Leadership Nudge® 346 – Book Review: Clean Language

April 14, 2021by Sandy Wilmer

I used to think I was pretty good at asking questions until I read Wendy Sullivan’s and Judy Rees’ book Clean Language: Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds. Asking questions in a more neutral, open way is something we can all practice more.

I used to think I was pretty good at asking questions until I read Wendy Sullivan’s and Judy Rees book Clean Language: Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds.  

The book to me was a revelation. 

Here’s an example, someone comes to you and says, “Hey, I’m having problems in a relationship.”  

You ask, innocently enough, “Do you have the courage to stand up to them?”  

Now it turns out this response, even though it’s a question, is injecting many of your own biases into the way the question is asked. 

First of all it’s a binary question which they call a closed question — Do you? This limits the responses to yes or no.  

Next, “do you have the courage…” The implication is that courage is the scarce resource that you need to draw upon. 

 …and finally, “to stand up” to them, which implies that you need to resist or respond to them and that “standing up” is the correct metaphor, not push them, or lean into them or lean away from them, or walk away from them. And so with this innocent question you’re injecting many of your own biases and assumptions into the question.  

Clean Language has a set of structured questions which help get away from this. I find it hard to remember the specific questions but the idea of asking questions in a more neutral open way is compelling and one which we all can practice more of.  

I thoroughly enjoyed Clean Language and leaned on it as I wrote my own book. 


Sandy Wilmer