Serious play at Coaching Development’s Alum Day – Sunday 29 October 2017

I am utterly grateful to my first Coach, Alma Neville (who is sadly no longer with us), for introducing me to Coaching Development’s Coaching Skills1 course in 2005. I completed my training in 2006 and am so glad to attend the Alum Days2 that Coaching Development offer to alumni. They are rich experiences, in addition to providing Continuous Professional Development. What is particularly great about them, and what drew me to train with Coaching Development, is the ethos of developing Coaches, rather than just teaching coaching skills. The training is definitely about “moving beyond technique” and developing “the deeper awareness, attitudes and skills essential to effective coaching”3.

That we put meaning onto objects allows us to use objects to explore, express and, perhaps, transform ourselves. The whole of the Alum Day involved this kind of work. I am very excited about bringing this object work into play with my Clients, if that is how they would like to work. The exercises can work well for individuals and teams. I have shared my own experiences below to show how these kinds of exercises can be used for exploring and for transformation.

The Story So Far and The Story I Want

I had a powerful transformation during one of the exercises at the Alum Day. We were in pairs playing with buttons and I’d assigned ‘the story so far’ to one button, ‘the story I want’ to another button, and ‘options’ to a bunch of other buttons. I moved the buttons around, believing the ‘options’ I’d set out had to take place before I could get to ‘the story I want’. Suddenly, I swept the ‘options’ aside and asked myself, and my coaching partner, “what happens if I put ‘the story so far’ on top of ‘the story I want'”?


“What happens if I put the buttons together?”

I did it and clasped my hands to my head, “I feel like my brain is reorganising itself!” Suddenly, I realised I didn’t need to get to ‘the story I want’ because I was already there and always had been. This realisation blew my mind. Tears formed as it began to settle in me. No need to strive for something that was always out of reach. My Coach asked what the future holds for me now. “I have no idea,” I laughed, “and I love it!” I laughed some more, “I really believed this other stuff,” I moved the ‘options’ buttons around in wonder. At that moment, Colin, our Facilitator, declared it was time to swap roles.

No Content Needed for Transformation

The amazing thing to me about this exercise was there was no need to state content. The buttons did take on meanings but the meanings didn’t have words attached to them other than the labels I’ve used to describe them here. I am still unable to give them words to describe what they actually meant, so I think what I worked on, inadvertently, was something from a time before I could speak. I feel like I’ve caught up with myself; some kind of integration is taking place. I feel better. I keep checking to see if the change is still in place and it is.

Serious Play for Exploring and Building Identity

An exercise that I loved during the Alum Day, was the serious play with Lego. Colin, our Facilitator, asked us to make models of ourselves as Coaches from the pile of Lego in the middle of the room and then partner with another person to explore the models. The photo below shows my model of me as Coach. I had no idea what I was going to build but I knew my mind would make meaning from it. This exercise can be used with teams to understand each person’s mental representation of the team or organisation and then to create a shared team or organisation identity.


Julia Fry as Coach – a Lego model representation

The flag pole without a flag represents silence which has a direct connection to the red flag, which is intuition; the connecting line shows a relationship between silence and intuition. When I get into a place of silent not knowing, my intuition prods me to make an observation, or ask a question, or blurt something and it is often a catalyst for the Client. The flags also represent my appreciation of the Client as she / he shows up, and the wonder and curiosity I feel as I coach. The orange bricks represent what the Client brings and some of the ideas are connected. It can feel a bit messy in the middle of a session as we let go of the old and allow for the new to come in and the black lines in the middle show this. The plant shows the growth of a new idea, and also represents the client’s growth within the relationship. The board is a metaphor for time as a container; it contains the relationship, the process, and the sessions that we co-create.

Clean Language

These two exercises were part of a schedule that included Clean Language, which I was very excited to be able to practice, given the amount of work I’ve been doing with my colleague, Veronica, on using Clean Language Questions4 in our workshops5. We found that nearly everyone preferred being asked the questions to asking them, because of the clunky feel to them. It takes practice to get used to them. Clunkiness aside, it’s striking how little a Coach needs to do for someone to get to an entirely different place from the one they started at. I’m reminded, once more, of how important the Coach’s quality of attention is and once that’s in place, a Client will make the shifts they need to. Again, we started with objects – buttons – and used Clean Language to explore the meanings we gave them.

Exercises like these can go as deep, or stay close to top level, as you need. Using objects to explore our mental maps and meanings is a useful way of bypassing the stories we tell ourselves and others. If you would like to find out more about how I can partner with you in these ways, please do contact me for a free initial consultation.

I feel enriched and so very thankful for the support I have received.

1The Coaching Skills course is now called Professional Coaching Skills (Part 1 Diploma in Coaching).

2The Alum Days are offered at various times throughout the year and are free to alumni of the Professional Coaching Skills programme.

3Quotes are from Coaching & Our Philosophy on the Coaching Development website.

4I’ve written a blog post about Clean Language Questions. You can read it here.

5For more information on the workshops we facilitate, you can go to our website, The Inner Resources Workshop.

The kind of magic where people join in and learn things


In my morning pages, I was writing about marketing for The Inner Resources Workshop. I was feeling fed up, not knowing whether the seeds I was planting were taking root or rotting. I inadvertently began a self-coaching session using Clean Language Questions.

Me: I don’t know where we’re going.

Coach Me: Where do you want to go?

Me: To a rainbow.

Coach Me: What kind of rainbow?

Me: It has different colours and different pots of gold at each end and when you go to one and collect it, you can travel along the rainbow and go to the other end and collect and go back again and there’s more gold, always more.

Coach Me: And what kind of gold is that?

Me: Rich learning. Everybody learns. We all collect gold when we travel along the rainbow.

Coach Me: And is there anything else about the different colours?

Me: I think my drawing [photo above] might be representing the rainbow and the collecting gold. It’s a held space, a safe space to explore in and the gold is weird because everyone’s version is different and there are some emotions and what seem like negative emotions in there too. The colours are the exercises. We’ve put so much work into them and we’re testing them. We’ve tested the bridge on ourselves and I really want to see if it works for others but no-one has booked and it’s still a month away but I really want people to come and try it.

Coach Me: And what kind of come and try it?

Me: Commit to exploring themselves. Maybe words like “transformative” are not helpful. Maybe something lighter, like the first round of feedback we got.

Coach Me: What about the red box?

Me: That’s the ground rules that we set together. They create the safe space for the rainbow to emerge.

Coach Me: And what happens before the ground rules create a safe space?

Me: We welcome people. We prepare; we put hours and hours into preparing.

Coach Me: And what kind of preparing?

Me: Running through the workshop, preparing handouts, running order, materials for exercises, where we’ll put stuff, what we’ll do if there aren’t enough people for a particular exercise, what we’ll do if we run out of time at various points, how we’ll handle strong emotions, what kind of snacks would be beneficial, all sorts of things. We test the exercises after we tweak them.

Coach Me: And is there anything else about preparing?

Me: Yes, it’s like a bubble of comfort. We’ve done our best to prepare for what we know; the rest, the unknown, will unfold and we’ll respond as best we can in the moment and that’s where the magic happens.

Coach Me: What kind of magic?

Me: The kind of magic where people join in and learn things, like the drawing exercises – you get to be like a child, draw with your non-preferential hand and be curious about what you’ve drawn and suddenly you see a part of yourself that you weren’t aware of before or you realise that bit you thought was un-resourceful is full of resources and the Clean Language Questions help you unlock them. I’m really excited about the new ‘bridge’ exercise because of that. People will leave with a deeper sense of who they are and that’s priceless.

I’ve reproduced the words above exactly as written in my morning pages, despite feeling a little vulnerable about exposure. The Clean Language Questions helped me get into the detail of my rainbow metaphor for the workshop, which gave me a deeper sense of the workshop, allowing me to switch out of “marketing-panic” mode and feel inspired to use my writing as a blog post. Who knows? Maybe it will inspire you to join the workshop? You’ll learn how to use Clean Language Questions as well as deepening your self-knowledge.

Powerful? Transformative? How we worked together to explore our inner resources


Participants at The Inner Resources Workshop practising Clean Language Questions

Without breaking confidence, which was one of the guidelines participants came up with (see photo below), we had a fab time at last Saturday’s Inner Resources Workshop! There was a “lovely atmosphere” in which attendees felt “safe” to learn and explore.


We defined how we would be together at the Inner Resources Workshop and these are the guidelines we adopted: kind, understanding, authentic, (quietly) passionate, patient, listening, attentive, respectful, honest, empathetic, nonjudgmental, and confidential.

We taught Clean Language Questions and all the participants felt the questions enabled them to listen deeply to others and discover new things about themselves. Everyone agreed the Resourceful State activity gave them a “simple and powerful” tool to use in the future for “changing attitude and beliefs”. In short, the workshop was experiential and “transformative”.

Would you like to come to the next one? You can get a ticket here: The Inner Resources Workshop on Saturday 25 November 2017.

All quotes come from feedback forms completed by the participants.

Clean Language Questions – what are they good for?

IMG_20170902_161409Clean Language Questions were developed by David Grove, psychotherapist, in the 1980s for therapeutic use. Grove realised that Clean Language Questions helped his clients to explore personal metaphors as a way of healing trauma without going into the (often re-traumatising) content of the traumatic event(s).

According to Grove’s guiding philosophy, every negative symptom contains a positive resource, which balances the books, so to speak, and keeps the client stuck in unhelpful behaviours or mindset; it’s like a push-pull effect: the unhelpful behaviour is compelling because it contains a pay off.

Unlike Jung, Grove believed the client’s metaphor did not need the therapist’s interpretation; rather, an exploration of the metaphor allowed the client to come to “a place of peace” (fifth paragraph of Grove’s obituary). Grove’s experience showed him that the way to get at the resource(s) contained within a metaphor was to ask ‘clean’ questions.

Clean questions are formulated from the client’s language and gestures. The questions do not contain opinions or assumptions from the questioner and they generally start with the word “and”. Simply put, Clean Language Questions are curious reflections of the client’s experience and they allow us to “visit the client’s world and unfold solutions using the language and logical boundaries of that world”.

I challenge the claim that clean language questions do not contain assumptions from the practitioner; the practitioner selects bits of the client’s language to repeat and misses out other bits, therefore it cannot be 100% clean. Regardless of how clean the process is, the result is usually a client who feels heard, and has a solution to carry out.

In my study of Clean Language Questions so far, I’ve been using them for two purposes: gathering information, and moving forward. The gathering information questions are great for exploring values and goals, and for getting to know someone better. The moving forward questions work much better than giving advice in that they help people to formulate solutions that work for them.

In The Inner Resources Workshop that I run with my colleague, Veronica, participants seem to prefer asking the moving forward questions to the gathering information questions; they don’t like the clunky structure of the questions and feel like they’re repeating themselves, which they are. However, the people being asked the questions don’t notice any of that because they’re so involved in their metaphor.

Gathering Information Questions

The following Clean Language Questions are good for exploring the subject (hobby, values, goal, for example) in more detail and for exploring around the subject:

And what kind of X is that (X)?

And where(abouts) is X?

And is there anything else about X?

Moving Forward Questions

Uninvited advice can feel condescending and is usually based in the advice-giver’s perspective (more about this below). To help someone move forward, without giving advice, these questions can be used:

And what would you like to have happen?

And what needs to happen?

And can that happen?

And is there anything else that needs to happen?

Although sometimes advice can be helpful, it often misses the mark; in their book, Clean Language: Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds (2015; p.8-9), Wendy Sullivan and Judy Rees give three reasons why advice is often not followed:

  1. The advisor is providing a solution to the wrong problem.
  2. The advisor is highlighting the wrong benefits of solving the problem.
  3. The ‘advisee’ is of two minds: one part wants to do something while another doesn’t.

All three reasons highlight that the advisor hasn’t asked clarifying questions about what the advisee wants and is giving advice based on his/her assumptions.

Clean Language Questions can help you to find out what the problem is, which benefits matter, and, if there is a conflict, what to do about it. It is not the practitioner’s role to understand the client; the purpose is to facilitate the client mining the metaphor for information that will, ultimately, help them in some way.

I think Clean Language Questions are good at digging deeper and finding solutions, but as for their ability to heal… I’ve read accounts (Paul’s fear and Ann’s anxiety about cancer) of Grove facilitating clients but I haven’t found much on whether the effects last and for how long after a session – it would be hard to ascertain this anyway because there are so many other factors at play in everyday life.

Veronica and I decided to teach Clean Language Questions in our workshops because of a sentiment that is beautifully phrased by Judy Rees, so I’ll give her the last word in this blog post:

Listening, asking questions, and paying attention to metaphor will make a huge difference in most walks of life.

What’s your experience of using Clean Language Questions?


The next Inner Resources Workshop: 16 September 2017


We are running another free trial of The Inner Resources Workshop on Saturday 16 September 2017 from 10:00 until 13:30. The participants of the last Inner Resources Workshop said this about it:

Gentle and safe atmosphere; well held.”

“I now have tools for tackling my challenge.”

“The resourceful state activity was powerful and useful.”

“It has shown me how important my perspective is on my actions.”

“Made me realise there are other ways of talking and listening to others.”

“I really felt listened to in a non judgmental way that helped me to come to my own solutions.”

We have 12 places on this Inner Resources Workshop, which we’re holding at The Coach House in Brighton. If all places are booked and you’d like to come, please join the wait list or contact me with your name and email address. If someone cancels I can give you their place, or I can let you know about the next Inner Resources Workshop.

Self-coaching for awareness and inspired action


Photo credit: Doug Kline/flickr/Creative Commons

Self-coaching helps me to:

  • explore how I feel about a situation
  • identify what I can and can’t change
  • identify actions I can take
  • reconnect with why I’m staying in a situation when it feels tough
  • see when a situation no longer matches my values
  • explore a creative idea or character, bringing them to life
  • get unstuck
  • identify who can help me get unstuck
  • see from someone else’s perspective as well as my own
  • set goals and first tiny steps

Self-coaching does everything that a coaching relationship does but without the mirroring that a coach brings; there is reflection but there are blind spots, which a coach could hold up for exploration, so self-coaching is really useful and less powerful than being coached.

Self-coaching arose during Morning Pages many years ago. Morning Pages, basically, is a tool for listening to yourself, warts and all: first thing in the morning you take half an hour to write whatever comes into your head onto three sheets of A4. I’ve used this tool off and on since 2007.

As I wrote my Morning Pages, it occurred to me that if I was coaching me, I would ask a certain question in relation to what I was writing, so I decided to switch into Coach mode to ask myself the question, and then switch back to think about and answer the question. Self-coaching became a regular occurrence and also happened when not writing. Self-coaching is very useful when you don’t have a coach to hand.

So, how do you do it? Here’s an example of when I self-coached myself around what sort of van I’d like:

Coach-me: What would you like from this session?

Me: I’d like to get a bit closer to what sort of van I’d like.

Coach-me: A bit closer to what sort of van you’d like.

Me: Yes. At the moment I know I’d like it to be my creative cave, a space where I can go off for weekends by myself and see what happens.

Coach-me: See what happens?

Me: Yes. I don’t want to put pressure on myself to come home with a perfect creation. I  might come back with nothing. I might go and climb somewhere.

Coach-me: So the van you’d like is your creative cave where you may or may not create something and you may use it to go climbing somewhere.

Me: Yes.

Coach-me: And what else?

Me: I could visit friends and relatives in it. I could attend events in it. I could travel around Europe in it.

Coach-me: A versatile van.

Me: Yes.

Coach-me: And how close are you to knowing what sort of van you’d like?

Me: I don’t know. Not close at all. There are the main contenders – Mercedes Sprinter, VW T4, Ford Transit, and lesser known to me: Renault, Citroen Berlingo, or there are vans that are already kitted out, like camper vans, but I don’t really like their aesthetic.

Coach-me: So you’ve researched vans and campers and you know you don’t like camper aesthetics.

Me: No.

Coach-me: What do you like?

Me: I like VanDogTraveller’s van. It’s nice but it’s his. And I want mine.

Coach-me: And what is ‘mine’ like?

Me: Cosy, comfy. Nooks and crannies. Knotted wood. Things stuck to surfaces. Pretty. Nice colours. Teal. Wood. Not modern looking. More, well, like it’s grown into place, like a fairy tale. It doesn’t have to be real wood. It could be painted onto the surfaces. I want to feel like it’s a room inside the Magical Faraway Tree.

Coach-me: A room inside the Magical Faraway Tree. What sort of van would provide space for that?

Me: Something that I can climb into – like a hidey hole, and that I can make bigger when I need to cook – so it could have a pop top roof. A VW T4. I did some research into those and they’re quite robust and reliable. And I’ve found one on Gumtree that’s nearby. I spoke to a mechanic about it and he’s willing to check it out with me but something is holding me back.

Coach-me: A room inside the Magical Faraway Tree is like a hidey hole and a VW T4 could provide that and room for cooking with a pop top roof. Sounds like you’ve identified the sort of van?

Me: Yes, I think so. I just need to look at it and test drive it and see what it feels like. And sell my motorcycle.

Coach-me: And sell your motorcycle?

Me: Yes. I don’t know where I’d park the van. I could give up the motorcycle and the garage and get a parking space instead. I haven’t ridden my motorcycle for a while. Just to Boulder Brighton. I’m not into it any more.

Coach-me: So, we’ve moved from identifying the sort of van you’d like to practicalities of where to park it, what to do with your motorcycle. How are these related to knowing what sort of van?

Me: Well, I guess it relates to how much money I can spend. If I sell the motorcycle I can spend more money.

Coach-me: And if you spend more money?

Me: I might get a better van.

Coach-me: And what kind of van is a better van?

Me: One that is mechanically sound and structurally sound and maybe has a roof in already. I feel like the first thing to do is make an advert for my motorcycle that is a good price – priced to sell – and then I’ll have a bit of money to play with. If I go to see this van and it’s mechanically and structurally sound and the mechanic gives it the okay then I’ll want to buy it and I don’t have the full amount yet.

Coach-me: And you don’t have the full amount yet. And can you secure the van without the full amount?

Me: I guess I could offer a deposit and ask family for a loan. I could ask before arranging to see the van. And I could place the motorcycle advert before arranging to see the van.

Coach-me: And we are prioritising actions.

Me: Yes.

Coach-me: Where are we in relation to knowing the sort of van?

Me: I have an idea and a possible van to look at and before that I need to do a couple of things in relation to finance.

Coach-me: And what might get in the way of those things?

Me: The tedium of writing an advert. But I really want a van and when I think of it, it inspires me (and scares me a little). And asking family for a loan might be annoying for them. I have a current loan but it could be tacked on the end and I could pay it off quicker, but that’s not guaranteed.

Coach-me: What would inspire you to take these actions?

Me: When I think of going off for weekends in the van to create or climb or visit people. Having my things around me, like my coffee pot and food and puppet stuff or whatever materials I bring. I don’t think it’s the van I’ve seen advertised. I want a white van that doesn’t look like it’s being used as a camper.

Coach-me: Ah. That’s a turnaround.

Me: Yes. I don’t want to rush either and make an expensive mistake. I want to save and sell my motorcycle and then buy a van. I’m in conflict actually. I want a van now. And I want to have the money for it. My family were kind to lend me the money for the motorcycle and I don’t want to offend them or seem scatty.

Coach-me: And you want a van now. And your family might help and you don’t want to ask them.

Me: They could say no. That’s okay. Then I’d know. It’s information. They know I’m reliable at paying back.

Coach-me: They could say yes. What then?

Me: Then nothing stands between me and getting a van.

The self-coaching session took place at the beginning of the week and I took both actions shortly after. I now have a loan in principle and I sold my motorcycle to someone very lovely.

Coaching, whether yourself or an other, is about listening well and asking questions. I will explore the elements of listening well and asking questions in future blog posts.

What do you think about the self-coaching process?

What do you use to move yourself to action?

Discover Your Inner Resources for a Positive Stronger You Pilot Workshop

photograph of donut sculpture and Brighton Pier by Veronica Tapp

Veronica Tapp and I have been working together to create a workshop: Discover Your Inner Resources for a Positive Stronger You. We’re using Clean Language Questions and self-development exercises and games to explore your inner resources. And there will be tea and cake. What more could you want?

We’re offering this workshop to you at a very low price (£5) in exchange for your feedback so that we can develop it further. It takes place on Saturday 8th July 2017 from 14:00 till 17:30 in Brighton, East Sussex, UK. If you love self-development and / or have some kind of challenge to prepare for that will require you to dig deep, then this is for you. To book your place, click here.

How to instantly transform your life with the Wheel of Life

Using a Wheel of Life not only allows you to see your current levels of fulfilment, but also gives you insights into how you can instantly transform your life with small actions. The Wheel of Life can be used once or often; you might use it at the beginning of a coaching relationship to ascertain areas you’d like to work on. I use it a few times a year and it’s nice to look back on them and see what’s different and what’s the same.

How to use the Wheel of Life

The middle of the circle counts as zero. The outer rim of the circle counts as 10. Label each section for an area of your life. I used “fun”, “health”, “money”, “work”, “friends”, “spirituality”, “family” and “romance” as my labels. Now ask yourself how fulfilled you feel for each section on a scale of 0 to 10, 0 being not fulfilled at all, 10 being completely fulfilled, and mark the segments accordingly. Here’s mine:

Now you can ask yourself some coach-ey questions:

  • What do you notice about your wheel?
  • Which segments, if any, share the same number?
  • Pick a segment and ask what makes it that number and not the number below it?
  • What would it be like if one segment increases by 1? How would it affect the others?
  • Which section(s) affect(s) all the others?
  • What other questions would you like to ask yourself?

I wrote my questions and answers down, and gave myself a self-coaching session by doing so. I came away with an instant action of phoning my Aunt, some insights into how mindfulness (which is my version of spirituality) affects all the other areas, and a reframe of my perception of interruptions at work, which felt inspiring and exciting.

What happens if an area of your life has a zero? Well, it depends… What might the zero mean to you? If you could change it, what would it be like? How does the zero benefit you?

You can use the Wheel of Life alone, with a coach, or with friends. As I sat to draw my Wheel of Life, my friend, Jane, arrived and I invited her to join me in the exercise. I asked her a few coach-ey questions once she’d drawn hers. Jane remarked on the process:

it’s very revealing and very quickly identifies areas of possibility and areas of life that need work. There are a lot of good things to work on. You can do this in 45 minutes and go away with a diagnosis and a prescription as well. It’s very powerful.

Although Jane had the benefit of my coaching experience, you can totally get some insights and actions doing the Wheel of Life alone. You can download a FREE blank Wheel of Life in PDF format here: wheel_of_life_blank. If you feel like sharing your Wheel of Life with me, I’d love to see it.


What’s your experience of using the Wheel of Life?