Many times students will ask me what courses they should take to prepare for a career in personal training. I usually respond with something like “Major in Psychology and minor in Exercise Physiology.” For many of us currently in the industry, we have learned (the hard way!) how much our people skills are used to make or break our clients’ behavioral patterns. For new trainers coming into our industry, there are faster and better ways to learn how to read people. Experienced trainers know these skills, but our new associates will not be taught these skills in an exercise physiology format. The real key to being a successful personal trainer lies in understanding our clients and what drives them to do what they do. In short, what are their “needs,” the things they must satisfy for true inner happiness.
You may know everything there is to know about exercise physiology and be able to write world-class programs, but if the clients don’t come back, your program won’t get administered. We must communicate with our clients to ensure they will be around to effectively allow adaptation to occur.
It’s your first interview with a new client, or prospective new client. You have just met, and immediately you start asking questions pertaining to goals, history, and other pertinent information. As this relationship develops, you tend to get a feel for that person. You start to make assumptions and form impressions about them. For some, that’s the easy part. For others, it’s like pulling teeth. You might find some clients intimidating, others reluctant to provide information. Some will talk your ear off; others ask you a million questions. Welcome to the world of unique individuals. Each person has his or her own unique personality, and if you can discover that personality quickly, you are one step closer to a positive relationship with quality communication. If you struggle, chances are you will lose a client, mis-communicate and possibly even offend that person.
How to Determine Types
There are many profiles we have used in the course of our investigation of the phenomenon of peoples’ needs. Below are a few specific profile types we have used and a short description of each.
One of the first sources we utilized, and still do today, is a book called The Color Code by Dr. Taylor Hartman published in 1987. This book provides some great information about basic personality types, and even includes a self-administered “Hartman Personality profile”. The Color Code is a wonderful resource for all personal trainers. It contains detailed information about the different personality types, core personality traits and useful tips on why people do what they do.
We have found the color code to be very useful in this industry for several reasons. One of the greatest advantages to this source is the ability for trainers to read about different types of people, understand what motivates them, who and how they relate to other types of personalities. This is also one of the easiest ways to duplicate the learning process in a standardized format. If you as the director of a training program are looking to find new ways to educate your staff, you know the value of having duplicable teaching methodology. For the trainer, the Color Code could become one of your greatest resources. It teaches you about people. It gets you thinking about the words you choose, the way you direct people, and the way that you motivate.
Another popular profile method that can be used in a one-on-one interview involves the use of a matrix model made up of four quadrants. Clients are asked a series of questions, which they answer themselves about how people perceive them.
- Trainer: “Jim, for you and I to best communicate, I need to know a little bit more about you. I would like you to look at this chart, which is divided into four quadrants by two intersecting lines. The vertical line has the word 'formal' written at the top and the word 'informal' written at the bottom. The horizontal line has the words 'dominant' and 'easy going' written on opposite ends (left to right). Now, I want you to start in the center and place an X somewhere on first the vertical line, representing how you believe people perceive you. The closer you X towards formal, the more formal your friends and associates perceive you. The closer to 'informal,' the more informal they see you. Now, place your X on the horizontal 'dominant/easy going' line. Again, the closer to 'dominant,' the more dominant those people see you.”
The client takes this model and is asked to place an X on each line, both vertically and horizontally, to the words that best describe him. Once the two Xs are in place, you then intersect the two lines into the quadrant that they meet. Each quadrant contains one of four different personality traits:
Where the X is placed helps to determine the severity or intensity of each trait. While The Color Code refers to slightly different core traits, we have found this model to cover a wider range of personality types that are easier to identify. In a matter of minutes, you can get an indication of what that person “needs” to find ultimate satisfaction.
- Controller - They want to be in charge.
- Analyzer - They want to analyze everything and be efficient.
- Promoter - They want to have fun.
- Supporter - They want to develop a relationship, giving and being supported.
This is a communication tool. It gives you insight into the client that allows you to speak in words that the person “needs” to hear and will ultimately fulfill what they want in the situation. If you can connect to those needs, your client will take a much higher degree of specific action to your directions.
MPI's Insight Questionnaire
A final tool we utilize, and probably the most intense and accurate, is a profile by a company called Management Profiles Incorporated. This type of profile cannot be self scored and is run by the company. While it may seem a bit complicated at first, the accuracy of this profile, along with the audiotape describing the person is well worth the study.
As MPI’s profile explores into three major areas of the developmental process, clients are asked to fill out a questionnaire that asks questions about three major parts of their lives.
- In describing yourself, which question BEST fits a description of you?
- When it comes to work, if you had a choice, which would you rather do?
- When a person or event puts you in stress, which answer best describes how you feel towards that person or act the way you would act towards that person?
MPI’s unique method of cross-referencing responses creates a profile about people with a scary level of accuracy. I have had employees and clients remark how it was one of the most self validating experiences they have had. Again, it’s a tool to help you understand people and capitalize on their strengths. In our work, we feel it helps people become the best that they can be.
MPI’s Understanding of Our Development
The core personality trait that is developed in our childhood years is referred to, as our Formative Needs (FN). Some researchers believe this core trait never changes1. As we grow older, we start to develop our adult patterns, otherwise known, as our Basic Wants (BW). For those of you with children, you’ll appreciate the difference between “needs” and “wants.” When kids are passionate about needing something, they never let up! If they want something, come tomorrow it’s forgotten about. Finally, as we grow older, we start to really see ourselves. This area is known as our Self-Expectations (SE). How we see ourselves has a lot to do with how we respond to different people and how we tend to manage our lives. Some of you may recognize these areas as the “ID,” the “EGO” and the “SUPER-EGO.”
Profiles in Action
From this information we can tell a lot about an individual. Since core traits (needs), will never be denied, we must recognize the significance of those first. If your client has a need for control, there are ways to motivate, communicate, and develop relationships with this type of individual specific to their trait. Control personalities need bottom line, goal oriented approaches. They will say things like, “Get to the point” or “What’s the bottom line?” If you are not sure of yourself or do not exhibit your own “alpha male” characteristics, these people will not pay attention to you. They will determine your worthiness by your level of confidence, and if you blink, you’ve lost them.
Personally, I enjoy training “controller/dominant” personalities because they cannot refuse a challenge. Saying things like, “O.K., Bob, how about giving me 10 close grip pull ups? No wait, you probably can’t do 10, just give me eight.” You can bet that Bob will die trying to do 11 chins, just to prove me wrong or beat my expectations. Everything is a challenge to dominants. Golf, cards, hoops, jogging, you name it, a dominant will figure out a way to compete against you at it… and win!
On the flip side, if you get too challenging with a “high freedom/supporter” type of personality, you will scare them away. They want to form a relationship with you. They want to “share” feelings and events. They need to be recognized for the little things they do. They crave appreciation. Challenge to them is heard as, “It’s never good enough.” If you challenge them like Bob, and they won’t even try to do one chin. They’ll give up because, in their eyes, you don’t believe in them.
Then again we have the “accountability/analyzer” types. These people love rules and regulations. They like advanced warning. They will respond to checklists and tracking sheets. While there may not be an abundance of colorful personality here, they are workhorses and will do what ever you want as long as it’s down on paper. Tell them what they will be doing in their next workout. Give them performance parameters and report cards. They eat it up.
Lastly we have the “acceptance/promoter” personalities. Class clowns, comedians, quick witted, “sell ice cubes to Eskimos” types. They are chronically late, always have an excuse and are like puppies chasing butterflies. They are eternally optimistic. There is nothing that they can’t do, and no one they can’t get along with. Try to make them conform to a schedule or structured program, and you might as well open the door for them to leave. They despise structure; they want to play! They’ll even try to convince you that structure is bad and that it leads to all sorts of negative behavior. They think everyone should be like them and have difficulty relating to responsibility.
The main idea here is to communicate with the personality, not the person per se. While these are just general categories, and no one can be pigeonholed or type caste, we can assume certain characteristics will always occur with certain traits. Learning to listen, really listen, to the answers that clients give is the first step towards better communication and even sales. The questions you ask are really irrelevant to a point. The key is to listen to those answers, and they will reveal to whom you are speaking.
We must remember that this career is called personal training for a reason. Getting to know our clients is at the heart of our effectiveness. If you truly want to motivate your clients, take the time to add personality profiling to your bag of tools. If you want to increase your sales, sell to the personality, not the goals.
- Hartman, Taylor, PhD. The Color Code. Simon & Schuster, 1987.