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The Collected Papers of Joseph Riggio

Why Pacing Sucks


Within the “old” NLP model the concept of pacing in relation to gaining rapport holds high esteem and consideration amongst NLP practitioners at all levels. Yet there seems to be some dramatic consequences of maintaining this position within the space of client interaction as well as in personal interactions conducted by these very same practitioners. These consequences are of significance to the art of personal transformation being considered in this article as follows.

The first consequence of consequence seems to be in place as people pace (especially those who have an awareness of doing so with others) is that they build a sense of expectation and “indebtedness” in regard to other. That is as they pace it is as though they are building a “bank” of expectation regarding how the other person(s) owes them for the active participation and work they are contributing to the development and maintenance of the relationship they are establishing. In observation of such encounters there is a point at which the “pacer” begins to draw on this bank of expectation placing demands of reciprocity on those who are being paced. If the other person does not share in the development and maintenance of the relationship these pacers begin to show signs of exasperation and disappointment in the responses of those they are pacing. 

This is a form of “emotional vampirism” with regard to the position taken in this article. The pacer demands that those who are being paced respond “appropriately and adequately” by engaging in the relationship that is intended and desired by the pacer. When this is not the case the pacer begins to either exaggerate the pacing activity and/or overtly demanding such engagement. If the “appropriate and adequate” response is still not forthcoming they will then often begin to challenge those being paced for their lack of interest, responsiveness or commitment to the “process.” In essence they have “done their part” and the other person(s) is obviously resistant and closed to what is being offered so “genuinely.” 

In addition there is another frequent consequence of adhering to the practice of pacing as it was originally presented in the old NLP model. That is that the pacer never ends their pacing and moves onto leading – as was the intention presented within the “rapport model” presented by Bandler and Grinder. This leads to an endless loop of ever increasing pacing, and in some instances even increasing rapport, between the pacer and the paced. While the “relationship” may become significant there is no end or result that is achieved within it. In fact in a worst case scenario the pacer paces themselves into rapport with the presenting problem, not away or beyond it. 

This seems to be related to the legacy of Virginia Satir who used pacing more as technique of change work than the others that Bandler and Grinder modeled in building the NLP model. She of course was intimately aligned with the “humanistic psychology” movement. However, in studying the actual work of Virginia Satir there are also numerous examples of her behaving in an abrasive and even oppositional manner in regard to her clients. She seemed to be equally adept at positioning herself as the “kindly old grandmother” and the “evil witch” – not a flexibility often seen in those who quote her in their own work.

The result of such pacing behavior is more akin to traditional psychotherapy, especially those referred to as “humanistic” in their approach, than what was described by Bandler and Grinder in their presentation of the NLP model. The operator of such a pacing practice enters into a form of … PACE, PACE, PACE, PACE, PACE, PACE … without end. The result of escalating comfort in those situations and instances where the pacing is effective reinforces the desire to continue pacing without getting either party closer to a result or resolution within the relationship. 

These two consequences alone indicate a reconsideration of the principal and practice of pacing to establish and maintain rapport. It could also be questioned as to whether rapport is either necessary or even desirable in all instances to reaching the result and/or resolution intended. 

There are numerous examples in the NLP literature and lore of the lack or rapport being the precursor to change. In these examples, as well as others evidenced in some the material on the approach used by Milton H. Erickson after which so much of the NLP model of change was based, the client was abruptly challenged about some significant point around which the position they were holding was based. As often as not this seemingly occurred moments into the interaction, before any obvious rapport was established. In other cases the rapport that was established was broken or threatened as a motive for the client to change. For these individuals it seems that “rapport” was a tool used in the change process and not the basis for it. This is direct opposition to what occurs with those who are committed to pacing as a means to build rapport so that change can occur within and in relation to it. 

The “masters” referred to previously rather than pace themselves into rapport more often operate with an “assumption of rapport” and if they pace at all it is only briefly – for one or two exchanges, before moving on to taking the lead. The methodology being applied by these masters appears to be more about provoking and instigating change than encouraging it as is the case when rapport is the primary basis of the interaction. Rather than building an environment of empowerment the primary basis is one of challenging the client to make the change. These comments apply most specifically to those interactions dedicated to change work with clients. 

With an assumption of rapport the operator in the interaction notices what is true of the client “ubiquitously” and aligns with that, either overtly and/or covertly. This is accomplished both linguistically (verbally) and non-verbally. The operator within the first few seconds of the interaction calibrates the position of the client and matches that in either or both of these ways. Then they immediately adopt the position of rapport within the interaction. This is distinctly different from waiting to build or establish rapport. 

So if the “key” to success in professional and personal interaction is not always based on rapport what is it based on? It would appear that more fundamental to successfully reaching and producing results and reaching resolution with others is the practice of leading. This is to take the interaction toward and eventually to the desired position intended from the outset. The more efficiently and effectively, i.e.: “elegantly,” this is accomplished the more skillful the operator could be said to be acting. It is more elegant to lead the client as early into the interaction as possible than to wait for rapport to become present through a protracted period of pacing. This requires a great degree of skill, both at calibrating and leading, as well as the ability to hold the intent congruently and consistently regardless of the apparent external influences. It also requires the operator to be operating in relation to a position that is present in the near future that hasn’t happened yet. This is a fundamental premise of operating adumbratively and teleologically. 

Within the domain of personal transformation operating teleologically, or in relation to some future experience that hasn’t happened yet, is a powerful and compelling option for producing results and reaching resolution. The key is to be able to lead others and have them follow. This requires a high degree of personal congruence and skill as well as a real respect for and desire to serve others. It would mean in spite of the potential initial discomfort of taking the lead before any apparent rapport has been established the operator is willing to do what it takes to lead the client to the result and resolution they seek in relation to the interaction they are having. 

So in conclusion and summary the practice of pacing must be minimally moderated by the practice of leading when considering the welfare and benefit of the client. And in those instances where a choice needs to be made between the two, pacing and leading, the former must give way to the latter – Leading Rules!

©2005 Joseph Riggio / Applied Behavioral Technologies

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