The ‘When … what happens to …?’ question

The relating across space question
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Presented at The Developing Group 6 May 2017

This paper describes the results of our to modelling of the various functions and uses of, ‘And when X, what happens to Y?’. While this question originated with David Grove it has come to play a greater and greater role in our use of Symbolic Modelling. So much so that we have upgraded it from a ‘specialised’ question to join the exulted ranks of the ‘basic’ Clean Language questions. (previous set and current set)

The question’s standard format is: And when X what happens to Y?

The general function of this question is to set a context, “when X”, and then to invite the client to attend to somewhere else in their landscape. The usual effect is that considers Y in relation to X, and hence any relationships that may exist between them.

This question is so versatile it can be used at several stages the the Symbolic Modelling Lite process:

Stage 3: To develop the relationships within a desired outcome landscape.

Stage 4: To explorer the effects of a desired outcome landscape across perceptions.

Stage 5: To mature a change by considering the effect on other symbols/perceptions.

More generally this question invites the client to:

  • Be aware of aspects of their inner world that are separated in space (and time) and thereby to include more of their experience in the field of perception.
  • Consider a relationship between two aspects of a landscape (an attribute, symbol, relationship, metaphor, pattern). If both aspects are within the current perceptual event this question tends to bring forth causal or contingent relationships. Otherwise it invites the awareness of relationships across space and over time.
  • Discover what happens in one part of a landscape when there has been a change in another part.

Below are a number of examples taken from Metaphors in Mind.

Stage 4 example

The client now knows that when “me” has these qualities he will be able to undo jubilee clip, even if there is an unknown risk of disappointing somebody. However, the last ten responses have all been in the land of ‘what needs to happen’ and not, what is happening. And why has he not already developed the qualities needed and applied them? Asking the specialist question ‘When [event X] what happens to Y’ directs his attention to where the answer lies — in the current relationship between mature heart and the person who has to undo jubilee clip (p.168):

T40: And when red mature heart has had lots of experience, what happens to a person who has to undo jubilee clip that’s tightening?

C41: I feel like the pupil. I’ve not reached the level of maturity required.

Stage 5 example

You can invite the client to notice whether a change has, or can, spread to symbols and contexts not yet mentioned. You do this by enquiring if a change in one place or time in the landscape has resulted in a change elsewhere (p.217):

And when [change X], what happens to [symbol or context Y]?

Example from the Castle Door transcript (p.260):

T54: And when you can open it from the inside and nobody can open it from the outside, what happens to hollow full of darkness?

Example from the Jubilee Clip transcript (p.221):

T80: And even consider giving your life for another. And when sublime love from here, what happens to jubilee clip and screwdriver?

Accumulating descriptions and perceptions

The idea of accumulating descriptions [is] to support the client to embody a symbolic perception as a whole. Now we extend this idea to accumulating perceptions — comprising multiple forms, multiple places and multiple times—into one simultaneous perceptual space. This process is like creating a collage of photographs taken at various times and places and then describing the picture as a whole. To invite the client to accumulate more and more of their Landscape into awareness you ask:

And when [A], and [B], and [C] what happens to [X], and [Y], and [Z]? (p.194)

An example comes from the Jubilee Clip transcript:

T62: And confidence returns. And when red, mature heart that’s had lots of experience and deep understanding goes to that young boy and he feels life again and the race becomes enjoyable and confidence returns, what happens to a mother who’s just read a letter twice? (p.221)

With couples and teams

In Metaphors in Mind we point out yet another way the question can be used:

Another approach facilitates couples to create a joint metaphor for how they want their relationship to be, which they draw on one sheet of paper. As events unfold in the combined metaphor landscape, frank and eye-opening discussions are stimulated when they are asked:

And when [Person A’s event] what happens to [Person B’s symbol]? (p.242)


We have reviewed how we and others make use of this question and have been delighted to discover (a) a number of variants and (b) a surprisingly large range of functions.

(a) Variations include:

And as X, what happens to Y ?

And what happens to Y, when X ?

And when/as X, then what happens to Y ?

And when/as X, what happens when Y ?

And when/as X what’s happening to/with Y ?

And when/as X and Y what happens to Z ?

Sometimes, ‘so’ makes an appearance. And sometimes the ‘when’ does not appear because it is presupposed.*

(b) You can also notice the kinds of experience that can be included. For example, let’s consider the REPROCesscategories:

The ‘X’ [context for the question] can be:

And when [Problem/Resource], what happens to …?

And when [Remedy/desired Outcome], what happens to …?

And when [Change], what happens to …?

The ‘Y’ (the perceived) can be almost anything!


To help you appreciate the multiple ways this question has been used it is best to see it in its natural habit. To this end we have included:

  1.  Four examples of David Grove’s early use of this question (below)
  2.  A verbatim transcript of us facilitating a whole Symbolic Modelling coaching session where we use variations of this question 15 times (Download Golden ticket to a dance party transcript.pdf).

When studying the transcripts, we invite you to:

  • Notice the kind of client experiences chosen for X and for Y (and the relationship between the two).
  • Identify the function of each use of And when X what happens to Y? and its variants. HINT: It depends where in the process the question is asked.

And for the more experienced:

  • Consider what difference it makes when X and Y are in the same or in different time frames
  • Wonder if this question has additional functions when used in Clean Language Interviewing

David Grove’s use of ‘And when X, what happens to Y’

The following two extracts contain four examples of how David Grove used this question.

Lisa’s Tapestry: A Quadrant II Intervention (1989)

Lisa:It works itself into the soil.
David:And as it works itself into the soil, what happens to disgusting sludge?
Lisa:It mixes with the good earth.
David:And it mixes with the good earth. And it mixes with the good earth like what?
Lisa:Like fertilizer.
David:Like fertilizer. And what happens when the good earth is mixed with fertilizer?
Lisa:It nourishes the soil.
David:And it nourishes the soil. And does the soil like to be nourished?
David:With fertilizer. And when soil is nourished with fertilizer what happens to soil nourished?
Lisa:It attracts seeds.

Ann’s Anxiety about Cancer: A Quadrant III Intervention (1998)

Ann:I come out onto tundra grass. Animals are there moose and caribou. This is a nice place to be.
David:And then what happens to a chest?
Ann:I can breathe I can take in a good deep breath in this place because it is a nice place to be the air smells good and it’s good air and I feel safe here

* Another, adjacent variation, is:

And when/as X where is Y ?

This question is particularly useful when X is an unwanted behaviour and Y is a knowing or desire to do something different. e.g.

And when you are just about to “scream at your partner” where is your “want to respect her as a person”?


And when you “think of taking a drink” where is “how alcohol has messed up my life”?

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