Steve Andreas on ‘What would you like to have happen?’

A dialogue about how questions frame experience
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In response to his 9 Dec 2016 blog, Framing what happens in your sessions for maximum impact [Link no longer available], Steve Andreas received this request:

Clean Language has, what I think, is a great initial frame. That is ‘What would you like to have happen. What’s your first reaction on that?

Steve Andreas (1935 – 2018) was an American psychotherapist, author and leader in the field of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) from 1977.

Steve replied:

Thanks for your note; it has stimulated some interesting (to me, at least) thoughts on CL.

“Like” is weaker than “want” or “need” (though stronger than “hope” or “wish”), so it’s likely to elicit an outcome that the client may not be fully motivated to work toward.

However, my main concern is that “have happen” can be understood as passive, since there is no specification of who will be responsible for making it happen.

That is congruent with CL’s fundamental position of attempting to not influence the client: “Clean Language offers a template for questions that are as free as possible of the questioner’s inferences, presuppositions, mind-reading, second guessing, references and metaphors.”

However, I think that goal is both unattainable, undesirable, and most important, is a gross misrepresentation of what actually happens in CL. Each of the 9 basic questions elicits one of the fundamental change patterns of reframing, as do the additional questions that are used less often.

Pretending to not influence the client, while using these questions that elicit specific and predictable changes is a curious contradiction.

Add to that that there is no guidance in CL for deciding which question to ask the client, and you have a situation in which a huge and chaotic range of changes masquerade as non-influence.

Pretending to not influence, while influencing massively and randomly, deceives both therapist and client, and only hides what is happening.

I think it is far better to recognize that we can’t avoid influencing a client (after all, that is what they are paying us to do!), be aware of how we are influencing them, and taking responsibility for doing that in ways that benefit the client. In addition this way of working is enormously faster when you know what to do

For a specific example of what I mean, watch this video, eliminating life-long anxiety in 9 minutes (3-year follow-up): youtube.com/watch?v=BXNRdASZTk0&t=73s

Thanks again for the stimulus. I have decided to copy James Lawley on this email, in case he might be interested. We have had respectful disagreements on this issue in the past.

Best, Steve (13 Dec 2016)

I replied to Steve:

Hi Steve,

I thought your blog on presupposition of opening questions was a master stoke and I have already circulated it to several groups.

I really appreciate that you copied me in on your correspondence with Peter and have given me a chance to give my take on this CL question.

Firstly, I’d like to comment on the frames you are using to analyse the questions:

The metaphor “weak/strong” comes with entailments. Given that most people would rather be “strong” and see “weak” as, well, weak, it presupposes one is better than the other, rather than one is more appropriate to some contexts.

Similarly the “passive/active” metaphor is likely to have a bias towards “active” (especially in the proactive-loving world of NLP).

Secondly, most of your comments accurately point out a myth: “CL’s fundamental position of attempting to not influence the client”. I have lost count how many times over the last 20 years I have written:

“Of course Clean Language influences and directs attention — all language does that.” (p.52, Metaphors in Mind, 2000).

CL influences for sure, and it does so in a particular way – one that I have not found in any other methodology.

Thirdly, the question “And what would you like to have happen?” (note the “And” is a fundamental part of the question) needs to be seen in the historical context in which it was devised. David Grove’s early work was with people who had suffered severe trauma and he was keen that his questions would not be experienced by clients as a further imposition.

Rather than, weak/strong, this question can be considered ‘gentle’ compared to ‘hard’ questions (e.g. What do you want?).

And rather than passive/active it can be viewed as ‘permissive’ rather than ‘restrictive’ (i.e. narrowing the potential answer).

This question was designed to give the client maximum freedom to answer without them having to meet criteria often insisted upon by therapists and coaches (e.g. Well-formed Outcomes or SMART Goals etc.).

It also allows people to express the very common (and natural?) desires for someone else to change or for there to be some magical solution to their problem, etc. Using a clean approach (such as Symbolic Modelling) this aspect of a person is firstly honoured. Then, through their own self-modelling, the client usually finds the aspect of them self that has more agency (and then their statements may well conform to more active and strong criteria). This may not happen as quickly as with some other methods but they have arrived at it without having to handle the paradox of a therapist/coach asking questions which presuppose their answers should be more active and strong.

Lastly, David Grove was acutely aware of the rhythm of his questions. “And what would you like to have happen?” can be asked in a wonderfully rhythmical manner (try saying it without the “And” and without the “have” to see how it loses some of its rhythm). David wanted his questions to be “agreeable” to the client – not just to their intellect, not just to their body, but also to their spirit/soul. We have conducted experiments to test the subjective experience of clean questions asked in various ways, and the way they are asked makes a big difference to how and where they are received.

Yours is one of the few NLP blogs that I regularly read and learn from – keep up the good work.

James (20 Dec 2016)

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