Communication 1: Disagreeing without Arguing

Communication 1: Disagreeing without Arguing

Date: 10/1/1999

Communication patterns form a big part of NLP and are a suitable topic to inaugurate this newsletter since we all have to communicate at one time or another.

Let's start with something about the basic dynamics of good communication. Or, misused, this forms the basic dynamics of poor communication. Do you enjoy or do you know someone who enjoys classical music? Did you ever notice that the earliest classical music that people listen to is from the Baroque period? Of course music existed before then but people generally do not listen to it for entertainment. One reason why is that music written prior to the Baroque era is missing one essential element--dissonance (an unpleasant combination of sounds).

At first this seems strange. One would think that the absence of unpleasant sounds would make the music more enjoyable. In reality, the opposite is true because the right amount of dissonance in a musical piece is like adding a spice to a dish you are cooking. The correct balance of consonant and dissonant sounds makes the music interesting and pleasing. It engages your attention and gives the music a feeling of movement as you anticipate the dissonance resolving into consonance. Too much dissonance can give the music an abrasive quality; too little makes it boring and lifeless.

Communication is very similar. Virtually all communication is made up of consonance and dissonance. That is, when two people talk together, every response is either agreeing or disagreeing with the preceding remark. We call this Pacing and Leading. When you "pace" you say a remark that basically agrees with the other person's comment; you're not moving them away from their point or comment. When you "lead" you say a remark that disagrees with the first person's comment; you are moving them away from their original point or comment. So, for example, if you say "It is a sunny day" and I respond "Yes, it is" I am pacing you. If, on the other hand I would respond "No, it is overcast and dark outside" than I am leading you.

Good communication involves the right balance of pacing and leading. Becoming sensitive to how you pace and lead is imperative as a first step towards getting the results you want from your communication in your professional or personal life. When someone paces too much he risks boring his listener. If he leads too quickly or too harshly he risks sounding obnoxious.

Going back to the example above...let's explore a couple of different responses. Some responses are smoother than others, some have a rough edge. Keep in mind that THERE IS NO MAGIC FORMULA THAT ALWAYS WORKS; it depends on the situation and the results you want to achieve. In other words, in some situations an abrupt lead may be the correct response to get the results you want. In others you may choose to open with a series of paces. Or, you may employ a pace or two and then a lead. Experiment and see what works for you and what doesn't.

Let's say I want to disagree with you about "it's a sunny day". I might decide to pace you and then lead. Here are two possibilities. Each one actually contains two paces and then a lead.Example #1:

--"Yes, it is sunny , but now the sky is beginning to fill up with clouds."Example #2:

--"You're right, the weather report predicted a sunny day, but look at that overcast sky."

You might argue (and I might agree) that while "yes", "you're right" and "it is sunny" are pure paces, "the weather report predicted a sunny day" is not a pure pace. It paces and leads simultaneously. While it acknowledges the idea of the sunny day it also implies that something is not exactly as the first speaker said. The last part of each sentence is clearly a lead in that it disagrees with the first speaker's statement.

Now, reread the conversations above and this time eliminate the first pace ("yes" and "you're right"). You should be able to feel how that removes some of the smoothness from the response. Now try adding an additional pace before the lead and notice how that changes your feeling about the response.

Here is an interesting exercise... When there is a conversation going on around you take note of how much pacing each participant does before leading. Then notice how the participants feel about the conversation. Typically, if they seem bored there may be too much pacing. If they are arguing there may be too little pacing. Bonus Tip: doing this simple exercise in various situations will greatly increase your understanding of how pacing and leading work.

Interested in beginning to apply this principle?! Try this: think of two people. One you are satisfied with the results of your communication and one you are not. Take note of how much pacing and how much leading goes on when you converse with each one. Now, analyze the one you do not communicate with well. What might improve the communication--more pacing or less pacing? A note of caution:until you master these skills be extra careful if you use them with people such as close family members or your boss!

Some final thoughts...Applying pacing and leading in education and counseling: if a student or client discusses some difficulty he is having, even if you are sure about what you are going to advise, you may find it useful to pace his problem first before offering your advice (which is the lead). This usually helps make him feel that you really understand his problem and care about giving the right advice. In business: when talking to a client be sensitive to how much they want to discuss the details of whatever you are selling to them (the pace). When they are satisfied with this part you will probably want to move towards the actual closing of the deal (the lead).

In parenting: There are times when children enjoy just being paced. That is, they may want to tell you all about what they did in school or at some event and all they want is for you to just acknowledge (in an interested way!) what they are saying. If you pace them so that they feel satisfied with the conversation you will have a much easier time putting in some piece of advice you would like to tell them (which is a lead). Often they will balk if you put in the advice too early.

Please email me your personal experiences relating to this article.