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Clean Talk

Clean Talk is a communications model specifically designed for expressing challenging or difficult messages in ways that avoid the triggering of defensive responses. It enables facilitators to speak powerfully in groups while minimizing the possibility of creating a destructive wake of reaction. Clean Talk also opens up trust and allows for more responsibility to be shared in any conversation. Clean Talk was developed by Cliff Barry, founder of Shadow Work Seminars.

Clean Talk is a set of "word tools." Word tools are ways to use words to make any situation safer and more productive.

But Clean Talk is much more than a set of techniques. Clean Talk helps you understand why people are behaving and communicating the way they are.


Right off the bat, you might not think that leading a group and being in a relationship have a lot in common.

In fact, they do. Both can demand a great deal of you. Both require tracking the often intricate dynamics between people. And both require tracking what comes up inside of you.

Clean Talk gives you valuable tools for handling your "container."


In any space where people are together, we think there's a kind of a field, or intangible psychological atmosphere. The jargon we use for that is container.

The key to successfully navigating the perils of both group leadership and relationship is your ability to read and facilitate the container.

As you know if you lead groups, some people in a group try to "bust" the container. These are people who speak out too loudly, or make inappropriate suggestions, or attack the facilitators, or distract the group's attention, or try to hijack the group process.

If you've been in relationship, you know that partners do the same thing. They attack one another, or distract attention from the real issue, or act out in goofy ways that can "bust the peace" or even tear the fabric of the relationship.

We think that when a person acts like a "container buster," they're acting out of a shadow.


A shadow is a way you adapted to a painful situation. All of us had painful things happen to us when we were young. We were scolded, or shamed, or hurt, or frightened, or experienced a great loss. When we were young, we were exceptionally impressionable, and these painful things made a deep imprint on our mind. We were wounded.

A shadow is a way you unconsciously adapted to being wounded like that. You might have adapted by no longer behaving in a certain way, or by exaggerating other behaviors.

For example, let's say you were dominated by a rage-aholic father. You might have adapted by avoiding anger at all costs. You might avoid people who are showing real power and force. You might avoid showing your own power and force as well, because you don't want to be anything like your dad.

Or you might have gone the other way. You might have said, The heck with it, and competed with Dad to see just how angry and powerful you could get.


When someone busts your container, their behavior is an adaptation to a wound that they received early in their life. If you know what that wound is, and how to respond in a way that helps rather than harms the situation, you will enjoy your experience of group leadership and relationship much more.

Let's face it. Relationships are difficult. They seem to challenge you with all of your stuff, not to mention all of your partner's stuff. Group leadership is difficult in the same ways. Both bring up fears that you're not good enough, or not smart enough. Fears that you'll make a mistake or look foolish. Fears that you're bad in some way and you're going to be discovered, judged and punished.

To be good at group leadership, or good at communicating with your relationship partner, you need tools.


Clean Talk teaches you to "read" the shadows in your container. It helps you pierce the outer veil and reveal the true underlying dynamics in your group and in your relationship. It helps you see the wounds that lie hidden underneath the behavior. And it gives you tools for making the situation safer and more productive.

The Clean Talk tools are organized in a way that makes them easy to use. We divide wounds and their shadow adaptations into four categories, like the four directions on a map. We divide our tools into these same four directions. The result is a road map for the territory. A good map helps you arrive where you want to go.


Here's just some of what Clean Talk does for you:

1. Tools for tracking dynamics between people. Did you know there are four distinct channels of communication? They are: opinions, wants, feelings, and data. When you learn to recognize them, you have a tremendous advantage in any conversation. For example, you can open up a channel that's missing in a conversation. Or you can discover potentials that are hidden inside the conversation.

2. Tools for tracking individuals. Clean Talk helps you identify wounds and shadows when an individual is speaking. Clean Talk will help you diagnose the wounds and shadows that a person has in the way they misspeak or struggle with one or more channels of communication. For example, Clean Talk can teach you to read if someone is afraid that they're "bad" in some way. For most people, the fear of being bad is the real reason why they react so defensively to someone who's sounding judgmental. The judgments sound like a confirmation that they are bad. Knowing that someone's trying not to be bad is a very useful tool for making things safer and more productive.

3. Creates trust. Clean Talk helps you create trust. Where there's more trust, there's also more collaboration, because all partners can share more responsibility. When you use Clean Talk to take responsibility for the way you say what you're saying, other people will, too.

4. Strengthens relationships. Clean Talk helps you prepare for tough conversations. You'll learn how to say what you want to say using all four channels. In the process, you'll discover where you need to clean up what you want to say so that it comes through in a way that builds trust and collaboration, where everyone's taking responsibility.

5. Helps with unwelcome messages. Clean Talk helps you deliver unwelcome messages. For example, when you've got to give someone feedback, Clean Talk gives you confidence that you're saying it cleanly.

6. Helps you see your part. Clean Talk helps you see how your own shadows are involved in the situation, without shame. It helps you work through your own issues and get cleaner with what you're going to say. The other person comes away from the conversation knowing that you're a person of integrity, who takes responsibility for your part of the situation.

7. Avoids triggering defenses. Clean Talk helps you avoid triggering the other person's defensive responses. Clean talk teaches you what not to say, and how to come in under someone's radar.

8. Helps with clear requests. Clean Talk helps you make clear, unambiguous requests that are more likely to be granted. If you can say something in a way that's squeaky clean, you can have your passion in it. You can lean into saying something with more force because you know the way you're saying it isn't going to hurt anyone. As a result, you're much more likely to be heard, and it's much more likely that your request will be granted.

9. Helps in intense situations. Clean Talk gives you a clear-cut approach to intense situations. Let's say you're going into a situation that you know is going to be emotionally intense. When you know Clean Talk, you'll know how to manage any communication issue that comes up, and manage your own response to it as well.

10. Avoids unnecessary conflict. Clean Talk gives you a set of tools for intervening in a conversation when someone's getting defensive or something's getting off track. With these tools, you can help the conversation turn towards results without getting into an argument.

11. Resolves conflict. Clean Talk helps you resolve an existing conflict. It helps each partner in a dialogue take responsibility for their part of the argument. In many cases, by the time everyone is talking cleanly, the issue has already been resolved, and you're back to a caring conversation.

12. Uncovers double messages. Clean Talk helps you see through "double messages" that people use when they're scared or defensive. It helps you avoid getting caught up in a double message that obscures the real issue at hand.

13. Valuable insights into yourself. As you get familiar with people's underlying wounds and shadows, you will also understand more of your own deeper psychological material.

14. More space for you. Clean Talk helps you stay detached from your own material. That way, you can more safely engage with other parts of yourself.

15. Helps deal with attacks. Clean Talk teaches you to recognize accusations and projections that come at you. You might be attacked with either overt or covert messages. You can get slimed in a variety of ways. The Clean Talk map shows you the four different colors of slime and what move will counteract it. The map also shows you where to look inside yourself to see if any of the accusations are true.

16. More compassion. One of Clean Talk's most important advantages is that it helps you find compassion, even for the most difficult wounds. You will feel more love and more compassion. You can also know that your Clean Talk responses may actually be helping someone else heal some of what's hurting them.

17. Helps choose your partner in dialogue. Clean Talk helps you distinguish the different parts within another person. We believe that each person is a collection of different selves. When you learn to see the different selves, you can learn to appeal to a different self when the self you're talking to is having a hard time communicating cleanly. You will learn to bring out what's hidden inside people in a way that creates more collaboration and participation.

18. Tools for tracking what comes up inside of you. Just as you'll learn to distinguish the parts inside another person, Clean Talk teaches you to distinguish the different parts of yourself. You'll learn to befriend, and harness, more of what lies hidden inside you.

19. An answer to the Inner Critic. One of the most difficult internal parts inside of anyone is the part we call the Inner Critic. That term was coined by Hal and Sidra Stone, the creators of Voice Dialogue. Everybody seems to know what we're talking about when we talk about the Inner Critic. Clean Talk helps you recognize when someone's Inner Critic is speaking. You will also learn some moves you can make to shift them out of their Inner Critic and into another part of themselves.

20. More confidence. Clean Talk helps you deal with some of your worst fears. As a systematic set of tools, Clean Talk gives you more confidence that you can handle whatever happens.

21. Wolf eyes. Clean Talk helps you learn to use what we call your "critical wolf eyes." Your Inner Critic sees things critically. You can use it to see critically and then act compassionately. The more compassion you feel, the more compassionately you'll react, and the more compassion you'll feel for yourself as well.


The Magician is the part of us that thinks. It's our intellect, our inner Merlin.

The Magician tool in Clean Talk is to own our opinions as opinions. We do this by including "I think" or "I believe" or "It's my opinion that" or "It's my judgment that" in what we express.

America's founding fathers owned their opinions when they said, "We hold these truths to be self-evident." They didn't say, "These truths are self-evident." Owning their opinions allowed their passion for these truths to show through their words. It allowed them to state their opinions with force without triggering a defensive response. It made their case stronger because they sounded open to discussing their opinions.

Resource Link: www.shadowwork.com/cleantalk.html

Cliff Barry



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