4/21/22: The power of "pacing and leading"

Sent 4/21/22

This week's Think Better Newsletter is about the power of "pacing and leading."  

The Idea

I had to take my daughter to the doctor's office today because she gashed up her shin. We were doing some simple plyometric jumps on the deck outside and she tried to do a single leg jump. She didn't make it and now she'll have an inch-long scar to remember the experience.

Treating an injured kid can be quite challenging. The pain overwhelms them, they don't know what to do, and they absolutely want help. They also don't want you to touch it, look at it, or do anything that could make the pain worse. And the mere mention of going to the hospital triggers all sorts of alarm bells. It can get dramatic.

The more dramatic and emotionally charged a situation becomes, the harder it can be to persuade someone to agree with you. Whether it's a political debate, a lifestyle change, modifying a training plan or caring for an injured kid...the first challenge is always getting someone to truly listen.

My go-to approach is called "pacing and leading." It's a persuasion technique for having better tough conversations

I acknowledged how much my daughter's leg hurt and how scared she felt after seeing the gash. I assured her that I'd experienced the same thing before (many times, unfortunately). I made sure she knew her fears were normal. Then I slowly explained that we need to clean it, get it looked at, and make sure we get the best treatment possible. She stopped fighting and reluctantly agreed. 

How does pacing and leading work?

"Pacing" refers to matching the other person in some way, finding a common ground. You meet them where they are, and try to start from their perspective. I tried to show I understood how my daughter was feeling, and I used her words/phrases when I discussed the situation. I grounded it in her experience.

After you've found that common ground, you can slowly "lead" them toward your position. You have to earn the right to lead someone, which is what pacing does for you. Trying to lead too quickly can cause people to dig in harder.

I never thought of pacing and leading as a strategy for convincing kids to treat their wounds. But as I sat in the doctor's waiting room, I reflected on how effective the technique is for so many situations.

The next time you're in a contentious business meeting, having an emotionally charged debate, or convincing an athlete to make a change they are resistant to making, try to use pacing and leading.

It'll help you have a more effective conversation.

The System

Pacing is 90% of pacing and leading. The most effective way to pace someone is to simply agree with them. If you have points of true agreement, emphasize them! 

Even if you can't agree, you can still pace others. Here are a few ways.

  • Find common likes, dislikes, and experiences. Commonalities create connection.
  • Mirror body language and word usage. Copying behavior creates connection. (Going overboard is creepy, though.) 
  • Paraphrase their position. Confirming you understand them creates connection (even if you don't agree).

After you've paced them a bit, you can build off that common ground to nudge them in the direction you need them to go.

Learn more:

Read How to Use Pacing and Leading to Have Better Conversations (article at Go Be More)

Listen to How to have tough conversations (episode 17 of the Go Be More podcast) 

The Question

What is your "go-to technique" for persuading others to do what's necessary? 


Go Be More,

Bryan Green
Author of Make the Leap: Think Better, Train Better, Run Faster and the companion Think Better Workbook
Co-host of the Go Be More Podcast
Co-host of the Fueling the Pursuit Podcast

“To find common ground you must be willing to search for it.”
— Carmine Savastano



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