Never Make A Jackass Out Of Yourself Life Coaching Again

They are only 2 books I come close to insisting people on Coach The Life Coach Training read.

One is ‘Co-Active Coaching’ and the other is ‘The Structure of Magic Vol 1’

The latter was the first book ever written on NLP and introduced the Meta Model of language which deals with language specificity.

By the way, if you want to know what other books I recommend, click here (after you have read the post of course!)

Even though I know little about ‘clean language’ the more I do read the more I see the similarities with the Meta Model and why it would be highly useful in a coaching setting.

The following is a guest post from Coach, Mark Reagan, explaining its usefulness.

Never Make A Jackass Out Of Yourself Life Coaching Again

I admit it.

I’ve been a jackass with clients. I can hope I won’t be in the future, but I’ve just started my Life Coaching career, so chances are I’ll make another mistake or two in the future.

Thankfully it doesn’t happen very often, and I’m pretty quick to recover when it does.

These two questions you’ll learn will help with that. A lot.

Now, if you’re making a jackass out of yourself because you’re:

Giving the client bad advice or even too much advice, as that really isn’t our job.

Insulting the client.

Watching Game of Thrones while coaching.

Then these questions won’t help you. Sorry. And they won’t get you out of every jam, but this is what they will do:

Make sure you never make an incorrect assumption again.

Don’t Paraphrase!

And they’re going to do it through parrot-phrasing.

If you’ve taken the Coach the Life Coach course, or read Tim’s Aligning With Your Core Values book, then you’ve heard him talk about parrot-phrasing.

What we’re going to do is dial it up a notch with a process called Clean Language.

The idea is simply, “don’t paraphrase, parrot-phrase.” In other words, you use the client’s language and don’t distort it.

For instance, if you’re working with a client and they say, “I’m frustrated about it.”

And you reflect back, “So you’re getting worked up about it.”

If the frustration they’re going through isn’t the same as getting worked up, you’ve just dug yourself a nice hole, as you run the risk of creating dissonance.

Hopefully the client will correct you and say something like, “No, that’s not quite right. It’s like this.”

But if they don’t, and you don’t realize what just happened, you run the risk of going down the wrong path with your client and wasting the time they’ve paid for.

The same goes for all sorts of situations with your client, such as values which Tim talks about in his book. My value of freedom might be very different from someone else’s value of freedom.

The Awkward Conversation

As coaches, we don’t want to assume. But you also probably don’t want to have this conversation.

Client: “I’m feeling confused.”

Greatest life coach ever: “So I hear you’re feeling confused.”


I’m not a fan of reflecting like that. It doesn’t give you or the client any extra information that can help, and they didn’t hire a tape recorder.

So let’s reflect back and add on a question at the same time.

Both of these questions come from the Clean Language process. It was originally developed by a guy named David Grove, and afterward James Lawley and Penny Tompkins used the NLP idea of modeling to systematize what Grove was doing.

To you use these questions, you don’t need to know the Clean Language process. But for the quick and dirty of it, what Clean Language does is use a client’s metaphors. It develops them and expands them to create conditions for change.

Anyway, that’s not important right now. What is are these two basic questions:

  1. What kind of X (is that X)?
  2. Is there anything else (about X)?

Be A Life Coaching Jedi

Judy Rees, a master Clean Language facilitator calls these two questions, “The Lazy Jedi Questions,” either because she’s never actually seen Star Wars, or because they can elicit an incredible amount of information from your client with little effort.

The “X” in the sentence is your client’s word or words, parrot-phrased.

And by parrot-phrased I do mean exact, word for word, even if it’s no longer grammatically correct.

If they use the word “frustrated,” don’t use “frustrating.”

Clean Language is used to honor the client’s experience. If they used “frustrated,” the word “frustrating,” while it may be mostly accurate, isn’t the same because it’s not the word the client put forward.

So if a client tells you, “I’m frustrated at work,” and you want to explore their work situation, you can start with:

“What kind of frustrated?”(This is the short version of the Clean Language question. The full version of the Clean Language question would be: “And what kind of frustrated is that frustrated?”

But unless you’re doing the session entirely in Clean Language or your client is used to it, you’re going to confuse the hell out of them if you say it that way.)

Now, with the question you just asked, you haven’t made any assumptions with the client, and with using their own language back to them, they’ll “get” it right away. And even better, you’re about to get a bunch of information back.

The client will start expanding on their version of “frustrated.” One time when I asked this, I got the comment back, “Huh. I didn’t know there were different kinds.”

You might get a little info back, or you might get an info dump depending on the client. In my experience, it’s often between the two.

Following Up

Whether you get a little or a lot, it’s time to ask the follow-up question:

“Is there anything else?”

(Or for the full form: “Is there anything else about frustrated?” Again, parrot-phrasing. So no “about being frustrated” or “about feeling frustrated,” unless the client specifically said that.

“Frustrated” here is the word that encompasses their experience, the extra words might not.

This is the question to use to make sure you got it all. Sometimes the answer is “No,” which is great.

Move on.

But often I ask the first question, get this giant info dump, and then ask this question and get the key info about the situation, or the info that turns a lot of fragments into a complete question.

I’m not sure why it works that way, but I would guess that the information that comes up first is the info that’s most easily accessible by the client.

It’s the “top of mind” stuff. What they after they probably had to think about and dig for, or maybe it’s the stuff they didn’t want to say at first.

Either way, it’s good stuff.

Ok, so “frustrated” is probably not a concept that’s going to create much of a misunderstanding, and usually doesn’t need to be expanded on.

Let’s instead apply this to what I think it works best at: metaphors.

Metaphors are containers of information. An individual word is as well, but a metaphor packs a tremendous amount of info into a tiny space.

It can bring in visual meaning, cultural/societal meaning, entire stories, and more, usually all at once.

They’re like compressing songs as .mp3s versus cassette tapes. Tons of information packed into a teeny tiny space.

I know Tim enjoys watching a lot of sportsball, so let’s say you have a client who frequently uses sportsball metaphors.

He has a project at work, and he says, “I really want to make a touchdown with this project.”

You could think you know exactly what he means, step over it, and say, “Great!” and move on to the actions he’s going to take, or you can ask:

“What kind of touchdown?” and “Is there anything else about that touchdown?”

And get him to expand on that. Maybe for him it’s a last-minute, game winning touchdown. Maybe it’s the kind of touchdown that he wants to make just to show everyone he can, so they start having confidence in him.

It could be any number of different touchdowns. But you don’t know until you ask about it. And even more so, neither does he.

It’s great as a coach to have more information to work with, but it’s even better when the client knows more about themselves.

By having him expand on his metaphor, he can start to realize what and how he wants to accomplish more fully – this can translate into him having additional choices and possibilities that weren’t there when it was just a normal “touchdown.”

Metaphor Madness!

I’ve heard the figure thrown around that we use roughly six metaphors a minute when speaking. I don’t know if that’s true, but we use a ton. Even people who don’t talk figuratively still use them often.

Metaphors like:

“He’s always cold toward me.”

“She’s a wizard when it comes to this stuff.”

“Let’s connect over the phone.”
“We had a great back and forth.

“He felt distant.

“I want to find a new path.

Remember, a metaphor is just a concept that stands in for something else. It’s a package of information.

Clean Language is a lot more than two questions, but the two questions above are the ones I use most in my general coaching.

These questions might seem simple, but the info they can elicit from your client can be invaluable.

And hey, there’s that saying, “If I assume, I make an ass out of you and me.”

If you use these questions, you’ll help yourself from accidentally getting your client off track, make less assumptions, and in the process maybe never look like a jackass with a client again… unless you want to leave the TV on.

Mark Reagan is a Life Coach and student of Tim’s. You can find his blog at


  1. Jacques Ho

    I feel like Mark’s comments are very easy to appreciate, for two main reasons:

    1. By echoing the client’s selected language, I feel that you have a higher shot at the client feeling heard and/or validated with what they said.

    2. You also prompt them to go down their own rabbit hole (see what I did with the metaphor??) when they may not have realized how deep that rabbit hole actually goes. Paraphrasing may result in making them dig into a well that isn’t as deep, or has no gold to uncover.

    Great post! 🙂

  2. Michael Wecke

    Hi Mark, now that was a really interesting post. And thank you to the Rabbit Master himself for having it on his site. “Clean Language” – I would like to get into that a little more. I may have used parrot-phrasing, when I was mirroring a client (I did HR Consulting, which included a little coaching) – reflecting back their words, using their language. I have also been trying to identify what specific language a person might use, whether they are auditory, kinaesthetic or visual, but that can be tedious and there is the chance that you may lose the essence of what the person is saying. But I have always used the question “what else” or “anything else”? I must have learnt that in a different life, but it is a most useful tool to elicit information the client may not have divulged up to that point. Thanks again, Mark and Tim!

    • Hey Michael,

      Thanks so much for reading! Tim has more experience with the representational systems than I do, but in my experience they’re just like you say – tedious. Especially when people switch between the different ones, haha.

      Metaphors for me are much easier. If you’re interested in more Clean Language, this is a great book to start with: In essence it’s one of those systems that can seem pretty simple due to the limited number of basic questions, but when you really get into the process it opens up.

    • Tim Brownson

      I’m not as big a fan of rep systems as I used to be.

      The problem is as you guys have alluded to, firstly you need to benchmark heavily, then you have to be aware that people can switch just like that.

      It’s like eye accessing cues, way too hit and miss for my liking.

  3. Thanks for the terrific tips. I have caught myself many times trying to analyze or decipher my clients metaphors – only to find that I am getting the both of us off subject.
    I love that you were able to boil it down to jus two simple questions. If I remember nothing els this week I will remember: What Kind X? -and- Is there anything else about X?
    Clean language is something that I am now going to dig in and explore! Really appreciate your sharing and book recommendation.

    • If you’re interested in the metaphor aspect, I think you’ll like Clean a lot. These two questions are great for including in any coaching session to start opening up metaphors or other phrases. One of third basic questions which I don’t use that much unless I’m doing straight Clean Language is, “Where is that X?”

      This is the address question where the other two are the “name” questions. As an example, to stick with the rabbit metaphor that’s popping up in the comments, if a client says, “I need to go down the rabbit hole,” you can follow up the first two questions with, “And where is that rabbit hole?” to orientate them to where they need to go.

      The full Clean Language process gets really fun – there you’re not trying to analyze metaphors, rather unpack them and elicit more metaphors and have them start bouncing off each other.

  4. Brilliant post, Mark!

    I’ve been using those two questions (maybe not exact wording) without really knowing about clean language so this was great to read 🙂 The whole unpacking of the metaphors I loved, and this will help me to refine that now and get more specific with the client.

    Reading this has reminded me though that I sometimes can slip into para-phrasing rather than parrot-phrasing, so a welcome and needed nudge.

    Very useful post 🙂

    • Thanks Keith!

      And yeah, I still paraphrase, too, sometimes. It’s not bad, it just has it’s place, like summing up a huge amount of info the client just gave you. Although with Clean Language, if you wanted to narrow down a ton of info into something shorter, there’s what I might call the “packing” question (as opposed to the unpacking ones):

      “And that’s X… like… what?” to attempt to elicit a metaphor for whatever the client said – you can even ask something like, “And ALL OF THAT is… like… what?” (The ellipses are short pauses to give the client time to process it, and hopefully have an image or metaphor before you finish the question.