a similar way: Coach to a program manager: “I worry when we present data that may be misleading, especially when the data I have provided is mixed with data from other queries or sources and overall I think the story it tells is different from reality. When I pulled all the data that I think represents the current state, I see a different picture.”

The program manager listens and then asks one or more of these clean questions – first repeating a portion of what she heard – clearly showing she was listening  ‘and you worry when data is used that may be misleading… ‘

     and what kind of misleading is that? [asking for more attributes]

     and what kind of worry is that?’ [asking more about state of the coach’s feeling]

     and  is there anything else about that data? ‘  [opening space for more observations]

     and where could ‘misleading’ come from? [getting at the source]

     and when misleading, then what happens? [getting at significance, if nothing happens]

Clean questions let you stay with the thinking of the person who is talking to you, rather than reacting right away.  To me, this interaction is like a golfer hitting the ball into the hole.  The coach has found a sweet spot with the program manager – a ‘time/place/space’ where the concern is heard and embraced. The environment is one in which the program manager assumes the coach has a valuable intention as well.  I imagine in this scenario, the two explore further mutual needs and resolve the discrepancy so both parties are happy and more importantly so that the program governance body gets an accurate picture – with all the consequences that might entail. 

The first conversation is frustrating because the coach wanted to ‘do the right thing’ – and perhaps was a bit fearful that not fulfilling the request for the data would be unprofessional.  She provided the data and did not argue past her initial observations and reflections to the program manager.  The program manager’s response and overall sense of urgency seemed to drown out her ability to stay present and listen.

Whether using Clean Questions or other types of listening and inquiry models, the type of attention given in the second example is rare … especially in stressful situations when it is MOST needed.  I do not accept ‘urgency’ or ‘time-pressures’  as excuses for not taking the time to listen and to investigate. It is precisely in the slowing down that in fact you can speed up with confidence. Yet it takes some training and intention to create an environment and culture where this can happen well.

The mindset shift that comes along with knowing how to use Clean Language can help projects, companies, and relationships thrive; it can create more vibrant classrooms, happier employees, better students, thriving business results. I’ve got many examples of this in my book of interviews of people who use Clean Language in their work.

If you want to learn more about Clean Language, please let me know by contacting me at

McCarthy Bootcamp and The Core Protocols – Experiencing a Team with Shared Vision

Posted June 30, 2015 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Core Protocols, Teams

Tags: , ,

I attended Jim and Michele McCarthy’s team-building workshop – in April 2015.  It was an amazing experience learning how to create great teams within the span of one week using the The Core Protocols.  If you’ve never read of them before or want to familiarize yourself with them, you can download or print the Protocols here or buy a small printed version here.

I went to Bootcamp because I am tired of workplaces where I cannot see the innate energy, skills and gifts people have.  I see lifeless disengaged employees and I want that to change. I wanted to experience working in a different way, for a week, where people feel connection. I want others to benefit from what I learned is possible.

In this Bootcamp, experimental learning requires an individual commitment to use the protocols, including all of the built in safety features. One of the first instructions to Bootcamp participants is: You are entering a simulation and you must pretend that the Protocols will work during the simulation.  There is no doubting their efficacy during bootcamp. Use them. Experience them. You will see the results.  It’s like entering a new building. You cannot appreciate fully from looking at the floor plans alone.  I believe it is in the doing that we learn how and why.

Before Bootcamp, we had a 100 page pre-bootcamp reading assignment to prepare us for this journey. We came from about 7 different nationalities and continents – we were about 15 people in total including a 13 year old. Below I share just a few salient aspects of Bootcamp and below that some other links for those who are still curious. 

Personal Alignment

During the Bootcamp itself, before working on the product that we were assigned to deliver by the end of the week, team members get to know each other.   The Personal Alignment itself takes the the form of articulating a virtue (love, courage, trust, presence, joy, health/self-care)  – one that if the skies rained down this virtue in abundance, all the ‘blocks’ to your personal achievement would be removed.

This aspect is about individuals discovering what they want, disclosing it, and then asking the team for support in the form of a signal/response pair.   Supporting each other in getting those virtues allows the team to be be strong!

I see a lot of analytical, technical, engineering type problem solvers slaving away at their day jobs. I wonder if they find joy, connection, support, and a sense of being ‘in’ with their team on a daily basis… I wonder if they know that over time, they will burn out from not feeling connected to others at work in a deeper way.  One of the reasons I value the Protocols, specifically Personal Alignment, Check In and Ask For Help so much is that they bring this me a strong sense of being connected to each member of the team.  Work should bring joy, and with the connectedness and safety, people will produce at their best.

At camp we used the Investigate protocol to learn more about each other. It is a time of deepening relationships on the team as the Alignments are explored. One person on the team at my Bootcamp wanted more Courage.  When he shared his signal throughout bootcamp: ‘I want Courage’, anyone present at that moment would yowl like a wolf as that was the response he asked for!  Alignments allow for personal growth.  Folks are encouraged to write down the evidences they will have when they know they are exhibiting more of their virtue. They are encouraged to report those evidences to team members, and ask for help when they need it.  This is incredibly powerful.

Web of Commitments

After personal alignments, the team performs a  web of commitments ceremony in which all the alignments, signals and responses are shared. We also share our desired evidences.  It’s a beautiful creation – coming from the increased bandwidth, self-disclosure, getting to know one another.

Shared Vision

Before making products, we create a shared vision. This is a brief statement about what we want the world to be like as a result of the product we are making. We create the vision before we even know what product we will be making… it is very aspirational, very inspiring as well.  One feels lifted above the dross and worry of procuring the stuff we’ll need…. and we did need stuff – read more about that later in the Managers section.

Making Products

After the Web of Commitments, we go to work producing. Now that we are more deeply connected with one another, we will reflect our best selves in our products.

We continue to use  Ask For Help, Check In, Check Out, Investigate, Intention Check, Decider, Perfection Game, Resolution, Protocol Check liberally as we produce stuff – in addition to to sharing our alignment prompts. We are completely self-organizing using our communication tools and discovering and sharing our talents.

Our team made a lot of cool things. There were sub teams of people creating things like a Gong stand, a robotic proximity sensor with stuff bought at Radio Shack, paintings, a Greatness Manifesto, an emotion/check in cube, a game, music and so forth.  By the end of the week, our goal was to showcase our best product to the ‘Managers’.


Jim and Michelle McCarthy who hosted the Bootcamp I attended played the ‘Manager’ role.   They showed up at times, as managers normally do, seeing how things were going, to see if we were using ‘Ask for Help’ protocol.  One of the big things folks get wrong with respect to management is not asking for help enough!  This is true on every Bootcamp they’ve ever run – and I’ve been noticing this a lot as a cultural phenomenon back at work. People who need things are afraid to ask for them! We had several team members who had been to a handful of bootcamps before, and they were not shy – and whatever support we needed (stuff to make our products), we asked for from Jim and Michelle, or just procured the items ourselves. Like some of the other newbies, I fell short of asking for help enough at Bootcamp by my own admission, but I’ve been practicing more since then. For example, I asked for a new laptop at my coaching gig and got it (the desktop I had was horribly outdated and slow, but I hadn’t thought to ask). 

I’ve been observing this lack of asking by others at work. It is a pervasive phenomenon that I had not really noticed much before. 

Closing Ceremony

At the end, we presented our best product to the managers.  We had everything available to see, but getting to unanimity on the product to showcase was HARD work.  Folks had invested a lot in some of the products, but because we had the ‘Decider’, ‘Resolution’ and ‘Intention Check’, ‘Check in’ and ‘Check out’ protocols, as well as our alignments, we were able to get all onboard and the best product out the door on time.  You can see our product, the Greatness Guild, and follow it as it continues to grow as an outcome of our team’s work.

McCarthy Bootcamps  demonstrate that installing ‘software for your head’ (the Protocols) magnifies a team’s capacity by helping people communicate!  See this invitation to the Fall 2015 Bootcamp and sign up now if you want to experience it.  

If you want to dig deeper on your own after reading this post, read Software for Your Head or listen to the McCarthy Show podcasts. A good podcast to start with is an interview with a Bootcamp grad who started using The Core Protocols at Microsoft. 


Dream Girls 2015 – refreshed

Posted April 26, 2015 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Uncategorized

Tags: , , ,
A year has passed since I wrote the first Dream Girls post. This post is a refresher and also high five to my friend Andrea Ross, who is pursuing dreams of her own, despite many obstacles.
My daughter, Christie, graduated from college a year ago. During this past year, she worked at her first full time job, facilitating and arranging homestays for exchange students with local families, finding suitable cultural activities, and dealing with their logistics and acclimation problems along the way. It was a perfect first job as she re-adjusted to life back in the US – and it made perfect use of her intercultural skills and experiences and her problem solving and leadership skills. During the first part of 2015, she set her goals on finding a new and more challenging job and received two offers. After she ran a successful, professional, sales pitch to a ‘panel of potential gov’t customers and the Bureau of Wildlife and Fisheries’ as part of the IBM interview process, she was offered and has accepted their job offer to join the sales team for IBM’s cloud services. She’ll be working in the federal space.  She also set her eyes on a personal goal – to compete and win in a body fitness competition. She won first place in all three categories she competed in – after months of really grueling discipline both in the gym and in the kitchen.  I’m so proud that she has demonstrated courage, commitment, and consistency in getting what she wants.  This is the girl that dreams with a purpose!  Dream Girls!
Here’s another Dream Girl!  I met Andrea Ross at the Lean Kanban US conference back in 2012. She’s from Richmond, VA.  I include her here, because I think she lives the ‘dream girls’ life, going after what she wants no matter what the barriers.  Andrea works for the Virginia Department of Corrections as an Analyst and Project Manager in their IT department. She is absolutely passionate about Lean and improving the work place.  She has been an influence within the Department of Corrections, helping to train 12,000 employees in the art of dialogue as part of their own cultural transformation. I’ve been very impressed by the initiative undertaken at such a large institution and I’m proud to know Andrea has been a key part of helping to make that happen.  Andrea runs the Capital Kanban Meetup in Richmond which has a very active participant base and interesting programs.  Later this summer she will train and get certified as a Lean Facilitator and as such is continuing to live her dream – despite considerable hardship logistically to do so.  This is so admirable!
My year has gone extremely well too.  I’ve been working at Santeon with a handful of other agile coaches since May 2014.  I’ve loved working with all of the dozen or so coaches on our coaching team (Paul Boos, Mark Grove, Scott Barnes, David Kane, Rich McCabe, Julie Wyman, Ebony Brown, and Kumar Dattatreyan) and with my clients at Caterpillar and at Customs and Border Protection. The Santeon coaches each have unique strengths and interests, and we are really learning to help each other with different perspectives.  We have regular off-sites to reflect on  direction, our needs, our work, learning, and clients. The owner of the company is incredibly dedicated to our well-being, not just the bottom line.  I am so grateful for this.
In 2015 I am checking off two other dreams I’ve had. I’m heading as we speak to Seattle, WA for ‘Core Protocols‘ Boot Camp to spend a week with a dozen or so other coaches learning how to make great teams and therefore also great products.  Its all experiential and I expect a rather cathartic experience.  In June, I’ll join several dozen coaches and IT professionals in Albuquerque for Problem Solving Leadership class led by my favorites mentors: Esther Derby, Johanna Rothman and Jerry Weinberg. If it weren’t for Jerry Weinberg’s books, his Amplify Your Effectiveness Conferences and the fantastic people I’ve met and come to know through those workshops, I would not be where I am today. I can unequivocally say that.  Problem Solving Leadership is a highly sought after experiential workshop – that helps people explore their own patterns and styles when solving problems.  I am super excited for that as well.   I suppose what I love most about both of these experiences is that neither is about ‘agile’ per se.  They are both about awareness, observation, self-reflection, connection, motivation, possibility, change, getting support for what you need to be a fantastic team member and leader.  For anyone one, girls or boys, who want to dream and achieve their dreams, do not hesitate to Ask for Help!
Lastly, in January 2016, I’ll be going to meet James Lawley and Penny Tomkins at a Symbollic Modeling and Personal Discovery retreat. Penny and James are leaders in the field of change and transformation. I’ve written much about Clean Language on my blog – and referred many to their excellent website – a true online museum of all things Clean.  I feel extremely lucky to be able to meet and work with them for 6 days in January 2016.
Close your eyes, and dream big – ask for help, go for what you want!  It truly brings joy to your soul and affects everyone around you in a positive way!

My Clean Learning Journey

Posted February 21, 2015 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Clean Language


I’ve been intensely focussed on Clean Language during 2014 and well into this year as well.  I’ve reflected on where I’ve been and what I want to do next below.  It’s a sort of open mini self-retrospective…first I’ll recap what Clean Language is, for those who don’t know.

Clean Language is a mode of inquiry and a way of coaching – from the realm of psychotherapy. Using Clean Language type of inquiry is about fostering/encouraging the ‘conditions’ for change when a client has a goal, an aspiration, or alternatively when they don’t know what they want, they may start with what they don’t want.  When I started looking into it, I was struck with its simplicity and its power, and thought about the many ways it supports other models I have been studying. I was also struck by its power as a mental model, even if it is never overtly used. In fact, there are folks teaching this to very young children with tremendously powerful outcomes.

Clean language is a question only based system, where the questions focus attention on the words and phrases and patterns of symbols (words/thoughts/constructs) used by the client/customer/interlocutor.  In it is ‘clean’ in that it removes injections of one’s own reactions, assumptions, and suggestions and keeps the focus on the person who is doing the thinking. I can think of countless business conversations in which one person is cut short, when in response another person interrupts with their own thinking (sometimes also masquerading as a challenging question).  For this reason, clean has affected 100% how I experience conversations and dialogues.

Clean Language also draws  on the power of metaphor – intuitive, subconscious knowledge. In business settings where it is used, it may not go so deep as in therapy, but the metaphors can bridge gaps in understanding in an incredibly dense, efficient way. In addition, clean questions/clean coaching can help reveal intentions, assumptions, desired outcomes, resources and so forth. It can be a powerful addition to any process, especially when taught to groups who then used among themselves. This has been demonstrated by Caitlin Walker’s adaptation of Clean Language – called Systemic Modeling.

Here are the 5 things I’ve done to engage myself in the process of learning more about Clean Language:

1.) In the hopes I might find some interested people in the software and facilitation fields,  I spent a lot of time presenting at numerous workshop during the past year including Agile2014, AgileDC, the Mid-Atlantic Facilitators Network, IIBA-DC, and the Coaching Special Interest Group of the Chesapeake Bay Organizational Development Network. I found quite a few people who found it fascinating and got some really interesting feedback each time.

2.) During the past year I worked with a Clean Language professional Sharon Small, owner of the Clean Language Institute, to produce a book compilation of interviews of people who use Clean Language professionally in some fashion. That was tremendously illuminating because we found deliberate usage in a variety of quite disparate fields, and we have not uncovered them all.  So a goal we have will be to increase the number of interviewees in the book in the coming years. The book is called ‘Who is Using Clean, Anyway?

3.) I’ve enjoyed participating in monthly Skype calls of enthusiasts from around the world in the IT/Clean Language space – where we collaboratively share our knowledge, learnings, successes, and questions.

4.) There are numerous Youtube postings, and several Facebook groups that also have kept me actively learning in the Clean Language space.

5.) I recently finished reading all the major books on Clean Language that I felt were important for a serious practitioner.  Many of these books and resources are listed right here on my blog.

Now, in the present , I am trying to imagine answers to some of these questions:

  • What would I like to have happen next?
  • How does Clean Language really affect how I listen to conversations, interact with people, understand them?
  • Do others notice?
  • Do I remember what I was like before I knew about Clean?
  • How does it (and Caitlin Walker’s Systemic Modeling) bear resemblance to other means of inquiry and rich, dense information exchange between people, such as The Core Protocols of Michele and Jim McCarthy?
  • How will I apply what I have learned more systematically down the road in work settings?
  • What inhibits me from trying?
  • Do I want to delve deeper in practice, or step back for a while?
  • Do I want to stop delivering workshops?
  • Do I want more formal in person training in Systemic Modeling? or Symbolic Modeling?
  • If I get more training, what happens next?

I don’t have all the answers, but I do have a much older wish coming true this year: I am going to go to Jerry Weinberg’s Problem Solving Leadership retreat in June. I’ve wanted to do that for some time. And Jerry’s work has been heavily influenced by Virginia Satir, who was a key influence in the development of NLP – Neuro Linguistic Programming – from which  Clean Language emerged. So I’ll be experiencing a week’s worth of immersion on a ‘cousin’ branch of Satir’s influence… and I’ve been told by many that PSL offers a lifetime’s worth of learning. I hope so.

My future learning about Clean Language is in my hands, yet to be sculpted, revealed.  I’ve imagined a few possibilities.

  • I may revive the notion of hosting a Clean Language practice group, but I’ll need to find a place to host it where folks might be willing to come.
  • I definitely will try to connect with Caitlin for Systemic Modeling training in the coming year or two.
  • I will hold open the possibility of hosting Clean Language explorations on-line, if there is interest.
  • And, what might help a whole lot will be to attend a Personal Journey Retreat given by James Lawley, Penny Tomkins – who will be offering that in the US –  West Coast – in January 2016.

Penny and James wrote the seminal book on Clean Language and Symbolic Modeling, It is called Metaphors in Mind – Transformation through Symbolic Modelling. They codified the way that David Grove used Clean Language in therapy by observing him in his therapy sessions, as David Grove didn’t want to stop his work to write! 

James and Penny also maintain the most exhaustive on-line resource involving Clean Language. It is like a museum gallery – which you can see here.  And, for those not in psychotherapy, there is still much to be gained here – articles about Clean Language used in research, business coaching, and facilitation and so forth. It will be a museum visit – and if you start reading there, after a time, you’ll ask yourself – ‘What? Is it really time to close already, where did all the time go?!’  I have much left to explore here as well.

That’s it for Past, Present, Future – at least for today. Oh – and if YOU are interested in connecting with me to practice or learn more, please do. You can find me on twitter at @andreachiou or email me at

Self-Retrospection (or my own Clean Feedback) on the 3 Techniques workshop at AgileDC 2014

Posted November 13, 2014 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Clean Language, Conference, Listening

2014-10-21 16.10.11

Participants at work!

On October 21, 2014, I held a workshop at Agile DC conference titled ‘3 Techniques to Raise the Communication Bar on your Agile Team’. I had an hour to convey the three techniques that I had proposed in the workshop summary to a room of close to 50 people.  I introduced the audience briefly to Clean Language and we practiced listening skills using the basic questions.  Then we learned two techniques from the Systemic Modeling work of Caitlin Walker.  Clean Setup and Clean Feedback.

I’ve compiled all the Clean Feedback forms from the participants and posted them here.  I’ve also compiled and posted on my blog a full list of followup books and other internet content that will help participants if you wish to continue your journey learning Clean Language.  [As a side note, in the intervening month, my conference interview on Clean Language with Todd Charron at Agile 2014 conference was released and that can be found here at InfoQ website.]

Here are my key takeaways from presenting at AgileDC.  Each bullet has my observation, the meaning, and the impact – which is the general format for giving Clean Feedback.

1.)  I had a strict 1 hour limit.  I must be crazy to even attempt my ambitions in such a short time, and the impact is that I probably will not do an hour long intro again in the same way. I would probably pare down the number of exercises and keep it really simple, as suggested by George Dinwiddie in a post-conference twitter conversation. Even though I had a lot of great feedback, the pace was too fast.

2.) The room was full and the feedback reflected that participants were grateful to have interactive exercises as a format at the end of the day.  Exercises are very effective and energizing and really help to engage the ‘what’ of the session better than slides.  I will continue to hone the exercise rhythm for future workshops so there is enough time to debrief each time as well as to do short live-demos in front of the larger group.  I may also try to do workshops with fewer people where there is more opportunity to interact with everyone during the exercises.

3.) A number of people expressed that they enjoyed the workshop – in person – afterwards. Even my boss came and asked for a session for the other coaches back at headquarters.  I wanted nothing more than for folks to have a great memory and enough exposure to know that Clean Language techniques exist and that team communication can be enhanced by questions, curiosity, intentionality, and feedback.  The impact for me – knowing that some got what I intended – means that I will continue to find ways to teach and share these techniques and to practice them in smaller groups. I currently have a three hour workshop planned with the Mid-Atlantic Facilitator’s group on January 30th, in Washington DC. You can register here if you are local to DC.

4.)  Longer term follow up with participants is rare, though I have no doubt that some were stirred by just this brief exposure. I may add a field on the feedback form in the future to optionally collect emails from participants that want to receive more information.

Lastly, a few people were interested not just in the how – which they got from practicing, but the wider context of why. I’ve included some of the key points taken from Caitlin Walker’s book, From Contempt to Curiosity, in this poster, which I had hanging in the workshop space. I don’t think many had a chance to really look at the posters I prepared.  The points on this particular one are a great way to close this post – giving you more food for thought (and me too).2014-10-23 07.17.46


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,670 other followers