The Persuasive Powers of Pacing

By jerry richardson

“Pacing: Meeting the other person…reflecting what he or she knows or assumes to be true…matching some part of his or her ongoing experience…like body language.”

The secret weapon of all sales may be pacing.

Pacing involves getting into agreement with a client in a way that says, “You can trust me, I’m on your side. I like you.” People tend to like people like themselves and to want to agree with what they say.

A key objective of this technique is to so closely match the person you’re dealing with that the distinction between your thoughts and their thoughts becomes blurred, enabling you to lead them to see your point of view. When you’re in step with a client, the next step you take is likely to be followed.

The pacing of speech strongly influences the depth of rapport you establish with a prospect. By changing this one aspect of his behavior, a man we know dramatically increased the subscriptions to the answering service he owns. After studying pacing techniques, he began to match the rate of speech of those who phoned for information. Because his only contact with prospective clients amounted to one or two calls, he had to make each conversation count. If the customer spoke rather quickly, he spoke rather quickly, if slowly, then he spoke slowly. This one simple change, he reported, resulted in a 30 per cent increase in subscriptions.

Serious problems can occur from failure to take into account differences in speaking rates. Have you ever heard someone from New York City try to do business with someone, for example, from Mobile, Alabama? The New Yorker, vibrating with frenetic intensity and talking rapidly, is trying to close the deal to take the next flight to the Big Apple. The relaxed Southerner is wondering what’s wrong with this strange creature. One wishes the other would get on with it, the other would like to slow down and think things over. Each may have good ideas, but they aren’t communicating. There isn’t enough mutual trust to complete their transaction.

Pacing has other dimensions in speech. Pacing volume is a useful tactic. Someone who speaks softly appreciates someone else who speaks softly, and vice versa.

Also, when you’re talking with clients (or with anyone, for that matter), it can be very helpful to you if you incorporate as many of their words, phrases and images into your conversation as you comfortably can. Not that you want to mimic them or become some sort of mirror of them, but this method of pacing the talk of the person with whom you’re dealing goes far towards putting the two of you onto the same wave length.

The opposite side of this same coin is to avoid using the jargon of your trade, unless your client speaks the same language, in which case it can be a benefit to do so.

A key part of the fine art of sales psychology is having a personality that is flexible enough to adapt to the many different kinds of people you must deal with; being able to pace many varieties of behavior, and to do it all without sacrificing your own integrity as an individual.

Pick up on any point of similarity between you and the client that you might use for openers. As an example, more and more business contacts involve people who speak different languages. If you have a client whose primary language is not English, that person usually uses English as a secondary means of communication. It might be worth a lot if you know just a few words or phrases in his or her tongue. Walk in his office and say “good morning” in his language. The effect can be electric-a big smile to set the stage for a good contact.

And while we’re talking about pacing, don’t forget that the languages of selling include body language.

Speak another’s language and you’ll find you’re harder to resist.

But what if, you may ask, I don’t agree with what my client is telling me? You don’t have to agree with it, just don’t confront it head-on like a raging bull. Your differences in viewpoint can be respected by any fair-minded person if they are properly put. But you must have respect for his or her views, and the best way to set up an agreeable climate for disagreement is to seek out what you can agree with in the opposing point-of-view. With care and a good ear, you can almost always find some point of agreement on which to build (pace) an accord.

Having paced a belief, you are in a position to lead with your own suggestion. Remember Thomas Jefferson’s adage: “In matters of principle, stand firm like a rock; in matters of opinion, flow like a river.”

Remember, pace first, then lead. Sometimes it may be better strategy not to lead too quickly, and sometimes it may be wiser to back off and not try to lead at all until the time is ripe. A sense of timing is essential in salesmanship, and you alone are the best judge of the time to inject something new into the presentation. On the other hand, don’t be timid: When the time is right, ask for the business. The pace/lead strategy is, as a rule, an effective two-step process to follow. It isn’t that this is something new; the top producers do it without even being aware they do it.

What if you aren’t sure about the timing? Test the waters first. This can be done unobtrusively at the nonverbal level by synchronizing with some aspect of the prospect’s body language, such as posture. Mirror the client for a little while (a couple of minutes should be enough). Then change your posture and see if and how soon the other person responds. The response could be a move to a mirror of your new posture, or it might just be an innocent shift of position. Look for a complementary response – something that follows within moments of your own shift, and comes pretty close to it in result. It may indicate that you have gained the rapport you need at the non-verbal level to proceed directly to your close.

Pacing may sound pretty esoteric, but it is something we all do, all the time, to a greater or lesser extent, without being aware of it. When you become aware of it, think about it and learn to use it to your own advantage; it can be a powerful ally. It not only has a powerful impact on others, it has a dramatic effect on you. By consciously pacing others, you are, in a sense, getting inside their bodies and minds so that you come to have an experience similar to theirs. Effective pacing enables you to achieve a profound degree of empathy with them.

Like other tools of effective salesmanship, pacing must be practiced and perfected. Many find the pacing rate of speech the easiest starting place. If you are afraid to try it initially “under fire,” then try it on someone you know. Listen to their rate of speech, their speaking volume, the kinds of imagery they use in conversation. Do not attempt to be a parrot, but try moving your own speech characteristics and the kinds of words you use closer to theirs.

One of the strange things that occurs from developing this ability is that you become more adept at anticipating what the other person is going to say. You have so attuned yourself to the other person’s way of speaking, thinking and behaving that you are able to engage in a form of mind-reading.

In practicing these techniques, it is best to try pacing just one aspect of speech or behavior at a time. Trying to take on various speech characteristics as well as body language and gestures, all at once, will probably overload your system at first.

Even the TV set can be paced. Practice sitting in the same position as someone on the tube. Study and become aware of their speech characteristics, and how they vary from the characteristics of other people. Talk shows are best for this because you have an opportunity to pace or study several different individuals.