Pace and Lead: The Grammar of Rapport
Matthew C. Bronson
Social & Cultural Anthropology
California Institute of Integral Studies
765 Ashbury Street
San Francisco, CA

Anthropology of Consciousness 7(1) 34-38. March 1996

Neurolinguistic programming is a powerful technology for modelling aspects of human excellence so that others can achieve similar levels of effectiveness. This article describes how to teach a simple communication pattern called "pace and lead," derived from studies of the hypnotic induction techniques of such master hypnotists as Milton Erickson. The "Pace and Lead" frame consists of several sensorily verifiable statements (pace) followed by a positive suggestion (lead). This pattern is the basis for virtually all communication which seeks to influence, manipulate or heal and as such, constitutes a very useful skill with a wide variety of applications.

This frame--simple in its outward form but profound in its potential extension to a variety of real world situations-deserves more general inclusion in the teaching of consciousness curriculum. Anthropologists with an interest in language and consciousness issues will appreciate the accessibility of the exercise and its ability to concretely embody abstract issues such as the role of language in the creation of personal and cultural "realities."

The course Language & Consciousness is intended as a graduate level (M.A., Anthropology) inquiry into language inasmuch as it reveals processes of consciousness, and consciousness inasmuch as it is linguistic (from the course syllabus). The point of departure is the observation that language is uniquely positioned within the human sciences as both a "scientifically" observable behavior and a strategy for constructing entirely "subjective" personal and cultural meanings. Class work focuses on direct fieldwork by the students in which they collect conversational narratives in spoken and written form with subsequent analysis from a variety of perspectives. Fieldwork is supplemented with regularly submitted journal entries wherein students can reflect informally on any aspect of the course material as it relates to them personally and professionally. Interdisciplinary perspectives and exercises from discourse analysis, sociolinguistics, neurolinguistic programming (NLP), cognitive science, and Amerindian linguistics show the range of thinking on this topic and provide a rich backdrop for class lectures and discussions.
Class Exercise

The purpose of this exercise is to give students a firsthand experience with the power of language to alter consciousness. Drawing from one of the basic patterns of NLP, they get a chance to experience how "all words hypnotize to some extent." The specific purpose within the class is to demonstrate the essence of "rapport"--an essential element to all effective communication.

Step-by-Step Description: Introduction

After having the students read chapters 1 through 6 (especially pages 21-23 and 114-115) in O'Connor and Seymour (1990), I give a brief over-view of neurolinguistic programming, including examples of the most common behavioral cues and predicates associated with sensory processing (a key aspect of NLP), e.g., words for visual, auditory and kinesthetic strategies. Neurolinguistic programming is a very powerful and useful technology derived from close observation of highly skilled communicators such as Gregory Bateson, Virginia Satir and Milton Erickson. One of the things the NLP researchers noticed was that all successful hypnotists made use of some variation of the pace and lead pattern as described below. I try to keep theoretical discussion to a minimum prior to the exercise so that students can draw their own conclusions based on personal experience of the phenomenon. Teachers will find O'Connor (1994) very helpful for the step-by-step design of any learning exercise in line with the properties of NLP.


I ask for a volunteer from the class. I consciously pace my breathing with my partner's and "tune in" to her body language for a moment. In a calm modulated tone, I look into her eyes and make three statements-all completely verifiable within immediate sensory experience with as much congruence and conviction as I can muster, e.g.:

Pace Pattern: 3 statements verifiable in the sensory experience of your partner

You are aware of the sound of my voice.

You can feel the places where your body contacts your chair.

You see the light shining on my face in a particular pattern.

Then, I make a fourth and final statement with a generally positive suggestion in exactly the same style, e.g.:

Lead Pattern: general positive suggestion

You are beginning to tap into rich internal resources in new and surprising ways.
This pattern is repeated several times using a variety of language referring to different sensory modalities in the lead portion, e.g.:
You can feel the movement of your breathing (kinesthetic).

You are blinking from time to time (kinesthetic, visual).

Your head is resting on your hand (kinesthetic, visual).

You can hear the sounds in the room (auditory).

There is a varying degree of relaxation in the parts of your body.

Your head is nodding from time to time (kinesthetic, visual).

You are smiling/yawning (kinesthetic).

You can see the colors of my shirt (visual).

You feel the temperature of the air on your exposed skin (kinesthetic).

and positive suggestions, e.g.:
...and you feel FANTASTIC.

... and you are getting in touch with deep inner resources in a delightful way.

... and you can notice a expanding sense of well-being in all the cells of your body.

... and you can feet a profound sense of harmony with the universe.

... and you deeply appreciate the gifts of your unconscious mind in specific and useful ways.

... and a clear vision and sense of joyful purpose can now spontaneously emerge.

Verifiable vs. Non-verifiable statements

After this brief encounter, I typically ask the student to briefly describe what the experience was like. "Very pleasant and relaxing," is a typical response. Then, before I ask the student to return to her seat, I try a few more statements:

You are obsessed with jazz.

You are wondering when the break will be tonight.

You have a slight pain in your left shoulder.

The Republican Revolution angers you immensely.

You think I talk too much.

Benazir Bhutto deserves better treatment from the Indian press.

The world is made of snow.

You are aware that nchngwa is the Swahili word for Orange Tree.

This usually brings on some laughter as people notice the immediate difference between effective pacing statements such as those in the "Pace" section above and these more abstract, evaluative statements which depend on a hypothesis of the speaker which may or may not actually be true. We learn here that a critical component of the art of hypnosis involves speaking generally but sounding specific. In order to comply with the ground rules, people have to learn to distinguish between sensory based statements with which the listener must agree and statements based on abstract, unverifiable assumptions or inferences which may or may not be true for both parties.
Sensory verifiability is only one component of effectiveness with this pattern. Also critical is the factor of "congruence," or the match among all channels of communication. For example, if the lead portion is pronounced with real feeling, expressive intonation and appropriate body language and eye contact, it will have a greater impact on the listener. Similarly, if the pace section is uttered so as to match the body language and breathing patterns of the listener, it will be more effective. I usually give the example of "incongruence" by saying, "Yes," and shaking my head, or saying in a happy tone," Bad doggie, no walk for you tonight." Students are referred to the discussion in O'Connor (1990:18) which highlights the fact that 95% of most communication is non-verbal. Then I give examples of lead statements with high congruence, for example, saying, "Yes," and nodding my head, or saying in a stern tone, "Bad doggie, no walk for you tonight."
Instructions for Participants
After the demonstration, students break up into partners to try out the pattern. You can tell them to "choose someone who secretly attracts or repulses you." I put the pattern up on the board or flip chart with sample predicates for the "Pace" and "Lead" portions. I ask them to begin by taking at least three turns each as facilitator. Time permitting, I then invite them to alternate for several rounds. This part of the exercise usually takes 15-20 minutes.

The next phase is to have them de-brief among themselves for 4 or 5 minutes. After a brief stretch break, they return to discuss the experience in the large group. I begin by asking very generally: "What was that like?" I often take notes on the flip chart to give additional visual input and help people think of other examples, as well as to show that I am listening.

Major Themes for Discussion
When and why do you start to trust the speaker!

What changes did you notice in your consciousness and why?

What language patterns were more or less effective for you and why?

What have you learned about language and consciousness through this exercise?

Implications and Applications
Typically, the power of this exercise is very quickly appreciated. Students always seem to make the obvious connections with advertising, cults, brainwashing, and other examples of hypnosis and trance and influence from every day life. This pattern is a key element in many kinds of communication. For example, if a client comes to a therapist and complains that "...everything seems heavy ... like slogging through mud ... can't get a grip on myself, trying to grasp what all this means...," an effective therapist will "pace" his or her kinesthetic predicates: "Just take a deep breath and begin to feel into the situation, find your center of gravity, the inward balance beneath the pushes and pulls in your life." The ineffective therapist might speak visually: "Take a look at your situation and focus in on the highlights ... see the shape of your life," thus failing to gain as easy a rapport by pacing the kinesthetic orientation of the client. In advertising, this pattern is used quite frequently. Recall the beer commercials that show all those attractive young people having fun in the country--that's the "pace" part--the positive associations audience members want to increase in their lives. Then when the camera zooms in on the can of Schlock beer as the key element in all this fun, that's the "lead". All advertising consists of the interplay between, and sequencing of, such pace and lead elements.

It is easy to make the case after this exercise that all words hypnotize to some extent--that's their function! The centrality of language in the process of picking out what aspects of our experience to focus on at any moment is a key insight for beginning students of language and consciousness. One of the major reasons that all of this matters is that we can all become much more astute in noticing how we are being influenced-paced and led-toward various communicative outcomes. In the process of breaking down the components of influence into this essential pattern, students can gain a sense of wonder at the largely unconscious framing of communication. For example, in the first few moments of meeting someone we very quickly make assessments based on largely unconscious assumptions: Do they look us in the eyes? What are they wearing? Are they potentially hostile or friendly? Through the pace and lead exercise, students realize that such perceptions can be consciously manipulated and rapport enhanced toward various communicative ends: e.g., manipulation or healing. Perhaps more important is the way this experience wakes people up to the many ways in which others seek to influence them through subterfuge and outright manipulation.

So as not to end on a cynical note, it makes sense to mention, as well, that this same pattern can be employed with love and compassion as part of a healing intervention, for example, in a clinical hypnotic trance. Forms of the pattern also underlie the behavior of many healers who first establish rapport and legitimacy through various linguistic, contextual and paralinguistic cues before proceeding to their intervention. For example, when I was studying with the Brazilian spiritist healer Edson Queiroz in Brazil (Bronson 1992), I noted that patients would be asked to sit for several hours in an indoctrination hall before being referred for psychic surgery or other treatment. The indoctrination session would talk about the benefits of psychic surgery including testimonials of those who had undergone the process and been healed. Songs and hymns were sung, and a church-like atmosphere of reverence prevailed. This established rapport between patients and the healers--made the story relevant to their particular concerns and issues prior to the healer's intervention--the "lead" portion of the healing act.

All healings include some components of "pacing" the client's reality and "leading" them toward some new way of being. Skilled healers in all traditions make artful use of this underlying grammar of rapport every time they heat or work with patients. Failure to gain initial rapport severely limits the effectiveness of the healer. Thus, "pacing and leading" can be utilized to achieve both positive and negative (for the target audience) ends. But no matter what the ultimate goal, the process illustrates the power of words to affect one's consciousness, to literally lead an individual to a new way of viewing the world.

Bronson, Matthew, 1992. "When As-If Becomes As-Is: The Spontaneous Initiation of a Brazilian Spiritist Medium." Anthropology of Consciousness 3(1-2).

O'Connor, Joseph, and John Seymour, 1990. Introducing Neurolinguistic Programming. Aquarian Press.

O'Connor, Joseph, and John Seymour, 1994. Training with NLP.