Building Rapport with Pacing and Leading

The prerequisite for any good communication is trust. Most people have few good strategies for creating sympathy with other people. NLP teaches a number of very effective methods to bring oneself closer to others and to build a bridge.

Pacing und Leading
Love (Unsplash: © Everton Vila)

Table of Contents

  1. Rapport
  2. Pacing and Leading
  3. Exercise: Pacing and Leading
  4. Exercise: Matches and Mismatches
  5. Exercise: Pacing of Statement
  6. Further Exercise Suggestions

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Rapport means speaking to people on their level and using their language to convince them of ideas they would not have understood had they been presented in another form. Rapport is the ability to enter the world of others and to build a bridge to them. It is the art of getting the support and collaboration of others in order to achieve a common goal. Rapport is a relationship marked by agreement, same direction or similarity. If there is rapport, resistance will disappear. Rapport means establishing a deep contact to the unconscious of the other person. We say things like: "We were on the same wavelength." "There was a mutual understanding between us." or "We like each other." Rapport is very important in terms of trust. A doctor needs the trust of his patients. A sales person needs the trust of his customers. A mother needs the trust of a child. Many issues in our daily interactions are about trust. NLP examines carefully how this trust is established and what we can contribute to make it deeper and more intense.

How is Sympathy created?

People like people who are like themselves. Once we have found common ground in a conversation, the dialogue flows naturally. NLP has discovered that this similarity does not only concern the of conversation topics but body language too. People who like each other and have a deep contact unconsciously adjust their behaviour to one another. This phenomenon can also be used the other way round: By adjusting your behaviour you deepen the rapport to the other person. This is called mirroring in NLP.

Pacing and Leading

NLP Pacing Leading

In numerous observations it has been found that people who like each other and have a deep contact with each other adapt to each other in their expressive behaviour. This principle can also be reversed: By adapting their expressive behaviour to the other, rapprochement can be created.

  • Mirroring refers to physical adaptation to posture, gestures, breathing, facial expressions, movements or weight shifts, muscle tone, etc. Here you adapt like a mirror to everything you can see.
  • Pacing means adapting to the other person's overall visual and auditory expression. The other person is picked up where he or she stands. For example, I like to pace the speech rate, the rhythm, the pitch of the other person. Everything that belongs to mirroring also falls into this category.
  • Matching is even more comprehensive and refers to adapting to language style (e.g. representation systems) and patterns (e.g. meta programmes).

Leading: After a while of adapting to the partner and making the report, you can move on to leading him or her and thereby change the direction of communication. Leading means to lead someone to a certain goal or result on the basis of the report and in the sense of the win-win principle.

In the win-win principle, a conflict resolution or the outcome of a negotiation is based on the fact that both parties involved can benefit from it and consider themselves winners. In contrast to other strategies, which aim to achieve maximum benefit only for themselves, the interests of the other party are also taken into account. The win-win principle is linked to positive thinking and honest compromises. The focus is on a good result for both sides. Sometimes it takes some creativity to find such a solution.

I would also like to suggest that the win-win principle be extended to include the win-win-win principle. Here, not only the two parties involved win, but also the larger system, e.g. society or humanity.

Congruity and Incongruity

When all three channels fit together we also say we are congruent. If the messages don't fit, we call this incongruence. In this case, we rely first of all on body language, then on the voice and lastly the spoken word - doubtless because we have often had the experience of being lied to. This is why some researchers into body language say: "The body never lies."


In a famous study, Albert Mehrabian (The Journal of Counselling Psychology 31, p. 248-252, 1967) found that body language accounted for 55% of the effect when making a presentation before a group. This meant 55% of the power of persuasion rested on posture, gestures, facial expressions, eye contact and other factors of body language. 38% of the effect was achieved by voice modulation and other vocal characteristics. Only 7% was down to the content of the presentation. Some interesting conclusions can be drawn from this: We have the most influence when we present convincing messages through all three channels. Body language and voice are often greatly underestimated.

“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best day and night to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting.”
- E.E. Cummings

Crossover Mirroring

The crossover mirroring is a special kind of pacing/mirroring: The opposite person is mirrored here either in another representation system or with another kind of movement.

One example: If your conversation partner walks up and down, you can move your fingers with him or her or move your upper body back and forth.

The classic example is the asthmatic who is about to have a seizure and is breathing heavily. If I now pace my breathing, I run the risk of also having an asthma attack. Therefore I mirror the breathing rhythm in another system, e.g. by tapping my hand or nodding my head.

Here's a tip for delimitation: Cross-reflecting does not mean that you mirror the movement of your partner's right arm with your left leg. This can be an example, but only a very unusual one. All in all, cross-reflection is a very effective method of creating a repeat.

Exercise: Pacing and Leading

In pairs: A and B, approx. 5-10 minutes

  1. A makes movements with the whole body, B adjusts itself.
  2. After a while, B gently goes over to leading. A adjusts itself.
  3. Further gentle changes in pacing and leading, so that a "dance" is created.

These body movements can be arbitrarily replaced by one of the following repeating behaviors:

  • breath rhythm
  • Posture, small body movements (gestures)
  • Minimal movements (e.g. frowning, foot rocking, etc.)
  • Volume of the voice, speech rate
  • Language patterns and keywords
  • blink of an eye

After some practice you can move on to pacing or leading two or more of these behaviours. A and B can also pac and lead different behaviours.

Also practice the so-called "crossover mirroring", e.g.: mirror the breath by movements of one leg, the eyelid blow with a finger movement, crossed arms by crossed legs, speech rhythm by head movements etc.

You can test if you have a report with someone else by going from pacing to leading and seeing if the other person follows you. The easier he follows you, the stronger the report is. If he does not follow, return to pacing and try to lead again later.

Exercise: Matches and mismatches

Group of three: A, B and C, approx. 10 minutes, then change rolls

  1. A tells something from life (e.g.: vacation experience, about work, about art, culture, etc.)
  2. B listens and pacet (mirrors) A in at least three behaviors (e.g: posture, breathing rhythm and speaking rate, cross-mirroring if necessary)
  3. After a few minutes B breaks the report by changing the previously mirrored behavior accordingly.
  4. After a few more minutes B goes back to pacing.
  5. C notes the changes that occur during the changes.
  6. A and B exchange about the changes of their inner experience through the changes.
  7. C reports on his or her observations (specific to the senses: what did you see and hear!)

After some practice you can start pacing or leading two or more of these behaviors. A and B can also pace and lead different behaviors.

Exercise: Pacing of statement

Remember a situation that is typical for you and in which you communicate with other people.

  • Sensual perception
    List three things that you can perceive in the presented situation. What do you see, hear and/or feel?
    Inlay these perceptions into a conversation.
  • Commonplaces
    List three generalities or facts that apply in this situation. Weave them into a conversation.

Further Exercise Suggestions

  • Observe on the street, in restaurants, at public events and wherever you are in the near future, whether or not there is a report between the people involved.
  • Mirror the body movements of other people and build up rapport with them.
  • Call a friend and pace his speaking speed and volume on the phone. Also pay attention to his favourite phrases.
  • Pace the mood of another person and then put that person in a better mood.
  • If you are intimate with your partner, then pace his breath.
  • Practice the pacing rhythm: pacing, pacing, leading!

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