1. Revealing the metaphor
A young student I usually see in a sporting context is part way through his ‘scholarship’ year, and is falling victim to the usual pressures… “because I want to go to X school and/or Y school I really need to get good marks in these scholarship exams. Really need is a euphemism here for must and the stress, pressure and tension associated with all academic activity, revision etc is already building and affecting his natural persona.
I spent a few minutes recently and drew a time line for him as he “walked towards his future” goals of being at the school of his choice. This was a big, clear bold colour picture of his goal. I then asked him about the nature of any barriers along the way. He described the scholarship exams as being the barrier.
PW) And is there anything about this barrier? Cl) It’s like a big, brick wall PW) And is there anything else about this big, brick wall? Cl) It fills my entire pathway and is very thick.
We identified where the wall was in relation to his goal picture and he then said that as he got nearer to the wall, he lost sight of the goal picture.
I then posed him some questions using Clean Language.
PW) What resources do you need to nail down these scholarship exams?
PW) And do you need anything else with perseverance?
CL) No just perseverance
PW) (slowly) And is there anything about perseverance?
CL) Its like an albatross hanging round my neck, big and heavy
With the metaphor revealed by him so early in the conversation, I chose to open up what the albatross was doing for him.
PW) And with the albatross, is there anything else about big and heavy and round the neck?
CL) Yes its dragging me down…. and as I get towards the wall I can’t see over or anything – just wall.
PW) And when by the wall and in order to see over to the goal, what has to happen to albatross?
CL) (with a wry smile) It needs to be anywhere but round my neck
PW) And can albatross be anywhere else?
CL) Yes, I don’t need it
At that moment he knew that perseverance was not the resource he needed as it was weighing him down as he walked towards his goal and approached the exams. So having asked him what other resource might be more appropriate he chose courage. We investigated courage in terms of the “wall” and it was clear that with courage he could not only see over the wall at all times (ie it was in proper perspective) but also it was a resource to use to smash through the wall. It transpired that taking courage as a resource would provide some other associated resources as well.
With tongue in cheek I told him later that when I was at school I knew a lad called Albert Ross who used to get really hung up on exams. “Really?” he said – and then the penny dropped.
2. The Mind-Shifting Question
This week I had a short consultative session with a client whose general issues were around weight loss, and getting back to feeling confident and not squeezing tightly into her clothes. In the course of the conversation it was apparent that she would be comfortable and okay for 3-4 weeks at a time and then would fall off the wagon and “binge” for a period of time. The binge period was always broken by self control in the end by arriving at the conclusion that “enough was enough”. However, she then had to go through the detox and rehab required to get back to feeling good again.
This is all familiar territory – and so having discovered what stopped the binge I moved to discover what started them – ie what pushed her off the wagon. It turned out it was pretty much all work related stresses and situations, and whilst I was on the point of exploring those areas she said, “Oh but that’s coming to an end because in two months time I start a new job.”
So – the conversation moved to this and how she felt and what about the job would be likely to impinge upon her. She then uttered that time-worn phrase that reveals everything we encounter about a new job – “of course there will be stresses especially at the start of the new job because I want to make a good impression…”
Having got her to pause, I asked her to put herself in the shoes of the people at her new place of work.
PW) You’ve just chosen this person (you) above many others (probably) to fill this role in your organisation, because of what this person (you) brings to the table in terms of work, expertise and personality. You’ve already made the best possible impression, haven’t you?
CL) Oh yes, I happen to know they have been trying to fill this post for over a year.
PW) Now, can you show or describe in physical terms, what you are like when you are trying hard to do something – like trying hard to make an impression.
She got into an expression of tense determination, tight jawed, gripped hands, rigid shoulders. “Relax,” I said, “You’re a very good actress – I’m impressed!”
And then I asked one of the mind-shifting questions that set the scene for using Clean Language: “And what are you like when you’re working at your best?”
There was an electric pause as she went inside and presented all the answers to herself, before telling me “I’m calm, relaxed, focused and concentrating.”
PW) And when calm, relaxed, focused and concentrating – that’s like what?
CL) Oh it’s very, very easy.
PW) And when very, very easy, and calm, relaxed, focused and concentrating – what happens to make an impression?
She smiled with total recognition. “I don’t have to try,” she said.
PW) So, is the new job going to be less stressful knowing that you don’t have to try to make an impression – rather that you just have to be how you are when you’re working at your best?
PW) And how do you feel about the job now, looking forward?
CL) Even more excited.
We then continued to discuss, with even more clarity, how the new job would present adjustments to her lifestyle which could facilitate all the exercise and dietary changes she was planning to make – so that everything could be integrated into making her life much more pleasing and fulfilling.
Seems to me to be a pretty good recipe for going forward!
3. The Golden Nugget – Fishing Boat in a Heavy Sea
When a client admits “I have issues with X because there are times when I feel really out of control”… then I am sat with virtual machete in hand, knowing that I need to help them hack a new pathway through the jungle of X – because the old and well worn pathway leads to behaviours Y and Z, which are very unresourceful.
For me the answer lay in investigating “really out of control”, so I put down the virtual machete and launched into the abyss, armed with only some Clean Language questions. I was out to examine the structure of “Out of Control” and how this might be opened up to give the client choices which would lead to solutions.
One of the joys of using Clean is that clients are given free rein to express themselves as much as they like. By providing them with this freedom, there is every chance that the Golden Nugget of a driving metaphor will come into view at some point.
This client’s metaphor appeared as, “Out of Control is like being on a boat, a fishing boat, with flimsy railings in a very rough sea. Being tossed around and at any time I could be washed overboard.”
PW) What needs to happen to boat and railings in order for more Control?
CL) Boat has to be more sturdy and railings higher
PW) Is there anyone else on boat?
PW) And with boat out of control, where is steering?
CL) In the wheelhouse
PW) And where is wheelhouse?
CL) (pointing upwards) Over there
She is really living this by now, and goes into the wheelhouse. I ask her who does steering and she says Captain. She is not Captain and as Captain is not there I ask if she can steer. She says ‘yes’ and starts to steer. There’s a bit of a physiological shift at this point and when I ask what’s happening to boat now, she replies that it is steadier and (quite revealing) more sturdy!
PW) And is there anything else about boat, railings and rough sea?
CL) Railings are safer and the sea is less rough
The session continued for a short while and I explained to her that now her unconscious had revealed the metaphor of “Out of Control” that she might notice how this placed more resources at her fingertips. She agreed there was a need to get off the deck and into the wheelhouse and assume the role of Captain. This would ensure a return to “Control” and when in control she knew all the right ways to get the answers and outcomes that would be the most appropriate for her
4. Revealing Metaphors! – Trawler deck and landing the Catch…
Clean Language questions are great for eventually eliciting a person’s unconscious metaphors, those that are driving, or that are linked to, certain behaviours. Often people have no conscious idea what these metaphors might be, and find that once they are known, immediate and profound changes can often occur.
I was working with a partner at a course workshop, and we each had to take both client and practitioner roles for a lengthy period of time, covering a particular issue we would like to have resolved.
I had been experiencing a degree of “writer’s block” in terms of progressing the work on my next book – and so I chose this as my client issue for exploration and resolution. At no point prior to the day had I even considered what was causing the block, or how I might get round it – I have plenty of other things to deal with on a daily basis, and I took the rather patient line that further inspiration would arrive when it was ready to arrive!
My interview (as client) duly progressed and my practitioner asked me about the background to the issue, about the first book and other recent working life history, in order to build up a picture, for her, of the real “me” as the client. It was a great question session, and it was when she began asking me about the structure and submodalities of how the first book had come to be written that things began to really unfold…
I’d written the book rather backwards way on – with the title (Don’t Think of a Black Cat) firmly in my mind before I’d started, followed by the subject matter of the preface (the map is not the territory), and finally with theme (the NLP plumber) and structure of the main body of the work. Once armed with the subject matter of the preface I then researched and wrote it, so that it was a stand-alone article in its own right. I then gathered information and made copious notes for the main body – and then wrote it. The conclusion and final tidy up came right at the end of the process.
My practitioner partner asked me what I felt, saw, was the most challenging part of the process for the next book. My reply was that it was the gathering and garnering of all the information. I was happy that I needed to write the preface in the way I had done the first time – that was, choose the subject and then write an article around it. However, the leg-work of processing loads of notes and other information was clearly something that was causing the block in my mind. With her guidance I was able to see that when writing the first book I had no notion of this part of the process before starting out, and therefore it was neither a help nor a hindrance to me.
The next step was the most revealing, however, and I was particularly delighted because I knew that she had no prior knowledge of Clean Language, and yet she had inadvertently used it! We were talking about this garnering of information leg-work in particular with regard to the first book and she phrased the question beautifully thus:-
“And garnering…that’s like what?”
With eyes closed I received a wonderfully clear, colourful and dynamic film of a trawler in a heaving sea and the fishermen landing a huge catch – bulging nets full of wriggling, dancing fish, being hoisted on board.
Here was my metaphor, revealed with stunning clarity.
I could hardly contain myself – and immediately saw the way I was going to be able to proceed with the next book. Get trawling – land the catch – process it, freeze it, and get back to port – tidy it up, package it – then sell it.
I told my partner what had just happened as she was a little bemused as to the nature of this not-so-much-a-lightbulb-more-a-spotlight moment. I explained to her about Clean Language, what it was and how it worked, and applauded her perceptive questioning skills. Hopefully she will be curious enough to pursue the topic more over the ensuing weeks and months as, even at a peripheral level, it has ways of breaking down or bypassing barriers that, on the surface, are tough nuts to crack.
5. The Sea omnipotent!
I met a very intelligent, intense and vibrant lady who is MD of her own successful company. She wanted to raise her energy levels through a better understanding of exercise and fitness and have more positive feelings about her appearance and lose some weight. She also felt at something of a “crossroads” in her life. On the face of it, these are all observations, feeling, desires and goals for quite a considerable number of people.
With further conversation we talked around some of her perceived barriers to achieving these desires and goals, one of which was that she felt that she tended to live “in her head”. Outwardly this seemed to me to be a total contradiction, so I asked her to elaborate, if she had a mind to. She said she wanted to ration her emotions because the intensities of some (particularly those inter-personally related) were causing problems with her self control, and this was getting in the way of a better life.
This was actually the real barrier – not the 2 or 3 she’d actually first mentioned! She needed “me” time and this was being eroded on a daily basis by “going the long way round” all inter-personal matters in the workplace. She felt X but was unable to express how she felt about X, and so took route Y to “keep things smooth”. This was suppressing her emotions, rather than rationing them – and the suppressions were not doing her any good.
PW) When you think of working relationships and scenarios, how would you really like to be?
CL) I’d like to be calmer, more inspired, listen better and be an enabler.
PW) And what kind of an enabler is that enabler?
CL) Someone who gives people time to express themselves and brings the best out of people.
PW) And when bringing the best out of people, where is more inspired?
CL) They are one and the same really.
PW) And thinking about someone listening better, what has to happen to make listening better?
CL) They have to be quiet.
PW) And when quiet, what kind of quiet is that quiet?
CL) It’s calm and attentive and listening.
PW) And when calm, attentive, listening and quiet…is there a relationship with inspired and enabler?
CL) Yes, it’s what I want to be. It’s what I need to be, for me, and for everything to work better.
PW) And thinking of calm, attentive, listening, quiet and inspired….what’s that like?
She did give a ‘looped’ answer here first, and then I invited her to close her eyes and notice what she noticed – and then asked her exactly the same question.
CL) Ah yes, I understand. I see what you mean….actually I do see a picture of the sea – a vast and vivid picture of the sea.
PW) And what kind of sea is that sea?
CL) Well at the moment its placid and calm and in control, and I know it can get rougher when the weather is different. It’s very inspiring and powerful.
PW) And when you think of an enabler, where is sea then?
CL) (chuckles) Well the sea is an enabler in lots of ways isn’t it? Shipping, transport, food, moisture, supporting weather systems, supporting life…..
PW) And when sea is rougher what happens to calm and inspired?
CL) Well it’s still inspiring and awesome and everything. And it’s only rough on the surface; it’s so deep and strong and powerful and away from the surface it’s still calm and in control.
PW) And as you think now about living in your head and rationing your emotions – what needs to happen?
CL) (chuckles again and pauses) I need to be like the Sea.
I drew our session towards a close, and she was animatedly excited and enthused by the prospect of using the metaphorical imagery of her Sea and all the qualities she had bestowed upon it. Here was her “master key” that would help her to become an inspiring enabler, who was calmer and a better listener. In less than 20 minutes with the help of Clean Language she felt confident that she knew which signpost at the crossroads she now needed to follow.