The following is a continuation of Client Empathy series. For an exploration of the first 10 principles of client empathy, refer to Part 1 of the series!
Clients Need You to Understand How to Communicate Effectively
Communicating with your clients is the art of successfully sharing meaningful information with them. It involves ensuring you know how to effectively give information and requires your clients be in a position to receive, understand and accept it. As a trainer, you can ask yourself the following questions before and while attempting to communicate with a client:
- What is it exactly that I want to communicate?
- Why do I need to communicate this information?
- How am I going to communicate the information most effectively?
- Is this the best time to deliver the message?
- Do I have the client's attention?
- Has the client understood?
- Am I explaining myself in an easily understood manner?
- Does the client believe what I am telling him/her?
- Does the client accept what I am saying?
Research has shown that people resort to a variety of verbal and non-verbal cues in order to maintain a smooth flow of communication. Such behavior includes head-nods, smiles, frowns, eye movements, laughter, body language and many other actions. The facial expressions of clients provide feedback for you as a personal trainer. Glazed or turned down eyes indicate boredom or disinterest, as does fidgeting. Fully raised eyebrows signal disbelief and half-raised eyebrows indicate puzzlement. Watch your clients very carefully. They will "tell" you things without even telling you.
Control of a training session is based on your ability to be sensitive to the signals being transmitted by your clients. Their face usually gives a good indication of how they feel. A good working knowledge of the meaning of non-verbal signals will prove invaluable to the trainer success.
Effective communication contains six elements:
- CLEAR: Ensure that the information is presented clearly.
- CONCISE: Be concise, do not lose the message by being long winded.
- CORRECT: Be accurate, avoid giving misleading information
- COMPLETE: Give all the information and not just part of it.
- COURTEOUS: Be polite and non-threatening, avoid conflict.
- CONSTRUCTIVE: Be positive, avoid being critical and negative.
When you provide information to the client that will allow him/her to take actions to change, it is important you convey the information in a positive manner. Look for something positive to say first and then provide the information that will allow the client to effect a change of behavior or action.
As a Personal Trainer, you should:
- Develop your verbal and non-verbal communication skills.
- Ensure you provide positive feedback during training sessions. Reward the behavior you want to see repeated.
- Give clients undivided, focused attention during one-on-one sessions.
- Ensure you not only talk to clients but also listen to them as well.
- Ensure you understand various communication blocks. Difficulties in communicating with a client may be due a number of issues including the following:
- The client’s perception of something is not the same as yours.
- The client may jump to a conclusion instead of work through the process of hearing, understanding and accepting.
- The client may lack the knowledge needed to understand what you are trying to communicate.
- The client may lack the motivation to listen to you or to convert the information given into action.
- The trainer may have difficulty in expressing what needs to be said.
- Emotions may interfere in the communication process.
- There may be a clash of personality between you and the client.
These blocks to communication work both ways, and the trainer needs to consider the process of communication carefully. Here are some ways to make sure clients understand all of the information you have given:
- Invite questions in private and in writing. People are sometimes afraid to admit that they do not understand something. By giving them the chance to ask questions, you are fostering good communication.
- Allow enough time for them to ask lots of questions. This is a chance to establish your value and share your knowledge. Don’t rush through sessions in a move ‘em in move ‘em out fashion.
- Make sure they fully understand. Pay attention to the signs of understanding. After you inform them of something new, it is OK to ask if they understand. Make sure you get a firm “yes”.
- Encourage feedback by asking questions. “I think we learned a lot today", or "I think this was a good session, what are your impressions?”
- At the end of each session, reiterate all pertinent lessons taught. Give your clients a summary of everything taught in the session. Repetition is the key to memory.
Clients Want to Know You're Listening
The key to good communication skills is developing good listening skills. When a client is sharing information with you, always paraphrase what they've said and repeat it back to them to ensure you've got it right. This will demonstrate that you were listening and you understand what they've said. This will also give them the opportunity to correct you if you've missed something. A great way to exceed customer's expectations is to listen to what clients say. If you listen closely to a client they will tell you what they need and want. And then you can go out of your way to get it for them - they will be impressed that you did something that you didn't have to do. For example, they may make a comment on a particular diet that they've heard about in the news. At the next session, you can present them an article, which lists the pros and cons of that particular diet. They will be very impressed with your attention to small details. And of course, if a client ever does ask you for something, be sure that you immediately write it down so you don't forget and follow up with them at or before their next session. You can't be expected to know the answers to all questions, however, you should have a network of Go-To people that you can consult with when a situation or questions arises that is above and beyond your level of expertise.
Clients Need You to Understand How to Effectively Build and Develop Relationships
Building relationships is one of the most crucial skills a personal trainer can have. The key traits for building relationships are:
- Competence: You must be knowledgeable, able to put that knowledge to use and effectively communicate it to others.
- Concern: You must demonstrate interest in your clients' physical and personal goals and be empathetic to their personal circumstances.
- Professionalism: You must demonstrate professionalism in your manners, appearance, preparedness, dependability, responsibility, timeliness, and in your communication and listening skills.
- Consistency: You must demonstrate these behaviors regularly
Your level of integrity must be above reproach from the perception of the client and of others who may be observing your behavior.
While personal training is a highly social endeavor, it is important that clear lines are drawn between a friendship and a client/trainer relationship, if you want to maintain the business relationship. If there is a situation in question, think about the future success of the personal training client, recognizing that the friendship may pose a stumbling block that may hinder the potential for growth and success in your client.
The relationship between a trainer and client often travels a healthy course of mutual respect when both people maintain ethical standards. However, if the relationship becomes too relaxed and professionalism is compromised, the trainer can send mixed signals that may make the client feel confused and uneasy and eventually cause them to part company with the trainer. You must take steps to set the boundaries at the onset of working with a new client and throughout the training relationship.
- Never discuss your problems, business or personal, with any client. Remember that you are paid to help your clients feel good. They do not pay to listen to your problems.
- No matter how you feel you must always exude health and fitness. Part of being a good Personal Trainer is developing the skills to disassociate with things that may be going on in your personal life during your training sessions. Again, your clients pay you to help them feel good about themselves and this becomes difficult when they sense that you're in a bad mood or having a bad day.
- Never argue with a client. It's best not to discuss politics, religion or any matter that may cause a conflicting opinion.
- Choose your vocabulary wisely – Never relax your vocabulary to the point that you use foul language.
- Never be so relaxed with a client that you gossip about other clients, your club, or other trainers.
- Keep your conversations focused on health, fitness and current events.
- Never give advice on subjects outside of fitness.
- Unless your client has hired you as a walking, running or cycling companion, you should not work out with them. You are there to carefully observe their form and to spot them during more difficult exercises. For you to be doing sets next to them is inappropriate. However, with that said, some clients do ask their trainer to workout with them. For some people this is motivating and so, as always, if that’s what the client wants, focus on satisfying this need.
- Each motivational or follow-up phone call should be perceived by the prospect as being for his or her benefit in relation to their physical fitness goals, not to just chitchat.
- Eliminate all conversation of sexual nature from the dialogue with clients.
- Understand the subtle impact of your words and actions.
- Be conscious of spotting contact and avoid any contact or touching that may be perceived as "too close and personal".
- Treat the opposite sex the same as a member of your own sex.
On the other hand, pay attention to your client’s special interests. Make an effort to remember what is important to them and be sensitive and respectful to their feelings. It often helps if you make notes in their files and review them before your next session. In a one-on-one session, always give your client your undivided attention.
Clients Need You to be Able to Manage a Variety of Different Personality Types
As a Personal Trainer, you will work with some clients that you absolutely adore. And unfortunately, you will also work with clients who sometimes annoy you. The key to working with so many people is developing "emotional stamina," which is the ability to endure a long day of back-to-back clients, some who are positive and some who are not. The key to developing this skill is becoming knowledgeable about human behavior and why people do and say certain things. By understanding behavior, it can allow you to be more empathetic to an individual's circumstances and enable you to act more appropriately and motivate accordingly. A good understanding of the following personality styles will better enable you to deal with various types of clients.
- Intrinsic: People who are very self-motivated. They do not wait for others to help them. They look within themselves for motivation and for standards of excellence. They usually try to give it their best shot. Being in control of themselves and how they do things gives them freedom. Tasks that represent a real challenge interest them. As a trainer, you will want to set goals that are a challenge for this type of client and ones that they need to accomplish on their own. You will also want to involve them in the process of developing their program.
- Competitive: People who usually get tremendous satisfaction from performing tasks better than anyone else. Being “number one” is what counts for them. Competition motivates them to do their best. If a situation does not involve a competitive element, they lose interest. If they do not come in first, they are disappointed, but not discouraged. They go back again until they finally succeed. As a trainer you will want to establish regular competitions for this type of client. For example, providing norms will motivate this type of client to perform above the averages. Informing them of the best scores in various activities will excite them to try to beat these scores. Enrolling them in group activities or sports will cause them to perform at a high level.
- Power: People who like to be in charge of everything. Leadership positions attract them and give zest and meaning to their activities. They usually feel that they can do better than the current leader. With this type of client, you will definitely want to get them involved in the training process. Give them the opportunity to make decisions regarding the direction of their program, exercises and programming.
- Personality: People who tend to rely on themselves, using their personality, intelligence, humor, wit, and charm as instruments for success. They enjoy being the center of attention and have a flair for dramatic gestures. With this type of client, you will want to introduce them to others and regularly point out, in public, their successes.
- Social: People whose basic approach to accomplishing things involves being around others. They love helping and being around others. Being liked and remembered is part of their makeup. With this type of client, you will want to introduce them to others and encourage them to enroll in Group Training, Partner Training and any other type of social programs. You will want to foster an environment that develops friendships for this type of client.
- Entrusting: People who make other people feel that they are counting on them. Their confidence in others makes them feel they can do the task. They entrust their goals to others and believe that others can accomplish the task as well as, or even better than they can on their own. Their entrusting style usually has the effect of empowering those on whom they rely. With this type of client you will want them to be hooked up with a fitness mentor - someone that they can rely on to help them achieve their goals. And of course, they will also be entrusting their goals to you.
- Collaborative: People who enjoy accomplishing a task by doing it with others. Their first response is to call on one or several others to help. They feel an added surge of enthusiasm when they do things with others. Working in isolation rarely turns them on, and they usually try to avoid it. People with this style like the camaraderie of working with others and feel devoted to the group and its goals. With this type of client, you will want to introduce them to others and encourage them to enroll in Group Training programs.
- Contributory: People who like to help others achieve their goals. They take satisfaction from doing their part well so that the other people in the group are successful. They see themselves as a partner in the group’s successes. With this type of client, you will want to introduce them to others and encourage them to enroll in Group Training or Partner Training programs. You will also want to put them in a role of mentoring other clients. This type of client can really enhance the success of your other clients.
- Vicarious: People who derive a real sense of accomplishments from the success of others. They know how to offer encouragement and guidance to others, and are happy to support other individuals with reassurance, direction and praise. With this type of client, you will want to introduce them to others and also encourage them to become a mentor to many of your other clients.
Clients Need You to Teach Them Ownership
Some clients expect the results to be achieved as soon as they pay for Personal Training. They often don't realize that your job as their trainer is to guide, educate, motivate and inspire, but they still have to do the work. They must be willing to accept ownership of their program and responsibility for the achievement of their goals. They must be willing to make it to each session, to adhere to the expectations outside of the workouts with you, to perform each repetition and every set, to eat a healthy diet, drink lots of water and manage their stress. You can't do any of these things for them. It's important at some point during your initial first sessions with a client that you discuss the importance of them taking ultimate responsibility for the achievement of their fitness goals. Compliment this conversation with a discussion on patience to ensure they understand that success does not happen overnight.
Clients Need to Know You will be There to Support Them During the Stumbling Blocks
Of course, most of our clients need accountability. That's why they've hired us - to help them stick to the program. But there will be times when they just need our support and understanding. There will be periods when your clients are not adhering to the program and it may appear that they're slipping and losing all the great benefits you've both worked so hard to achieve. During these stages, as their trainers, it is critical that we not judge their actions and instead be patient. We run into problems with our clients when we want them to achieve their goals more than they want it for themselves. Of course, we want to see them succeed because we get so much satisfaction from seeing them achieve a goal and knowing that we were a factor in helping them. And when we see them struggling, we think "Well, if you just followed the program!!" It's not like we are to be indifferent to whether a client succeeds or not but we have to avoid getting frustrated with them when they are consciously or unconsciously sabotaging progress. We have to understand that clients do have other things going on in their lives that may be more important than their exercise program. We must be committed to educating them, guiding them and supporting them and to not judging them when they are perhaps not placing their exercise program at the top of their priorities. We have to be very careful when providing constructive feedback to a client because they may feel hurt or threatened. The most important aspect when dealing with clients in these situations is not what you say, but how you say it. Be sensitive and understanding at all times.
Your Clients Want to be Able to Look to You as a Role Model
As a Personal Trainer, you definitely need to "walk your talk." Lead by example. Exercise, eat well and lead a balanced lifestyle. Get involved in active adventures or events, not only for your own benefit but for your clients who then may be inspired to do the same. How does that saying go - monkey see, monkey do? Introduce your clients to cool and exciting events outside of the gym. Take them hiking, cycling, indoor rock-climbing, inline skating or kayaking. Play beach volleyball, frisbee or a game of pick-up basketball with them (Note: check with your supervisor to ensure your insurance policy allows for these activities). Ultimately, your clients will appreciate your attempts at making exercise fun, enjoyable and interesting!