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“Clean Language Questions” Show Promise in Resolving Relationship Conflicts, Finds New Study

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A new narrative review conducted by Daniela Munteanu and Glynis Freeman at the University of East London explores the potential of clean language questions in resolving and preventing relationship conflicts. The findings, published in Psychreg Journal of Psychology, indicate that this emerging approach may offer a significant tool for improving communication and understanding in various interpersonal relationships.

Clean language questions, developed by psychologist David Grove in 1989, are designed to facilitate a deeper understanding of personal metaphors and symbolic language. The technique involves asking non-leading questions that allow individuals to express their thoughts and feelings without influence or bias from the interviewer. Examples of these questions include, “And is there anything else about X?” where X represents the interviewee’s words or metaphors.

These questions are structured to help individuals explore their internal symbolic worlds and articulate their meanings clearly. This process encourages open communication and can reveal underlying issues that may contribute to conflicts.

Munteanu said: “At the beginning did not seem to be powerful, however after using those questions on my colleagues and any person I was meeting made me realise that they have a magic effect to make the coachee (the person interviewed) reveal for themselves hidden truths, making them realise that they have all the answers for their problems.”

Munteanu and Freeman’s narrative review synthesised evidence from six peer-reviewed articles published between 1984 and 2022. These studies involved diverse adult participants from various racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. The review focused on whether clean language questions can effectively manage relationship conflicts by addressing misunderstandings, unclear expectations, and poor communication.

The review highlighted that while extensive research exists on relationship conflicts, studies specifically examining clean language techniques are limited. Despite this, the reviewed articles suggest that clean language questions can help individuals understand different viewpoints, thereby resolving or preventing conflicts.

Enhanced cognitive and emotional development was observed in participants using clean language questions. This enhancement is attributed to the questions’ ability to promote self-awareness and deeper understanding of personal metaphors. Munteanu noted: “From our practice we found that at the beginning the questions are a bit strange for the interviewee, but after a while they immerse in the self-awareness, increased focus over the problems exposed and responsiveness, that help them find their own solutions.”

Raised awareness and respect were also noted. By appreciating the diversity in rationale and perspectives, individuals developed greater respect for themselves and others. This increase in mutual respect helps create better rapport and reduces conflicts. Munteanu further remarked: “All studies about CLQ reveal that the mechanism of these questions encourage people to examine their feelings, thoughts from a new perspective, revealing new aspects and possibilities that were deeply buried in the unconscious.”

Elimination of misunderstandings is a significant benefit. Clean language questions help clarify meanings and eliminate misunderstandings, which are a primary cause of relationship conflicts. This clarification leads to more harmonious interactions.

Self-efficacy was reported by individuals answering clean language questions. This empowerment helps them handle conflicts more effectively and constructively.

The narrative review acknowledges that more rigorous studies are needed to conclusively demonstrate the efficacy of clean language questions in mitigating relationship conflicts. The existing research primarily addresses misunderstandings and free of judgment but does not extensively cover other causes of conflict such as power dynamics or selfish behaviours.

Munteanu and Freeman call for additional empirical studies to explore how clean language questions can address a broader range of conflict causes. They suggest practical applications of clean language in various settings, including workplaces and educational institutions, to gather more comprehensive data on its effectiveness.

Teaching clean language techniques in conflict-prone environments, such as workplaces or family settings, could equip individuals with tools to prevent and resolve disagreements. Training sessions or workshops on clean language could be beneficial, promoting a culture of open communication and mutual understanding. Munteanu shared: “The plans for future are to try and teach primary students to use CLQ and see how they can improve their lives. I invite everyone to try those simple questions in daily conversations when they sense the atmosphere is heating up. Let’s have a world with fewer conflicts!”

Incorporating clean language questions into early education curricula could help children develop better communication skills from a young age. This early intervention could lead to healthier relationships and reduced conflicts as they grow older.

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