From the Hypnodontist: Pace and lead for greater case adherence

People are more likely to agree with a request or instructions if they already agree with you about some other things.

Pace And Lead

Pacing and leading are terms from hypnosis and NLP that refer to meeting people where they are, and then pointing them where you'd like them to go. Last month's Hypnodontist column described how this approach can be an important part of increasing case acceptance.(1) This article discusses pacing and leading in more detail to help you acquire greater adherence from your patients.

Pace And Lead

When we want to ethically influence someone, first we get in rapport with them. We don't want them to feel strong-armed or bossed around. Instead, it's best if they want to do what we tell them to do becauseit’s in their best interest.

People are more likely to agree with a request or instructions if they already agree with you about some other things. In sales this is often accomplished through a "yes set," a series of questions designed to elicit a "yes" response to small, simple things before you ask them to make a purchase.

As a dental professional, you are a helper and healer, trusted by many for your specialized knowledge and training. You do your job with a great deal of care for the comfort and satisfaction of your patients. Some of those people may like or even love you, while others become anxious or afraid just thinking about visiting you. Perhaps that makes you want to learn the language of ethical influence.

You may not think of yourself as a salesperson, yet the success of your business depends on your ability to keep your patients (customers) coming back. Another big factor in their oral health is the self-care practices they develop between visits. Because you want to learn to increase adherence without seeming "sales-y," read this article to the end.

Notice how those last two paragraphs are filled with truisms – statements that are general, artfully vague, and practically impossible to refute. That's me pacing you. Even though I don't know you personally, I've written words that are easily accepted as facts, which means you are likely agreeing with them, whether consciously or subconsciously. That's the non-sales-y way of building a yes set.

After almost two whole paragraphs of pacing, I ended by leading when I told you to "read this article to the end." Shifting from pacing to leading with the word because is a very effective way to influence your reader or listener, especially if you already know what is important to that person. Refer back to the first Hypnodontist column, "Because Words Matter," for the significance of asking "what's important to you about _____?" (2)

In his best-selling book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,author Robert Cialdini, PhD, discusses the power of the word because.(3) He cites research suggesting that including a reason when making a request increases the likelihood of the request being granted, even if the reason is flimsy or nonsensical. The odds go up even more when the reason follows the word because. Your power of ethical influence is maximized when you use because and the reason already established by the other person as their highest value.

So let's put this in context of greater adherence now. Suppose a patient that has been bruxing needs encouragement to wear a night guard, and that when asked what is important about addressing this issue, the patient tells you that the grinding noise wakes up his wife. You could deploy your ethical influence skills as follows.
Hypnodontist Focus

Good morning John. You're on time for an 8 am Monday appointment – we really appreciate that! The doctor made your night guard based on the impression we took last time you were here. As you try it on now, here is some information to read about the hypnodontist who can help you stop grinding. In the meantime, because you want your wife to sleep better, it's important that you wear the night guard every night while you sleep.

Note the details of that last paragraph need to match what is accurate in the experience of the patient. Pointing out the day and time (and even where you are) is often a convenient way to start establishing agreement about what is true. Stating the observable actions being taken by you or the other person is also a good pacing strategy. Repeating what someone has told you can have many benefits. In this context, the prime value is using one of the main principles of influence identified by Dr. Cialdini – people's natural commitment to maintaining consistency.

Final thought ­– look again at the last words of the leading part of the night guard example – wear the night guard every night while you sleep. This is called an embedded command, an action step or instruction placed within the ordinary flow of speaking where it doesn't come across as bossy or ordering someone around. I did the same thing earlier when I said read this article to the end. Embedded commands are a great nuance of "being hypnotic" that will be explored further in a future Hypnodontist column.


Dave Berman, C.Ht. trains dental professionals to use the language of ethical influence, practicing hypnodontics, and hypnotherapy in the San Diego area. For more information, visit or call 858-876-7930.

3. Cialdini, Robert (2006). Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. New York: Collins Business Essentials.

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