Changing Really Difficult People: Work on You, Not Them | Stage Three

Stage Three Influencing Skills – Pacing and Leading


When there is significant conflict and a person is highly resistant to your ideas, you need excellent interpersonal communication skills (see previous articles on “Critical Communications”). Blog 1 centered around the speaking skills required to be attractive to listen to. Blog 2 centered around the skills of building rapport and relationship, by being a very good listener.

Now to the advanced skills of problem solving, decision making, consulting, teamwork, and resolving conflict. This requires a strategic use of assertive listening and speaking techniques.

When someone is very angry or sulking, or resisting you in any number of ways, the first thing to do interpersonally is to listen. It will only take seconds of your life but is crucial for handling resistance and influencing people to hear your point of view

PACE                    +

Open question
PACE                    →
Open question
Assert your own opinion
“I feel…..”
“I believe…..”

For example
, the person has angrily said “I do not want to go anywhere hot again for our holiday. I loathe the heat, and I want to go somewhere that I like for a change”.

Instead of arguing back with your preference, ask the person why they feel that way, or ask them to tell you more, or to give you further details. This is called pacing.

Pacing is where you use listening techniques to draw out the person’s views and emotions. They then feel valued and listened to . The first pace when somebody opposes you, tends to be an open question. Say, “tell me more”, or “go on”, or “I don’t really understand”, or “how do you feel about that?”.

The person will then get their story and feelings off their chest. They feel better for this, and particularly if they can see you are listening by your nodding your head.

If a person has a lot to say initially, you don’t need to ask a question; you may prefer to use a paraphrase. This is where you sum up the story, or the feelings implied in the person’s message. If the person insisting on a holiday in a cool climate has a lot to say about how angry they are about how often they are stuck on a beach doing what you want for holiday they have already said quite a lot about this. Your best proof that you have been listening is to sum them up without any judgement. An example would be, “I sense you are angry about how many holidays we have had that have not been to your liking”.

conflictIf your ability to use an open question or a paraphrase has worked very well, most people do not continue to argue. In fact, you usually hear them say “that’s right! “, or “exactly”.

Some people may argue a little further. All you have to do is to continue to listen. It only takes moments of your time to do so.

It is relatively simple to do. You only have a choice of two techniques – you ask for more details with an open question, or you sum them up with a paraphrase. Within seconds, people have no need to continue to resist you or argue there is nothing to argue against – they are being heard and listened to.

Your pacing only needs to be done until the person has settled enough to hear your view.

This next stage is called leading. You use “I” statements to assert your opinion.

Once the other person has had their say and been summed up without any judgement…..they can then hear what you want or need. You have moved them on from their previous resistance. It is because you have built rapport and attraction by listening first. This is the time to assert then “I don’t agree that all of our holidays are always somewhere hot and that we always do things my way”.

You may also add if you choose to, an assertive statement on the style/tone that they have used when they have spoken to you. If you have felt offended, or that you have been attacked, you may also add “and I do not accept I have ruined your holidays in the past”, or “I resent you saying that I have wrecked holidays for you”, or “I am hurt by the tone that you are using with me, just because I prefer…..

With really, really difficult people, there is work to be done. But it is doable. These techniques really do work. Some people will not give up their addiction to believing other people should change. It is entirely up to you. You decide whether you are prepared to do the work to get the changed result.