Pacing, Leading & Rapport in the Real World

Pacing and leading are useful psychologically-based techniques for handling real-world disputes. We can quickly build rapport through pacing and leading. With established rapport, we can disagree with someone while keeping a good, solid relationship. 

All About Pacing

Pacing means matching someone. When you match someone, you enter their model of the world. Matching involves coming into alignment with someone else’s ideas, beliefs and experiences. You can even match the words, posture and behaviours of another person.

Humans naturally and innately come into alignment with each other in order to gain validation and social acceptance. You don’t have to share the beliefs or behaviours you’re matching. You just come into alignment with them temporarily.

All About Leading

Once you have matched someone for a period of time, even a brief period of time, you can then start to lead them. Do something slightly different from the person you have been matching up until now. For example, you could slow down your breathing, cross or uncross your arms, or scratch your nose.

If you’ve built a reasonable amount of rapport, this other person will naturally follow your lead. If they don’t follow your lead, then continue to do more matching until you are in greater alignment. Eventually, the other person will follow your lead.

All About Rapport

Rapport, in its simplest definition, means likeability. As humans, we tend to like people who are like us. That’s why pacing is such a powerful tool. By matching another person’s actions, postures, behaviours, ideas etc., we instantly become “like them” regardless of differing backgrounds, goals etc.

Let me again repeat that pacing is a natural, innate behaviour. However, while interacting, some people don’t naturally pace.

When people are interacting with each other, they will either pace each other naturally, or do something entirely different. If people interacting are not in alignment, and do not pace each other, there can be a sense of personality conflict. You’ll often hear people say something like, “So-and-so just rubs me the wrong way.”

In order to build rapport, it is good to match the other person. Rapport is subconsciously established through pacing, and can result in an increased ability to influence a person towards a new course of action. 

Pacing, Leading & Rapport in the Real World

  • Guiding physiological and emotional state changes
  • Conflict management and resolution
  • Leadership and business
  • Sales and influence

Pacing and leading helps guide people from unhelpful physiological and emotional states into new, more resourceful states. This is why pacing and leading is a powerful conflict management tool.

When managing angry people, for example in a customer service role, people were historically trained to answer client complaints in a calm, quiet and reasonable manner. “The customer is always right” was the underpinning idea. (The customer is NOT always right, as anyone in service jobs can tell you!) By remaining calm and agreeable, the customer service person should be able to manipulate the conversation into a place where the customer’s issue could be dealt with in a reasonable and rational manner. 

However, if an angry customer is completely unreasonable or enraged, and the staff member answers in a calm and level tone, then the customer might end up feeling like he or she isn’t being taken seriously. Calmness in the face of rage can come across as condescending, and the customer can feel talked down to or belittled. In this situation, the customer’s angry emotional state can escalate, so the attempt to soothe the situation instead makes it worse. 

Staying in a calm and resourceful state, especially on the inside, is always a valuable skill set to possess in any situation. However, when speaking with an angry customer, or with anyone in an agitated state, matching them, at least initially, is a much better way to deescalate and manage the conflict.

How to Deescalate Conflict with Pacing, Leading & Rapport 

While you remain in a resourceful state yourself, you might choose to match the other person’s tone and energy level. If you decide to match their tone, rage and volume, please note,  you don’t appear to be louder and angrier than they are because this could escalate the situation into something far far worse!

If physically in person, as opposed to being over telephone, you can even match body language. You may, for example, adjust your posture so that it seems like you’re both facing the problem to deal with it together, rather than confronting the person who is confronting the problem. 

With pacing, rapport builds quickly. Gradually, you can then start leading them back towards a state of calm reason. If the other person doesn’t follow your lead, then you need to do more matching to increase rapport.  

I used to work in a customer service environment. The first time I tried this out, I was very skeptical. However, I did find that this approach to managing conflict was effective. 

Rapport and Leadership

Leadership is about inspiring and managing emotions. The emotional health of a team has a significant influence on the bottom line outcomes of any organization. When people are in an emotionally resourceful state, they think and work in far more efficient ways, with predictable results on creativity, customer relationships, staff retention, and even on revenue.

Therefore, the emotional climate of a workplace or a team is vitally important. Of course, the primary influence on the emotional health of any team is the leader. If you’re leading a team, you may not be aware of how much impact you have on the emotions of those around you.

In times of uncertainty, team members will look to leadership for ideas about how to respond to the situations they face. The more emotionally expressive a leader is, this includes things like tone, facial expressions and physical gestures, the more influence he or she will have over the emotional climate of the team. 

People who neglect the non-verbal side of their communications, often leave an emotional vacuum. Because nature abhors a vacuum, another member of the group usually will emerge as the new emotional leader of the team. The good news is that even if you are not the head of a team, you can still make a positive difference in the emotional climate of your environment through the art of effective pacing and leading.

Pacing and leading only works well in situations where a win-win outcome can be attained for more than one party. 

Hard Conversations are Easier with Rapport

Our communication will always be more effective when we make maintaining rapport our first priority. When maintaining the rapport in our communications is our top priority, we’ll no longer allow the communication barriers of others to impact how we show up. This is particularly useful for those hard conversations we sometimes need to have with people who hurt us, or let us down. 

All healthy relationships are built upon a foundation of trust. Rapport can help build trust quickly. However, in truth, trust is always developed over a period of time. However, as soon as another person feels that you are more “for them” than  “against them,” they will grow to trust you, and enter a state where you can influence them. 

Salespeople Influence with Pacing, Leading & Rapport

Any sales trainer will tell people to build rapport through matching. The idea being that with greater rapport comes greater trust and influence, and then greater sales and profits. There is nothing wrong with this. As I’ve said, pacing and leading is a natural process.

However, it is critical that the matching be subtly done. Matching that gets spotted by a potential customer will unravel rapport, and will break trust because the customer might feel manipulated.

This is a common complaint against salespeople. At least, it’s a complaint I’ve heard often: that salespeople are smarmy and manipulative. They don’t care about providing value to customers, they just see potential dollars.

Therefore, I will say this: not all salespeople are smarmy and manipulative. Also, if you wish to avoid being manipulated, then a thorough understanding of these psychological techniques will let you be more aware of any potential manipulation. Finally, these are powerful tools. Please use them for good.

Final Thoughts

No matter whom you are trying to influence, the pattern is simple: acknowledge what is happening in another persons experience, then offer a solution or answer that adds value to the other person’s life,  situation or circumstance. This wins trust. 

If you want to become and expert at pacing and leading, then all you need to do is practice. In order to be effective at pacing and leading, you must know where you want to lead someone. As you practice, you will notice all the ways that you naturally pace and lead in your normal conversations.

Soon, pacing and leading will be second nature to you. Then, you will naturally start directing and leading conversations.

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