Communicate better with 'clean language'

I have a little antennae in my brain that picks up on things that people say and words that people use. I've blogged before about phrases we use like 'he's good value' or 'if it works it's legal'. So I was really intrigued to come across Judy Rees and her Clean Listening concept recently. 

The idea of clean language is to improve communication and facilitate change merely by tuning into and exploring the metaphors we all use every day in our language.

Whenever you hear about one kind of thing being described in terms of another thing, that's metaphor. And we all use about six metaphors per minute when we speak. Things like, "I'll just pop out to the shops" or "I've got to focus on the job now," or "You'll be over the moon when you see it." 

Rees argues that the metaphors we use are all part of our unconscious mind and says that "90 to 95 per cent of our cognition and our thinking is outside our conscious awareness". Once we become aware of the metaphors and begin to explore them, we are able to understand ourselves much more effectively.

It helps in communicating with others as well. By listening out for the metaphors other people use and asking them to explain more of what they mean, we will have a much better insight into where they are coming from and what they are looking for.

Try this little experiment next time you have five or six people in a room. Ask them all to think of a flower and hold it in their mind as a picture. Then go around and ask them what kind of flower it is, what colour it is, whether it's in a field or a vase, and how many leaves it has on the stem. Every single flower will be different.

In the same way, all our metaphors and perceptions are different, and by taking the time to find out exactly what we mean with our metaphors, we'll have much more effective tools for communication.

Here's an example to bring all of this into real life.

We're currently trying to sell our unit and are looking to purchase a slightly bigger house in a country town. When people buy real estate they always come in with a list of features that they would like.

Imagine if someone walked into a real estate office and said, "I'm looking for a house with a pool." The agent could spend three hours looking through all the listings with a pool, or she could say, "What kind of pool?" and, "Tell me more about the pool."

It might turn out that the client is looking for a pool because they see it as a status marker, in which case, they might be open to looking at houses without a pool, but with other luxury features.

Another client might be looking for a pool simply to keep the kids happy on a Saturday afternoon, so they might be open to buying a house opposite a park or a bike track, or even close to the public pool. 

By exploring the metaphor, you can get closer to meeting the client's real needs. Or talking through the parishioner's real problem. Or finding a solution to your friend's real issue.

Check out Judy Rees' site and learn some clean language. (And don't worry about getting spam if you sign up. I've been on her mailing list for six months now and never been annoyed by her!)