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Welcome to Facilitation Stories, where we discover how facilitators ended up in the profession, and how facilitation methods, principles and techniques are used more widely. Brought to you by IAF England and Wales. For more information on our chapter, click here.

Apr 13, 2021

FS31 Clean Language and Metaphor

In today’s episode, host Nikki Wilson takes a deep dive into clean language and metaphor, and talks to three guests about their uses of them in their facilitation practice.

First Nikki talks to Judy Rees about how she discovered clean language and metaphor and how they feature in her work today.

Judy started exploring the use of metaphor as a child, when her father was studying its use in education. Following reading the book “Metaphors We Live By” by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson as a teenager she then talks of her further exploration on metaphor and clean language during her career as a journalist.

Judy talks of her experience of using clean language as a key part of her engagement with freelance facilitation clients. Using a combination of clean language and metaphor allows her clients to express their needs for their requirements, which in turn allows Judy to understand whether she is the right person for them. She also talks about how she uses clean principles in her training of facilitators to use clean language with groups and teams.

Judy also shares examples of how clean language can help to tease out the distinctions between things that seem quite similar on the surface, but have subtle distinctions, and how this is valuable in avoiding misunderstanding that can be very, very costly.

For facilitators looking to extend their knowledge of clean language for use with groups, Judy recommends reading “From Contempt to Curiosity” by Caitlin Walker. Those looking for more 1-2-1 applications can read “Clean Language: Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds” by Wendy Sullivan and Judy Rees.

Judy ends by speaking about she is current exploring how to not just get people excited by clean language and metaphor, but how to get those people to effectively transmit that enthusiasm, joy and excitement to other people as well.

You can get in touch with Judy here:

Twitter: @JudyRees






Nikki gives a quick reminder of the IAF England & Wales regular meetups which in April 2021 are still happening online. You can find out more on the website:

Nikki then goes on to speak to Robert Taylor and Kevin Watson who ran “The Magic of Metaphor” session at the IAF England & Wales conference in October 2020.

When asked about where the magic comes from when they use metaphor, Kevin describes how the magic in their sessions is all about the relationship that the participant has with the metaphor, and how it helps people to accelerate their ability to see something they have not seen before. Also magical is people’s imagination and creativity and how that never ceases to amaze him.

Kevin and Rob talk about their experiences of using metaphor in both facilitation and coaching sessions. They talk about the use of physical objects in sessions to explore metaphor, and how it is important that it's something that is outside of themselves and seemingly unrelated to the topic on their minds. They go on to explain that it is important to have elements which the participant can touch and interact with as part of the exercise to get a different perspective.

They talk about the importance of the facilitator in letting go of the worries about how people will react to using metaphor in a session. The important thing is that you as the facilitator work with what people present to you, as that will be the right thing for them at that time. Both Kevin & Rob go on to talk about the need to trust the participant, that they will come up with something that you can work with, and that they will have the things they need to figure it out.

Rob & Kevin end by talking about how they will continue to explore metaphor further in the future, including looking at how you can use metaphor online to give people experiences that they can learn from.

Get in touch with Robert

Get in touch with Kevin:

Or via the Facilitators Café:


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