PT on the Net Research

Client Empathy Part 2


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:

  1. What is it exactly that I want to communicate?
  2. Why do I need to communicate this information?
  3. How am I going to communicate the information most effectively?
  4. Is this the best time to deliver the message?
  5. Do I have the client's attention?
  6. Has the client understood?
  7. Am I explaining myself in an easily understood manner?
  8. Does the client believe what I am telling him/her?
  9. 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:

  1. CLEAR: Ensure that the information is presented clearly.
  2. CONCISE: Be concise, do not lose the message by being long winded.
  3. CORRECT: Be accurate, avoid giving misleading information
  4. COMPLETE: Give all the information and not just part of it.
  5. COURTEOUS: Be polite and non-threatening, avoid conflict.
  6. 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:

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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”.
  4. Encourage feedback by asking questions. “I think we learned a lot today", or "I think this was a good session, what are your impressions?”
  5. 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:

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.

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.

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!