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1 Kislev 5759 - November 10, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family
Pacing and Leading in Communications

Rabbi Shlomo Kory of Kiryat Mattersdorf, director of a Neuro-Linguistic Program, teaches us a basic element in good communication. His rules can be applied to good parenting and for good results in everyday adult conversation.

Do you enjoy, or 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, but its appeal has not lasted down the ages. One reason is because such pre-Baroque music lacks 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, but the opposite is true. The right amount of dissonance is like adding spice to food. The correct balance of consonant and dissonant sounds makes music interesting and pleasing. It engages your attention and gives the music a feeling of movement and anticipation. Too much can be abrasive to the ear; 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 converse, 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 are not moving them away from their point. When you lead, you say a remark that disagrees with the first person's comment; you are moving them away from their original comment. When you say, "It's a sunny day" and I respond, "Yes, it is," I am pacing you. If, on the other hand, I would respond, "No, look, it's overcast and dark outside," then 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. When someone paces too much, he risks boring his listener. If he leads too quickly or harshly, he risks sounding obnoxious.

Going back to the above example, let's explore some different responses. Some are smoother than others, some have a rough edge. Keep in mind that there is no magic formula that always works. Responses depend on the situation and the results you want to achieve. Sometimes, an abrupt lead may be the correct response for the results you want. In other instances, you may choose to open with a series of paces before launching into a lead. Experiment and see what works for you, when, and with whom.

Let's say I disagree with you about "It's a sunny day." I might decide to pace you and then lead. Here are two possibilities, containing two paces and then a lead:

Example #1: It's a sunny day."

"Yes, it is sunny, but now the sky is beginning to fill up with clouds."

Example #2: "It's a sunny day."

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

You might argue 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. True, it acknowledges the idea of the sunny day, but 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. 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? Think of two people. One with whom you communicate well and the other, with whose verbal interaction you are dissatisfied. Take note of how much pacing and how much leading goes on when you converse with each one. Now, analyze the interaction with the one with whom you do not communicate well. What might improve the communication -- more pacing or less pacing? A note of caution: until you master these skills, be extra careful in using them with people such as close family members or your boss!

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, etc. All they want from you is to acknowldege, in an interested way, what they are saying. If you pace them until they feel satisfied with the conversation, you will usually have a much easier time putting in the advice you want to say.

Rabbi Kory welcomes any questions or feedback at or at Panim Meirot 13, Jerusalem. He is a consultant for parenting problems, phobias, insomnia, stuttering and low self-image etc.


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