The Magical Secret to Influence and Persuade: Pacing and Leading

The Magical Secret to Influence and Persuade Pacing and Leading
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Shaun Mendonsa, PhD

If you have difficulty influencing people, you are not to blame and I was once in your shoes. You were taught wrong since there is so much nebulous advice out there. You don’t need to fear though. It doesn’t require smooth talk or an outgoing personality. Using the latest cognitive sciences research, I reveal a simple secret to persuading successfully just by matching and pacing our audiences prior to making a request so we can finally achieve the outcomes we want in our careers.

The common mistake people make is that they try to influence others directly with their reasoning and facts. New discoveries in cognitive sciences, however, show that people are not influenced by rational reasoning but by irrational tendencies derived mostly from their emotional state. The leading theory, called the argumentative theory, proposes that reasoning evolved in early humans more for the sake of winning arguments than as a guide to effective decision making. Most behavioral scientists now agree that trying to bring people to your side only with facts usually fails. You can find my recommended list of books that cover this. A more effective way to persuade is to move people to a more receptive emotional state prior to influencing them; a pre-suasive state or sweet spot that triggers the primitive and more active decision-making processes.

Pacing and leading provide such a pre-suasive avenue and is a concept from neuro-linguistic programming. The technique involves first pacing or matching the person you are trying to lead, mimicking their posture, speech, gestures, and most importantly, emotion. If paced correctly, you will establish rapport and trust with them. In this connected state, they are now more amenable to your suggestions (leading).

The next time you meet with sales reps you might notice them pacing you. Even with your awareness of this technique, it will still work on you. That separates the magical persuasion techniques from the rest. In several studies, people’s verbal and nonverbal behavior (gestures, posture) were mimicked and it resulted in waitresses doubling their tips (3), negotiators obtaining better outcomes (4), and electronics store salespeople getting greater compliance from customers and selling more products to them (5).

Here’s how it’s done:

Synchronize their breathing. For practice, match the breathing rate and depth of someone near you at a meeting. Look away and then check back to see if you are still timed. Soon you will get good at this.

Match their posture and gestures. If they have their arms folded and are leaning forward, you should too. If they change position, you should continue matching some of this.

Match their speech and emotions. Use the same tone, volume, and verbal style. Use similar words and phrases, even repeating some back. Gauge their emotional state and mimic it through your actions and words. Your mimicking should be strategic, don’t copy every action.

Check for pacing. After some time, make a change of your own like uncrossing your arms or leaning back. If paced, they will follow your shift and now copy you.

Begin leading. You can now change your emotions to get them to align with you and initiate leading with the greatest chance of compliance.

Bonus move. Just prior to your request, provide a genuine compliment. This acts as a force multiplier and brings about even greater willingness to follow.

The mechanism, from a behavioral sciences perspective, is that when you mimic someone, a strong sense of similarity and unity with you is created in their mind. Humans evolved to experience feelings of liking (6), interpersonal trust (7), and social bonding (8) with people who are synchronized with them (dancing, singing, marching). Cognitive scientists believe that these effects arise due to a blurring of the perception of ‘self’ and ‘other’ leading to this strong affiliation (9, 10). Neurohormonal mechanisms also play a role during synchronization with the release of endogenous opioids that encourage social attachment (10).

This LIKENESS leads to them LIKING and TRUSTING you (2). The compliment lets them know that YOU like THEM (dopamine boost). In this privileged state, they are cognitively primed to perfection (pre-suaded). Now the facts you provide are used to justify a decision they have already made, to be led by you. Like Renee Zellweger’s character in Jerry Maguire — “You had me at hello.”

Simply trying to convince people by reasoning and facts alone will only make them argue and resist, leading to low compliance. You must pace them first.

A great opportunity for pacing and leading is when your employees are emotionally vulnerable (fear, insecurity, frustration). The conventional leader will think that being calm will help mitigate things. Surprisingly, this actually leads to more stress as they realize their leader is out of touch with them. Match their stress level and posture. Speak about the fears they have using their words. Get synchronized with them. Then work them to a better state of mind with your plan and vision going from despair to resoluteness and hope.

At job interviews, pace the interviewer’s breathing, use some of the same phrases they use, and match their posture and emotions. Compliment them. Then lead them to your candidacy. They will be inexplicably drawn to you and want you on their team.

This is weapons-grade persuasion. You can even use this for your own management. Try it with your children or spouse (if you dare). You will be surprised at the many “yes” responses you get. Enjoy this superpower but use it wisely and never to manipulate people. You’re welcome!

I hope you enjoyed reading this and if you gained from it, please click the like button above because I’d love to know. Thanks!

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