What Is Clean Language?

Clean Language is a set of questions designed to guide people towards outcomes without contaminating their thought process. Clean language questions achieve this by being largely composed of the subject’s exact words. A typical clean language session begins with eliciting the problem, then asking the question What would you like to have happen. Further clean questions are used to elicit more details about the subject’s representation of the world and their specific problem space, along with associated metaphorical constructs.

When you’re a hypnotist, one of the things that tends to happen is that you find there are a handful of technologies that are incredibly useful and fit perfectly with the way you do things.

In my case, clean language is one of these technologies. It was created by David Grove back in the 1980s as a means of allowing people to find and explore their own metaphors, and then use these to cause their own lasting changes.

As you might imagine, getting people to do their own internal work and resolve their own issues is the holy grail of hypnotherapy, NLP, and change work in general.

And it turns out that doing so is often a lot easier than the uninitiated might imagine.

When we use clean language, we use a set of specific questions combined with the exact words of the hypnosis subject to guide their thinking and lead them towards their own solutions.

Depending on from whom you learn clean language questions, there can be a specific order or not. I find that what works best is usually to rely on my unconscious mind to ask the next clean question that it occurs to me to ask.

Because of the way that clean questions elicit information from people, quite often we end up asking the same question repeatedly about different things they have brought to light. This typically leads to them going deeper into possibilities with every step.

Starting out, simply ask the clean language questions in whatever order makes the most sense to you, and notice what happens.

Clean Language Questions

Clean language is comprised of 9 to 12 core clean questions, supplemented by some more advanced clean questions.

You’re probably wanting to find out exactly what these questions are, so I’ve put them together in this section as a handy reference for you.

We’ll come to how exactly to use them shortly.

For now though, be aware that in the questions below, X is one of more of the exact words spoken by the person you’re helping with clean language.

And when I say exact, I do mean exact. Do not change even the tense of the word.

It is essential to use the subject’s exact words because only the exact words will match their internal representation.

A consequence of using the subject’s exact words in clean language is that we often end up with sentences that are not grammatically correct, and that do not seem to make sense in the traditional sense.

These seemingly nonsensical questions make perfect sense to the person with whom you’re working.

Here are the basic clean language questions

  • What would you like to have happen?
  • What kind of X is that X?
  • Is there anything else about X?
  • That’s X like what?
  • Where is X?
  • Whereabouts is X?
  • Then what happens?
  • What happens next?
  • What happens just before X?
  • Is there a relationship between X and Y?
  • And when X, what happens to Y?
  • Where could X come from?
  • Where does X come from?
  • What needs to happen for X?

There are a few others beyond these. And when you are starting out, these are more than enough.

If you’d like a handy reference, you can download my Clean Language Questions PDF completely for free. I’ve even scaled the font for you to make it easy to read on most phones!

And When X

One of the key features of clean language is that it flows. This is facilitated by prefixing every question with And or And when X.

And is a powerful hypnotic word which seamlessly attaches two concepts together.

It is not uncommon for every sentence to start with the word and when deep inside a clean language session.

That said, prefixing every sentence with and or and when X is not required in a linguistic sense. Which means that you can generally get away with leaving some of them out.

What I find is that when I use clean language, I will randomly drop them sometimes.

The clean questions themselves tend to cause subjects to look inside, so often they will be in a trance after just a handful of them.

When we sometimes leave out the prefixes and or and when X, this has the effect of bringing our subjects out of trance ever so slightly.

Now bringing our subjects out of trance in the middle of a session might sound bad. In reality, this is a form of fractionation and the end result is that they will generally go even deeper into hypnosis.

Clean Language Conversation Example

As with all hypnosis sessions, we typically start by building a bit of rapport with our subject, finding out how much they know about hypnosis, and giving a pre-talk in which we lay out what’s about to happen.

Each of these steps is vital because the majority of the population has significant misconceptions about hypnosis that we need to reframe before we start.

Once our subject has an idea of what’s going on, we find out what they want. I have found clean language to be brilliant for this, even in cases where we use a different technique to resolve the issue.

I’ve highlighted the clean language components for clarity.

Hypnotist: Does this all make sense so far?

Subject: Yes!

Hypnotist: Okay great. And what would you like to work on today? How can I help?

Subject: I’ve been feeling really demotivated lately. It seems like I never have the energy to do anything.

Hypnotist: And demotivated and never have the energy. And when demotivated, that’s like what?

Subject: It’s like sand flowing through a sieve.

Hypnotist: And it’s like sand flowing through a sieve. And when it’s like sand flowing through a sieve, what kind of sieve is that sieve?

Subject: It’s made of metal wire.

Hypnotist: And sieve. And metal wire. And when sieve and metal wire, is there anything else about sieve?

And the conversation continues on in the same vein.

If you look closely, you’ll notice that at every step, the subject is being guided more deeply into bringing out the details of their own metaphor for what’s going on.

When the subject then manipulates the metaphor, the changes to the metaphor flow through into the problem itself.

Since most people have no idea that this kind of thing is even possible, they typically have minimal resistance to working on the problem as they don’t realize they are doing so.

How to Use Clean Language

To use clean language, ask any of the clean questions that seems to fit the context. Guide the subject deeper into their own metaphor by mining them for details with clean questions like what kind of X is that X and is there anything else about X. Then rotate them into the solution space by asking what would you like to have happen, and further build the solution by mining them for the consequences with questions like and then what happens.

I have found that it doesn’t matter very much at all which order the questions are asked in. The structure of clean language is such that just about anything we can do will lead to the subject having a deeper understanding of their problem, and of solutions to it.

Apply a little bit of common sense, and you will be fine.

So what do I mean by common sense? In this case, lead the subject towards finding their own solution and anchoring that into their future, rather than magnifying the problem.

In hypnotherapy and coaching in general, there is a general procedure we can follow that guides our subjects towards solutions.

  1. Elicit the subject’s problem.
  2. Mine the subject for a metaphor for the problem. With clean language we can do this by asking and that’s like what?
  3. Gather some more details of the metaphor. Many of the clean questions can be used for this, including what kind of X is that X, is there anything else about X, where is X, and so on.
  4. Break the subject’s state. This is often a good place to hypnotize them. An easy way to do this is have them close their eyes and take 3 slow deep breaths. Assuming you haven’t already.
  5. Ask the subject what they’d like instead of the problem. One way to do this with clean language is by asking them the question and when [problem], what would you like to have happen?
  6. Mine the subject for details about their desired future. We can use the clean language questions and then what happens and and what happens next, and so on to do this.
  7. Future pace their desired future. Build it up. One way to do this is to build a metaphor for it by asking the question and when [desired future], that’s like what?
  8. Apply the resources from the desired future to overcome the problem. Using clean language, one way to do this might be to ask something like and when [desired future metaphor], what has happened to [problem]?
  9. Continue on until the subject is glowing.

Or put in very simple terms:

  1. Identify problem.
  2. Break the state.
  3. Build positive resources and solution.
  4. Blend problem and positive resources.
  5. Repeat until problem is gone.

There is one further important point here.

When people have ongoing problems, usually they cannot be solved by regular logic. Build a bigger resource state and apply it to the problem, and the problem will collapse.

The reason for this is straightforward: If there were a simple, logical solution, they would already have done it.

Clean Coaching

Clean coaching uses clean language questions and techniques to help the subject identify metaphors for their problems, develop solution resources, and apply those resources to overcome their problems. And because the process is clean, the solution will tend to be congruent with the subject’s desires. In turn this leads to motivation, which fuels implementation of their solution.

In short, with clean coaching, people tend to end up getting more of what they want, rather than what others think they should have.

Clean language coaching is used in just about every environment you can imagine, including business, agile software development, classrooms, and communication in general.

Coaching as a discipline is all about helping people identify what they would like to have happen, and how to get there, and then keeping them on track so they achieve the results they desire.

And because clean language was specifically designed to allow people to uncover their own solutions, it fits in perfectly with coaching.

And that leads to people getting the results that they want.

If getting more of what you want sounds like something you’d like to have happen, you can get started by grabbing my Clean Language Questions PDF and asking yourself some of the questions.

Next, apply these questions to the steps in my article on How to Get Results, in which I give a basic framework you can follow to start getting more of the kinds of results that you’d like to have happen.

Out of all the hypnosis techniques I’ve learnt over the years, there are a handful that I use all the time. Clean language is one of these.

What would you like to have happen next?

Read Next