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Alison Galbraith

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How using extreme listening can develop leadership skills


Allison Galbraith explains how organisational leaders can achieve, using one very simple tool, the employee engagement, empowerment and 'more for less' they are looking for in the modern business environment.
In today's corporate environment, there is much talk of engagement, improving communication and empowerment of the front line, with numerous suggestions on how we tackle each one. 
There is one approach, however, which I believe has the ability to address all of these issues at once, deliver the 'more for less' that organisations are looking for and at the same time develop our own leadership skills, helping us work more effectively with our teams.
And that is the use of Clean Language. Clean Language, otherwise known as 'extreme listening', was developed by counselling psychotherapist David Grove during the 80s and 90s. David experimented with questions that maximised the client experience by paying very close attention to the words and language they used. It uses a set of specific questions along with the client's own words to develop clarity and creative thinking, which in turn prompts change. Using the clear and creative state of mind of the clients it becomes easier to explore how a desired outcome will be achieved. 
So how can Clean Language help us become better leaders? I believe it can help in many ways but some of the key ones are:

People development

  • The questions make it easy for our teams to be very specific about their feelings and opinions, which raises clarity and understanding between us
  • People feel heard, which in turn makes them feel valued and thereby more engaged

Solution finding tool

  • We become more clear about the issues our team are facing and what is holding them back, which makes it easier to work with them to find solutions
  • Our listening gives them more clarity which in turn helps them find more creative solutions
  • Because they have developed their own solutions, rather than being told what to do, there is no resistance to any changes needed

Building or communicating a vision

Total clarity of the common goal is achieved as the process allows for checking and addressing assumptions. And the team will associate (or 'engage') more strongly with the vision if their questions and assumptions have been addressed using clean questions. Once there is clarity, further clean questions will help the team explore fully and provide more creative solutions for all the things that need to happen for the plan to be achieved.

Leading projects

When a new group of people comes together to deliver a product or process for an organisation, often one of the keys to success is communication which is crystal clear to all. This can be easily achieved if the project leader is able to use clean questions.

Cross-cultural working

Increasingly common, working with people from different cultures requires a very specific focus on establishing common understanding of ways of working.

Leading sales or customer service teams

Here the questions can be used to develop a high level of understanding of a prospect or customer requirements.
I believe that adopting Clean Language questioning across an organisation will take communication and understanding to a whole new level, bringing along the way the engagement, ‘more for less’ and empowerment so eagerly sought in organisations today.
Allison Galbraith heads up Macintosh Wright, a specialist Leadership Coaching and Mentoring organisation which focusses on bringing out the best in business leaders, their teams and the businesses they run using a unique facilitation process called Clean Language – for more information on how use of Clean Language can help business leaders, go to


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