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Conflict Resolution Toolbox

Cringe when conflict arises? Get three strategies for handling it successfully.

Conflict in the fitness workplace is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be harmful. Healthy conflict exists in relationships based on trust and respect, and without conflict, teams may be unable to make effective progress or create a shared vision of the future.

You may dread conflict, but you can successfully manage it when you approach the other person in the situation with tact and respect. Use the strategies outlined below for creating positive outcomes out of tough situations you may face with your boss, colleagues or fitness clients.

Choosing a Conflict Resolution Method

Before you decide how to address a conflict, it’s helpful to determine if you want to focus on relationships, results or both.

When you have limited time to deal with a conflict, and results are more important than the relationship, you should be direct and to the point. When preserving the relationship is more important, you need to take more time to establish a diplomatic approach and possibly develop a win-win solution to the problem.

The WAC’em Approach

A method that works well when it’s more important to achieve results than to preserve the relationship is the WAC’em approach. Barbara Pachter, the innovator of this approach and author of The Power of Positive Confrontation, suggests dealing with day-to-day situations with this method. This assertive, direct technique works wonders if you have tried an indirect approach first with no success.

Use these three steps for WAC’em:

  • W= What
  • A = Ask
  • C = Check In

Pachter suggests you first share with the other person what the real problem is and what is bothering you. Then she recommends that you come straight out and ask for what you need the person to do differently. It’s best to describe specific behavior and not make generalizations. For example, instead of saying, “Jane, I would like you to be more professional when you call me next time,” you could say, “I would like you to avoid making assumptions about things you have heard others say about me. Please ask me to share my side of the story.” Last, Pachter suggests that you check in with the person to see what she thinks about the request. Will she comply with what you are asking? Does she have another idea for solving the issue?

Sample Conflict Resolution: WAC’em

How can you apply the WAC’em method in the fitness industry? Here is a situation in which it would work well.

Scenario. The instructor who teaches the class before yours constantly runs 10 minutes late.

This makes your class start late, and your students are frustrated. You’ve talked to the instructor about the issue, but he says you’re getting worked up about nothing and refuses to change.

Conflict Resolution Approach. Ask to meet the instructor at another time and place so you’re not talking in front of members or just before you need to teach. Since you have approached the topic with the instructor before and he has not responded, use a direct tone. Be determined but calm or he may accuse you of getting “worked up.” You may want to say, “John, I know that I have approached you before about our problem transitioning between classes, but maybe the timing was not right and I was upset. I need you to end your class on time and according to the clock in the room. My participants are depending on me to start class on time. When participants have to wait in the hallway for the next class, you look unprofessional—and I’m sure you don’t like the nasty looks they give you. As I said, I have talked to you about this in the past but you have ignored my concern. I have counted four more times you have run late in the past month. I plan to talk to our program director if we can’t resolve this today. What else do you think we need to do about the situation? How can we prevent this issue from escalating to the point where I have to speak to the director?”

The Assertiveness Formula

Being assertive falls between being a bully and being a doormat. It means making your needs and desires known to others while respecting their needs and viewpoints. An assertive approach focuses on results while preserving the relationship. This approach takes more time to think through and talk about, but it can pay off in the long run. The following assertiveness formula is widely used in mediation and facilitated conflict resolution.

As with the WAC’em approach, you open with the issue, but in this case, you focus not on the other person but on how his or her behavior makes you feel. Then, as a gesture of goodwill, you offer to do something differently in order to resolve the issue while also specifically asking the other person to change her behavior. You close by asking for the other person’s viewpoint, her ideas and a confirmation that the behavior will change.

Sample Conflict Resolution:
Assertiveness Formula

How can you use the assertiveness formula in a fitness situation? Here is an example in which it would be appropriate.

Scenario. Your personal training supervisor has promised you a specific day off so you can attend your daughter’s high-school graduation. You have planned to
attend the graduation for several months. Then, 3 days before your promised day
off, your supervisor says you have to work that day.

Conflict Resolution Approach. “Donna, I have a problem and I need your help. It’s about working next Friday. When I ask you for the day off for an important family event and you schedule me to work anyway, I feel that you don’t respect me. When this happens I don’t feel like a valued member of this team. I would be happy to work another Friday, or pick up any new clients you need help with. However, next Friday is not an option for me. When plans change like this, I would appreciate more than 3 days’ notice. I understand the bind you get into with the staff, but I also need time to change my plans in order to help the team. Will you please give me more notice next time?

“Can we look at the staff list for someone else who can work next Friday?”

The “No Sandwich”

Conflict sometimes comes from our inability to say no or the inability of the people hearing no to accept it. When we say no and just leave it at that, the other person will not listen past the two-letter word. If you have kids, you know very well that after the word no, the typical response is, “Why not?” If you use a No Sandwich approach, which includes the reason why you are saying no and sandwiches it between expressions of empathy and alternative options, then you have a better chance of not having to repeat your refusal. If you do have to repeat your no, be consistent and patient. Getting the person to really hear you may take a few tries.

The ingredients for the No Sandwich are: Open with empathy, explain the reason you’re saying no, suggest alternative options, offer to act, and close with acknowledgment.

Sample Conflict Resolution: No Sandwich

How can you apply the No Sandwich
approach in the fitness industry? It would be a good technique to use in the following situation.

Scenario. A longtime personal training client keeps inviting you out for
dinner and to parties. You don’t feel comfortable socializing with her because you want to preserve boundaries in your trainer-client relationship. She refuses to take no for an answer.

Conflict Resolution Approach. “Sally, you are so thoughtful to think of me when it comes to social events. We seem to communicate so well during our training sessions, and I can see why you want to include me in your personal life. I have to kindly decline your invitation, though. Please do not think it has anything to do with you personally. Since we have started a professional relationship as a trainer and client, it is best for us to keep it within those parameters. Our entire trainer staff holds these professional standards. I hope you can understand this. We can definitely have a smoothie at the club café, and I will be sure to invite you to our club member social events.

Again, please know that I value our working relationship and I appreciate your attention and enthusiasm. Now let’s get to our workout plan for today.”


Concerned about your place in the new fitness industry? We have 40 years of experience supporting pros just like you! Let’s create a new wellness paradigm together—IDEAfit+ is the extra edge you need. Once you team up with IDEA, be sure to take full advantage of all the benefits of membership.

Tatiana Kolovou, MBA

Tatiana A. Kolovou, MBA, started her professional journey as a health educator and became an organizational development trainer, public speaker, university professor and executive communication coach. She is a faculty member for the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University and the owner of Ethos Fitness, a boutique fitness studio in Bloomington, Indiana. She is also an ACSM-EP professional and a veteran master trainer for Schwinn® cycling, a Core Health & Fitness brand. Find her courses on LinkedIn Learning or reach her at [email protected]

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