Boy Painting On A Blank Canvas

You might be wondering, why on earth would you WANT to develop a beginner’s mind once you know your stuff. If you had to choose, what’s most important when coaching – being an expert or having a beginner’s mind? Not sure? Well, let me put it another way. Are you at your best as a coach when you think you already know the answer to the questions you ask your coachee? When you can see the way forward, even if they can’t?

Or, when you are genuinely experiencing the coaching as though you were exploring unknown terrain, with open curiosity and a willingness to learn from the coachee all about their unique situation? I know which coach I’d rather work with myself.

But! You might say, it’s not me, it’s my coachee, they expect me to be the expert! I would challenge that and ask “What kind of expert do they expect you to be?” Perhaps they feel comfortable working with a coach who knows how to be a great coach, and is an expert on coaching technique. And they may value you having understanding around their particular industry or profession, so they feel you can understand their specific kinds of issues and dilemmas. However, do they really expect you to be the expert on THEM? After all, they’ve had all their lives to gain a lot more experience on that than you!

The tricky thing is, even if you are with me on the ‘beginner’s mind’ being the better option, it isn’t always easy to achieve. You can’t really fake it. And for the experienced coach with hundreds of coaching hours under their belts, it’s hard not to recognise patterns and similarities in the coachee’s dilemmas. You may have really seen it all before.

So, how can you regain a beginner’s mind when you have become an expert coach?

In Zen Buddhism there is a term ‘Shoshin’ which describes the value of first emptying your mind of all you think you already know, in order to be at your optimum state for learning anything new.

I find that my Clean Coaching training helps me no end in a very similar vein. All Clean Coaching questions are phrased in such a way that any embedded assumptions are stripped from them. The only additional content within the question is the client’s own words and metaphors. No paraphrasing happens in a Clean Coaching session, any reflection is of the coachee’s actual words.

When I teach Clean Coaching, learners often report some surprise at how difficult it can be to just ask Clean Coaching questions with no extra embellishments to put your own views in there. However much you might profess to be non-directive, most coaches can’t help but subtly influence as we have a basic human need to weave our own understandings in with another’s, through conversation. When we take that away from a coaching conversation, the coachee becomes free to have a dialogue with themselves. Digging deeper into their hopes, dreams and fears, they discover what they never knew they already know. And this is the beauty of Clean Coaching! Above all it is a discipline for the coach to ensure they DO stay non directive. So, when used in a disciplined fashion, it forces you to work from a position of knowing nothing.

Here’s a practical idea for you to try, even if you have had no Clean Language or Clean Coaching experience:

When your coachee mentions a term that seems important to them and one you know alot about, just firstly notice your ‘expert self’ wake up. and then pause. Let’s say they comment that they feel they are suffering from ‘imposter syndrome’, for example, and it just so happens that you have a good understanding of this and know of various ways that other clients have dealt with this. Notice that little ‘itch’ within you to add a suggestion or idea and instead pause for a moment. You can tell your expert self that maybe you can provide that idea or suggestion later, but first:

Remind yourself that this client has never before said these words, at this time, to you, This is a unique moment and it has a unique meaning for your client. Be curious to know more. Perhaps it is the same or similar to other clients’s expeeince. But more likely, this is something subtly – or massively – different from that.

And question them with two specific Clean Coaching questions:

“What kind of….”


1) “And when you say you feel you are suffering from imposter syndrome’, what kind of imposter is that?
2) “And you feel you are suffering from imposter syndrome. What kind of feeling is that?”
3) “And that imporster syndrome, what kind of syndrome is it?”

You can of course continue to explore with further ‘What kind of’ questions, to focus attention on whatever the coachee says in response each time.

I guarantee you’ll learn something new about imposter syndrome! Or anything else that the client has brought to the table today. Notice how the only words used other than the question form are the coachee’s own word and the ‘and’ word that ties it all together.

The second question I’d like to share works best AFTER you used a few ‘What kind of’ questions first.

“What do you know about that?”

You can repeat this question a number of times, changing it to “Is there anything else you know about that?”

It can be open like this with a simple ‘that’ at the end of the question, or you can target it towards a specific word or term the coachee used, for example:

1) “And what do you know about that imposter?”
2) “And what do you know about that feeling?”
3) “And what do you know about that syndrome?”

Again, this kind of question can be used iteratively, asked again of each emerging piece of information that the coachee responds with. In fact, Clean Langiage creator David Grove used to say that this kind of question/answer/question sequence sets up a kind of iterative feedback loop which is likely be extremely generative and help the coachee to reach new insughts and understandings.

I’d like to finish by sharing that for me, by practicing Clean Coaching questions, it worked almost like a mindfulness technique, in that it allowed me to step into a space of wise ignorance. When I hear myself ask the questions, I can give my enquiring beginner’s mind permission to learn about this coachee and their situation from scratch. The Clean Coaching questions help with a structure and sequence to prevent me from inadvertently biasing the direction of conversation with my own opinions, which I know can easily happen without needing any intention on my part to do so!

I’d welcome your comments and views on this.

From Angela Dunbar, Clean Coaching Centre:

Module One Clean Coaching online training “Gaining Insight through Movement” starts on 7th March 2023