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Pacing and Leading

The Artful Pace of Leading by Rachel Hott, Ph.D. Source: Anchor Point Magazine

When writing a basics column there are a few types of readers to whom I am addressing my thoughts. There are the new NLPers and the old highly studied NLPers and the somewhere inbetween NLPers. Basically I am addressing the content to the new NLPers and the form to all others. For some who want a simple review please continue reading it that way, for those who have just become familiar with NLP please continue reading period and for those of you who prefer more complex articles pay attention to the form of this article or move on to the other wonderful articles in this journal.

Whether you are a health professional, business professional, artist or scientist there are people who you have to interact with on a daily basis. Many times you want to help, educate and influence these people. Integrating this fundamental NLP technique of pacing and leading into your behavior will aid you in developing rapport with these individuals, assisting people to make the changes they want (or need) and help you to achieve your own personal goals. When I first learned about pacing and leading the image and feeling of improvisational dancing came to my mind. My favorite dance partners were the ones who could follow my steps, take the lead and then come back to my steps. As this process continued eventually our dance steps blended and we no longer knew who was following or leading.

Another analogy for pacing and leading is from my experience studying Aikido, a Martial Art. When an attack is delivered rather than meeting the attack with similar force you blend with the energy of the attacker. Rather than developing muscular force the emphasis was on developing energy. It can appear as an alignment of your body with the other person’s or that you go with as opposed to against their energy. After you align or go with the energy you then take the lead. In Aikido this would mean throwing or pinning the attacker.

Some of you may have identified my primary pattern in those two examples. I predominantly represented my understanding of pacing and leading through movement (kinesthetics). This is all very well and good however in order to pace and lead you need to verbalize. Or do you? Actually there are two ways of pacing and leading; Verbally and Non-Verbally. Pacing and leading can relate to content as well as form. Here is an example of how to non-verbally pace and lead form: Rob, a manager with who I worked ,identified his boss’s tempo (form) as being much faster than his. This typically made Rob nervous and his thoughts would become scattered. Rob decided to pace and lead his boss’s tempo. Although it was not comfortable for Rob to speak fast he managed to pace his boss’s tempo. After about five minutes Rob slowed down his tempo.. His boss slowed down and Rob continued to slow down until he was comfortable. Upon observing his boss, Rob concluded that his boss was truly a flexible person. Perhaps even more so than Rob. In addition to pacing and leading tempo you can pace and lead volume, tone, gestures, posture, breathing, representational systems and eye-accessing cues. Basically you identify a pattern in the other person. Mirror that pattern and then subtly change the pattern. Observe with eyes and ears as to what happens. If the person does not follow you then resume the pace and try again momentarily.

A common statement in a new NLP training group is, “I have enough difficulty paying attention to content and now you want me to also observe their gestures and change them!” Yes it is true when you first begin it is difficult to pay attention to more than one thing. However with practice it will eventually become automatic. Just like walking and talking. Another statement is, “What advantage is it really to pace and lead form?” One advantage is that you can identify non-verbally whether you are in rapport with the person if they follow you. Another is to deepen rapport with the other person. For those of you who like options you can also pace the form without leading and then pace and lead the content. For example pace the tempo and pace and lead the content. This is what it would sound like. (Imagine a quick tempo). “Hi Rob what can I do for ya.” “Well Jack first I want to say hello and how are you?” “Me well you know I am stuck with a lot of detail work and am pressed for time as usual.” (Here comes the content pace and lead). “I didn’t realize you were so caught up with the details. Given that you don’t have a whole lot of time let me identify the problems I foresee for today’s operation.” “Well actually Rob I really don’t have the time to discuss today’s operation. “( Content Pace and lead) “So you really don’t want to discuss it, great! I will just bullet it out, 1,2,3 and you can read it over in the next half hour. O.K. Rob you seem so gung ho let’s give it a shot.”

When pacing the content you can respond to the words being said or the feelings/thoughts that are implied. An important factor is to respond as opposed to react. If you are responsive the other person experiences you as someone who is listening. When people feel listened to a rapport is developed. A trap you may fall into is the great ability to pace and pace and pace and pace. When I work with a client I pace (backtrack) their feelings, thoughts and behavior. As I am doing so I am also asking myself, “Where are we going or where do we need to go in this session. What does this person need. Do they need to be paced today or do they need to be paced and led today.” At that point I ask a leading question related to these inner thoughts and the dance or sparring begins. Once you lead you do go back to pacing and continue the process throughout. The various ways of pacing and leading are dependent upon the desired effect you want to create for your client.

The title of this article is “The Artful Pace of Leading.” The artful refers to which level will you pace and then eventually lead. When dealing with content you may want to pace the surface level of the statement or pace your interpretation of their feeling level. (Your Mind Read meta violation may be at work during this time). For example, a client said to me, “I have no where to go with my career. I didn’t do what everyone else now has the opportunity to do. I had a kid and stayed home.” In order to pace the surface level I said, “So you feel as though there is nowhere to go.” Pacing the feeling I added, “In some ways it is as though you missed out on something and it’s not fair.” As I said this statement she nodded a yes, and then I added (the lead), ” Since it wasn’t fair what can you do now to begin to make it fair.” This led us towards discovering some realistic goals that she could do for her career development.

The title also places an emphasis on leading. A mistake (of course we know there is no such thing as mistake only feedback) that many non-NLPers and probably some NLPers perform is leading without pacing. This typically ends up in some verbal battle or someone feeling not listened to. As a change agent whether it is in business or counseling it is my responsibility to lead at some point. However I have to be careful not to lead too fast. One of the changes that I have worked on is pacing statements verbally before leading. In the past I would hear someone’s comment pace it in my own internal dialogue and then proceed with a leading question. I knew I was pacing but the other person hadn’t a clue.

As I have attempted to pace you dear reader I do hope you have felt paced. I have been thinking of you. As a leading conclusion I offer you this simple exercise. Give yourself the task to pace five statements (either from five other people or all five statements from one person it is your choosing) before leading with a question, giving advice or identifying your position. Then lead five new statements without pacing. Notice the differences. Lastly, remember to, pace yourself.

Originally appeared in Anchor Point Magazine. Used by permission.

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NLP 4 TH GENERATION: Reported by Rachel Hott, PhD with additional commentary from Colette Normandeau. Rachel Hott wrote this article after she and Steven Leeds attended the NLP Leadership Summit in A


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