How to Coach in Clean, Non-Violent and Generative Language

Nov 14, 2019

Coaching institutions specify active listening as a core competency. Some add powerful questioning too. This may not be enough. Questioning, according to globally renowned experts needs to be in a language that is asking, clean, non-violent and generative. What do these mean and how do we practice them?

In his powerful Humble Inquiry: The gentle art of asking instead of telling, Edgar Schein defines coaching. In a spectrum of communication that ranges from directive telling to curious asking, coaching falls in the extreme of asking as a humble, vulnerable, generative inquiry. 

Schein talks of many incidents in work life, not merely coaching, where the simple shift to asking what may be needed in a situation rather than telling someone what to do, creates miracles.

I am taking the liberty of expanding Otto Scharmer’s fourth level of generative listening to generative asking and visioning as well as elements of his Presencing approach. When a coach can visualize a client in the outcome the client desires to reach in a generative fashion, listening and exploring fall into place in a language that partners and enhances the client. This language is always appreciative, curious, simple, supportive and growth-oriented. 

David Grove’s Clean Language focuses on active listening, listening to responses of inquiry-based on listening, inquiry that is not suggestive or solution-oriented, using client’s language and metaphors. 

Some of the Clean Language questions are:

Developing Questions

  • “(And) what kind of X (is that X)?”
  • “(And) is there anything else about X?”
  • “(And) where is X? or (And) whereabouts is X?”
  • “(And) that’s X like what?”
  • “(And) is there a relationship between X and Y?”
  • “(And) when X, what happens to Y?”

Sequence and Source Questions

  • “(And) then what happens? or (And) what happens next?”
  • ” (And) what happens just before X?”
  • “(And) where could X come from?”

Intention Questions

  • “(And) what would X like to have happen?”
  • “(And) what needs to happen for X?”
  • “(And) can X (happen)?”

A coach using Clean Language will be non-judgmental focusing on evoking client awareness leading to an empowering solution, rather than being the powerful solution provider.

Marshall Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication focuses on four factors of:

  1. Observation
  2. Feelings
  3. Needs
  4. Request


Facts that we observe, see, hear, touch, smell or taste, are different from our perceptions, as defined by the meta models of NLP such as generalization, distortion, and deletion. Perceptions are judgmental and often negative. Stick to factual observation, not judgmental opinions.


Emotions or sensations, free of cognition and drama. Sensations and feelings do not lie, unlike thoughts that can be fabricated. Sensations and feelings arise directly as responses to what we experience. Thoughts are created through the ego. Feelings help relate with empathy. Thoughts can distance and create conflicts. Feelings convey deeper unfulfilled needs that are not often expressed openly in words.


Needs are fundamental and universal to all, as different from wants, which arise from conditioned expectations borne out of greed. Needs can be met. Wants are never-ending. This universe has what it takes to meet everyone’s needs, which are similar, and can be fulfilled.


Request or ask, rather than demand or tell. Requests are open and humble. Demands are closed and authoritarian. Requests can be in SMART language. People respond to requests as they like giving and are generally kind and compassionate. People relate through interdependent connections, which in turn need to be founded on self-centered connection. 

Non Violent Communication is not about right and wrong, or good and bad, or judgmental pronouncements of these. In using this communication, we become aware of not merely our intent, and also the impact of our intent as it lands on others. This communication eschews conflict and promotes collaboration.

At its simplest Non-Violent Communication fosters empathetic communication that generates energy communion, that connects each of us to our deepest source, and in turn, allows us to congruently express ourselves in respect to others.

Ram Ramanathan, MCC
Ram Ramanathan, MCC


Ram is the Founder and a Principal at Coacharya. As the resident Master and mentor coach, Ram oversees and conducts all aspects of coaching and training services offered under the Coacharya banner.

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