“What is the biggest communication challenge you have with clients? What have you done to improve it?”

Sep 05, 2012

Tricks of the Trade

The biggest communication challenge that I’ve had with clients is trying to figure out their personalities. Working with a variety of personalities can be challenging. In the past it was as if I were on a roller coaster, because at times I felt obligated to behave in an appeasing manner in order to keep a client who was difficult. I found this challenging because I wanted to feel fulfilled professionally and did not want to have negative feelings about my clients as a consequence of my perception of their personalities. Also, clashing personalities can negatively affect my business’s bottom line.

I began to think about how other healthcare professionals approached communicating with their client base. I realized that, for the most part, certified healthcare professionals who are sole proprietors don’t make a profit by turning away business because of someone’s personality—they adapt.

After much consideration, I began looking for ways to improve my communication skills with my clients. Soon after I began my search, ACE released its Integrated Fitness Training (IFT) model. The IFT model has been instrumental in helping me improve my communication skills and has given me communication strategies I can use when I interact with people who possess different personality traits.

The model emphasizes the importance of fitness professionals learning how to adapt their communication style and technique in order to communicate effectively with clients. The IFT model encourages the use of the “dominance” and “sociability” scales as a way of giving you tools to identify the personality styles of your clients. Once a client’s style is identified, you can review guidelines that help you adapt your communication style to best meet the needs of his or her personality.

Consequently I have become more adept at using various communication strategies, resulting in improved communication with my clients.

Joanne Duncan-Carnesciali

Clinical Exercise Physiologist

ACE-Certified Personal Trainer

Focused Wellness Inc.

New York City

The main communication challenge for me is my accent. I am from Greece and my accent is heavy, even though I came to the United States in 1989 and received both my BS and MS degrees here.

I understand clients well, but sometimes it’s hard for them to understand me. For example, my pronunciation of exercises can be difficult for clients to understand, and there have been times when clients have performed a different exercise or routine from the one I instructed them to do. Sometimes it’s funny, and I am definitely able to laugh at myself! I think most clients understand and find it an endearing quality of mine, but it could cause miscommunication and lead a client to perform an exercise incorrectly, so I do take it seriously.

I have found many ways to overcome my communication challenges. As a result of increased exposure to the English language, my pronunciation has improved. The longer I am here, the easier it is for people to understand me. I always repeat instructions to clients, and sometimes I have clients repeat them back to me—especially when I work with new clients. Sometimes I perform exercises with clients so there is no confusion. Another solution is writing the workout of the day on a large white board. I demonstrate the exercises shown on the board in their correct forms, as well, and answer any questions clients have. I try to keep my instructions as simple as possible, observe movements and frequently ask for feedback to confirm I have been understood.

The final strategy I use concerns communicating with clients outside regular sessions. When possible, I use email for lengthy communications. I also communicate with my clients regularly via text. Combined with my accent, poor reception on mobile phones can result in an unnecessary breakdown in communication and frustration for both parties.

Harris Sophocleous, MS, CSCS

Personal Peak LLC

Chicago

Recently, my client Max, whom I have been training for 15 months, said to me, “You know, this really does take a lot of work.” Max has made significant changes since our first session. He has lost 38 pounds, has reduced his waist by 5 inches, is no longer prediabetic or hypertensive, has built muscle mass and has gained strength. He is 66 years old and is the fittest he has ever been.

As a seasoned professional, I believe that the biggest challenge in my career is convincing new personal training clients that I really don’t have a magic wand; I really don’t have a secret in my back pocket for them; and they really won’t get fit because they wrote a check and hired me. I believe the disconnect between clients’ expectations and reality has become more prominent. Even after an extensive consultation, paying a competitive fee and committing to a schedule, many clients are still unrealistic about how much effort it takes to reach their goals. I attribute this fact to our increasingly sedentary lifestyle, our Internet addiction and our quick-fix, fast-everything society, which demands instant gratification.

As most trainers know, training a client takes time, money and commitment from both parties. My focus is to keep my clients on track to their fitness goals. My job is to encourage, motivate, inspire and provide a positive workout experience. Their job is to do whatever it takes to be successful.

I find that many people are resistant to change. They don’t want to work “that hard.” They want to undo 40 years of an unhealthy lifestyle, and the damage it has done, in 10 personal training sessions.

Today I am much more prepared for this; I have learned to be patient and to explain calmly what training really involves. I have stopped taking it personally if clients don’t reach their goals; I’ve shifted my energy off of me and put it back onto them. I have said to all of my clients in some way: with time comes success; with success comes more time to live; with more time to live comes more time to exercise; and with more exercise comes more living.

Sue D’Alonzo

D-Fit Workout/Pinole Valley

Bootcamp

Berkeley, California

Early in my career, I didn’t fully realize that each client needed something different from me in terms of communication and our relationship. It took time to understand that to win clients and have them succeed, I needed to learn to connect with different types of personalities.

My business and confidence really picked up when I learned how to be a bit of a chameleon. Today I find it quite easy to adapt my approach to the different personality types I work with.

For example, when I work outdoors teaching a group of fit NordicTrack® walkers or active teenagers, I’m shouting, joking and challenging them to push themselves. We have fun, but we’re all business because that’s what they want and need.

Alternatively, with a frail, elderly client of mine, I talk a little more slowly than usual and I don’t move too quickly (so I don’t startle her). I often simplify my questions and answers, I smile a lot, and I include plenty of socializing between exercises to give her extra recovery time.

With clients who have short attention spans, I keep them constantly moving and I talk throughout the workout to help them stay in the present. With clients who have no issues with focus, I leave more air space.

I provide positive feedback for everyone at every workout. For some clients, the feedback is ongoing and includes a confidence-boosting wrap-up chat. Other clients seem to respond better when they view me more as a peer, so they get less back-patting but a solid “Excellent workout!” as I’m heading out the door.

I keep in touch with some clients by phone and others by email. I send educational information via a distribution list to some clients but not to others. How do I know who wants what? At our first meeting, I simply ask clients if they prefer phone calls or emails and if they’d like to receive occasional information from me.

If new clients previously had a personal trainer or worked out in a gym, I ask what they liked and disliked about the experience. Then, of course, I make sure to recreate the positives and avoid the negatives.

But communication is a tricky business. Asking the right questions will go a long way to gathering the necessary information to create a good relationship, but intuition and attentiveness also play a huge role.

Anyone can become an excellent communicator. You need to listen, watch, ask lots of questions and mix this all together with on-the-job experience. Then, just as each client’s session is about to start, take a breath and shift into the appropriate personality for that hour.

Barb Gormley

CustomFit Personal Training

Toronto

IDEA Fitness Journal , Volume 9, Issue 9

© 2012 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

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