As management coaches or mentors you may hold more than one role when carrying out supervision. For example as an internal coach supervisor you may also be a line manager, or act as their direct boss.  You are then engaged with a number of employees, with often complex issues and in multiple relationships.  This is where the 7 solutions for successful supervision with Clean Language can really help to clarify and bring issues to greater understanding.

Clean Language was devised by David Grove, as a way to keep his assumptions out of his interactions with his clients, as far as possible, so he could work directly with their perceptions.

David Grove spent time watching other professionals at work and analysing transcripts of them working with their clients. (Coaches, counsellors, mentors etc) He also considered what questions he could ask that would contain fewer presuppositions, while still directing attention to aspects of their experience that seemed to merit exploration.  The first four of the 7 solutions for successful supervision are to use the clean questions David developed below:

  1. “What are you thinking?” presupposes that a person is thinking something, and limits their possible responses, so David ‘cleaned’ the question to become: “Is there anything else about xx (their words) ?” He also removed confusing pronouns (I, you me etc) So ‘Tell me more about her/him’ became “Is there anything else about her/him?”
  2. He wanted to be specific about where he was directing a person’s attention, so he introduced the word ‘that’ into many of his questions: “What kind of x is that x?”
  3. Since a person’s experience is happening now (even if they’re recalling a memory), he framed all questions in the present tense.
  4. He wanted people to stay in their experience so he joined his questions into what they were saying by prefacing them with the word ‘and’. (as people usually do when relating an experience or incident)

Clean Language is very flexible. It is highly respectful of the other person’s language and world view. I find it particularly powerful when coaching and supervising across cultures and in international environments.  It helps the supervisor to put aside unconscious bias, assumptions and preconceived ideas. That’s why it’s ‘clean’ you are using mostly their language and there is no interference from the supervisor.  Number five in the 7 solutions for successful supervision is:

  1. Using Clean Questions and staying with the language of the supervisee enables you to better hold the boundaries between the different tasks, containing the confidential content for any one client. It also helps to avoid conflicts of interest.

How does the internal coach further manage issues around boundaries?  And how might you set up a process which enables you to share their insights without compromising the confidentiality of the conversation?  This is where clean supervision is essential and in my view:

“Supervision should be a safe reflective place for all individuals acting as managers, support workers, coaches or mentors to explore their own work in partnership with a skilled and respectful professional. It promotes the safety of all stakeholders, enhances ethical awareness and encourages growth and learning for all parties.”

As a leader in a supervisory role you need to ensure that the manager/coach is clear about the boundaries of their role, their own values and those of the organization.  Asking ‘clean’ questions such as:

And when you have clear boundaries – what kind of boundaries are those?

And is there anything else about those boundaries?

What needs to happen for those boundaries to remain strong and not be compromised?


As a supervisor you need to guide them so they know when to walk away from an assignment that may not be appropriate or fit with their own moral code.  Therefore, the final two of the 7 solutions for successful supervision are:

  1. Supervisors need to encourage the manager as coach or staff member to explore the overarching standards, codes of conduct, company culture and issues such as diversity and equality. There needs to be a clear ethical framework so that the manager as coach can refer to it when the going gets tough.


  1. Setting up one to one supervision will entail clear agreements with all stakeholders. Ideally the supervisee will explore the key areas with their supervisor. Supervision records need to be handled with confidentiality and you need to be aware of data protection regulations. All supervision sessions should be recorded using initials or nicknames. Only themes need to be noted, not specific content and you will need to inform the supervisee of this process.

It is now recognised that sensitive and /or challenging situations require a more trusting and collaborative form of supervision.  A safe place for exploration into hidden areas that working with clean language and an individual’s metaphors can be of immense value.  A place where the head of department, executive or team leader as supervisor, is holding a professional space for the individual in supervision to better understand what is going on in the system.  This is the kind of environment that allows the coach/mentor/supervisee to reflect on their patterns of behaviour. It’s a space to nurture those interventions which best serve their own growth and that of their staff and or teams.

Supervision is also a requirement by most organisations employing internal coaches and by the major coaching and mentoring institutions such as ICF, AC, ILM and EMCC.  As many executives and leaders are required to ‘coach’ or ‘mentor’ their staff, the need for effective and skilled supervision has never been greater. 

‘Coaching Supervision at its BEST’ Crown House


Supervision (as clearly demonstrated in my book ‘Coaching Supervision at its BEST‘ differs from coaching sessions in that it has a broader, deeper and less defined remit. It is usually longer term and supports the reflective practice and development of the coach in service of their client.  The focus is more on the coach/client dynamics and the complex relationships across the organisation. Not only is this a protection for the executive it also ensures safety for members of staff in supervision, and indeed for the whole organisation.

Experienced Professional ICF Executive Coach & CSA Dip Supervisor
Specialising in Cross-Cultural Understanding, Advanced Communication and Working with International teams
‘Coaching Skills for Leaders’ and ‘Coaching Supervision at its BEST’ Both ILM validated

Full Spectrum Supervision – Edna Murdoch & Jackie Arnold 2013

AWARDS: Executive Coaching
ECI & Exelerate