In an age of advanced communication
technology, we believe we are communicating more than ever before, but are we
communicating effectively?
You may be armed with your cellular network and all the latest technology, but
that won’t help if you haven’t mastered the art of active listening.

Discover the benefits of active listening: what it is and how you
can use it to enhance your relationships with your fitness clients, co-workers
and managers.

Why Active Listening?

According to, active
listening is an intent to “listen for meaning.” The listener checks with the
speaker to see that a statement has been correctly heard and understood.

What someone says and what you hear can be amazingly different!
Personal beliefs, assumptions, judgments and filters can distort what you hear.
Active listening will help eliminate barriers that keep you from hearing

You can use active listening to get the results you want, meet
your supervisor’s expectations, build teamwork, enhance relationships and avoid
conflict. Active listening improves your understanding of what others are
saying, thinking and feeling and, therefore, increases your ability to meet
their needs and yours. Too often we respond without fully understanding our
counterpart and make inappropriate responses or rush into ineffective
solutions. The more accurately you hear, the more effectively you can meet the
other person’s needs. The more you help others, the more valuable you become
and the more respect you engender.

How to Actively Listen

Effective listening begins with passive
listening or attending. This nonverbal form of communication demonstrates your
interest in the speaker. As you listen, you look him or her in the eye, leaning
forward, nodding and smiling. You may also respond by saying “uh-huh” or “I

Once you are practicing passive listening, you are ready for the
four skills of active listening:

1: Clarify.
Ask open-ended questions to clarify content and
to gain more information.

2: Paraphrase and Verify.
Restate in your own words what you
hear the other person saying, so the speaker can confirm that you are hearing
correctly. Use phrases like “If I understand you correctly . . . ” or “So what
you are saying is . . . .” If your understanding is incorrect, the speaker will
be able to correct the misunderstanding and avoid conflict. In turn, your
response or any actions you take will more likely meet the other person’s needs
and expectations.

3: Reflect or Empathize.
Let the speaker know you not only
understand the content of the message but also perceive the feelings or
thoughts involved. To reflect the feeling or thought the speaker is conveying,
make statements such as “It seems like that bothered you a lot” or “It sounds
like you believe . . . .” Reflecting does not mean you agree with the speaker,
but rather that you comprehend what he or she is feeling and thinking. If you
do agree with the speaker and want to empathize, you may add “I understand how
you feel; I would feel the same way if I were in your place” or “I agree with
you; I believe the same thing you do.”

4: Summarize.
Briefly sum up what has been said. Restate
action items and commitments. Ask for confirmation or agreement from the

For insights into what active listening might sound like in a
conversation between fitness professionals, read the following two examples.

Example 1: Instructor and Student

An instructor calls a student to check
in. The words in parentheses show the active listening skill the instructor is

Hi, Becky. This is Angela from the gym. I’ve missed seeing
you on Tuesday nights in class this month. How is your fitness program going?

I’m sorry I haven’t been to class. My shoulder has been
killing me.

(Clarify) Has it been hurting for long?

For a month now. I miss working out with you, but I’m concerned about my

(Verify) What I hear you saying is that you would like to
come to class, but are afraid of the pain in your shoulder. Is that correct?

Yes, but I also have to work overtime many nights and that
keeps me from getting home in time to come to your class.

(Reflect) It sounds like you are discouraged by your shoulder pain and are
frustrated by your long hours at work. (Empathize) I understand how you feel. I
feel the same way when I miss a day or two at the gym.

I don’t like missing my workout, but I like the overtime because I can use the
extra money.

(Clarify) Would you like to make an appointment with our
athletic trainer to evaluate your shoulder? What do you think would help you
make time for exercise when you have to work late?

Yes, I’d like to make an appointment with the athletic
trainer. I guess I could try to exercise before work.

(Summarize) Let me have the athletic trainer call you today
so he can help you figure out what is causing your shoulder pain and get it
taken care of. I teach a gentle exercise class on Tuesdays and Thursdays at
6:00 am. If you come, I’d be happy
to show you how to modify the moves to decrease stress on your shoulder. Would
you like to come next Tuesday? Do you feel we have addressed your concerns? Is
there anything else we could do that you feel would help?

Have the athletic trainer call me between 4:00 and 5:00 pm. And I’d love to come to class Tuesday. Thanks for
helping me get back on track.

Example 2: Personal Trainer and Supervisor

A trainer and his boss discuss customer
service. The words in parentheses show the active listening skill each person
is using.

I want you to focus on providing better customer service to
your clients.

(Clarify) What exactly should I do?

I think you could increase your client base if you took time
to personally get to know your clients and build rapport with them.

(Verify) What I hear you saying is that I should ask my clients personal
questions about their interests, family or job.

Yes, and I think you should go the extra mile to service
them. When they tell you they cannot keep their next appointment, rather than
say you will see them the following week make an effort to reschedule them for
a more convenient time.

(Reflect) So you do not think I am a good trainer and feel I
do a bad job.

(Correct misunderstanding) No, that is not what I am saying. I think you are
tremendously knowledgeable and provide your clients with excellent training
programs. What I am saying is that I think you will attract and retain more
clients if you show them you care and are willing to do whatever it takes to
help them meet their goals.

(Summarize) You believe I will improve my effectiveness and
increase my clientele if I take a personal interest in all my clients and make
a greater effort to accommodate their schedules. I am committed to getting to
know more about each of my clients, and I will offer alternative dates to
accommodate changes in their schedules. My goal is to reschedule every client
as quickly as possible. If I do these things, will I meet your expectations for
customer service?


Julie Andersen, MA, who has a degree in exercise physiology, is
a management consultant specializing in leadership development. She is also a
certified trainer for Ken Blanchard’s program,
Lead Like Jesus.