Recently I was working with a coach who was frustrated with their coaching client. The client was coming back to the coaching conversation each month with the same issue, and didn’t seem willing to look deeper than what was in front of them today. This coach is a great coach, but they were frustrated and peeved with their client. The coach was passionate about real breakthrough for the coachee, they saw potential and growth opportunities for the coachee but their coaching just wasn’t working.

This is not the first time a coach has been frustrated with their coachee (and I’m sure it won’t be that last). As coaches (or people using coaching skills) our heart and desire is to see people get insight, breakthrough and growth; to move forward in their personal and professional life. But what do we do when what we know doesn’t work?
In this situation, with this coach, we worked though a tool called clean language. Now there is many mixed reviews on clean language and its use, so I’d like to clarify that when I’m talking about clean language:
  • I’m not talking about removing profanity from your coaching conversation
  • I am talking about using the same language that the coachee is (and not bringing in new language)
  • I’m not referring to NLP or fixing yourself
  • I am talking about using similar language that help the coachee gain deeper insights
Sometimes as coaches we can get concerned about asking the “right question”. We unintentionally reframe the coaching conversation with our thoughts, words, beliefs. We use words that make sense to us but the coachee might not understand. Asking questions that come straight from the coachee can mean greater breakthrough. Clean language is about using the same words and language as the other person, particularly the use of metaphors.
Let’s look at a couple of coaching examples:
Coachee: I am stuck with no way out
Coach (not using clean language): So how can you determine how to walk away?
Coachee: I am stuck with no way out
Coach using clean language: And what kind of ‘stuck with no way out’ is this?
Coachee: I feel like a bull in a china shop
Coach (not using clean language): So how can you be more calm in your interactions?
Coachee: I feel like a bull in a china shop
Coach using clean language: Tell me, what is a bull in a china shop to you?
Using clean language in coaching can focus the coachees attention on an aspect of their experience or giving them a different perspective on the same experience. Asking questions using clean language can often result in new insights or recognition that are often surprising. These new insights help the coachee to generate new and powerful ideas and next steps.
Why not experiment with some clean language and see the breakthrough in your coaching and in the lives of those you work with. Move from anxious, frustrating and cautious coaching to freedom, courage and breakthrough by using clean language.
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