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Increasing Professionalism: Building Relationships

As a fitness professional, you are in the relationship business. Just as the food you eat fuels your body for exercise, relationships are the fuel that feeds your business. But growing your business requires more than having strong interpersonal skills with your clients. Your business success is also influenced by your relationships with your colleagues and competitors. For example, cooperative marketing efforts and co-promotion can help your business grow. Also, solid business relationships can help you work through personal and professional challenges.


Relationships don’t just happen; they require some effort to build and maintain. But cultivating relationships often falls to the bottom of our priority list. Hectic jobs and pressing responsibilities can detract from relationship-building. (And if you throw in motherhood, the time for friendships drops significantly. According to an article in Parents® magazine, research shows that women without kids spend an average of 14 hours a week with friends. Those with children spend only 5 hours a week with friends.)

Find a way to prioritize your professional relationships without sacrificing your personal ones. Set aside an hour each week to connect with colleagues in person, via Skype or FaceTime or through social media. Look for a reason to reach out and connect—one that isn’t all about you. (See the sidebar “Building Relationships Online” for tips on successful online relationship-building.)

Build Trust

Personal and professional relationships are built on trust. The American writer and journalist Ernest Hemingway said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” To build relationships with your colleagues and competitors, look for opportunities that express your trust.

Remember that trust doesn’t happen overnight; it builds over time as a relationship develops and both parties are transparent in their actions. Transparency means being open and visible, without hidden agendas. “The professional relationships I’ve built over the last 23 years have led me to my dream job of traveling internationally to present fitness workshops,” says Jeff McMullen, Master Trainer for TRX®. “These relationships are built on mutual trust and respect that developed over the years.”

Listen and Lead

We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak. While listening doesn’t come easily for everyone, you can make a conscious effort to improve your listening skills. Start by following these tips:

  • Minimize distractions.
  • Use nonverbal communication to show that you are listening.
  • Demonstrate empathy.
  • Realize that people don’t necessarily want you to solve their problems.
  • Don’t interrupt.
  • Don’t prejudge.

Connecting with clients can be easy, because you already know the goals you share with them. Making connections with co-workers may seem more challenging, at least initially. Look for ways to connect with colleagues through mutual personal interests, similar family experiences or shared professional goals. Take the lead by making the first move. Initiate a conversation, or grab a cup of coffee with a co-worker between client meetings. Consider your actions outside your place of work as an integral part of building professional relationships.

Here’s a tip: Strengthening your emotional intelligence can help you reach out, build and nurture your professional relationships. Liz Woloszyk, Director of Career Services at ITT Technical Institute in Bradenton, Florida, says, “Emotional Intelligence is key in building professional relationships to further your career.” EI impacts many aspects of your daily life, such as the way you behave and interact with others. Raising your EI can help you communicate more effectively and build stronger relationships. According to Woloszyk, EI is a characteristic that employers are seeking as the market continues to fluctuate. “A business must trust that their employees are making emotionally intelligent decisions for the best interest of the company and the brand.” For an in-depth look at EI’s place in your career, check out this article: “Emotional Intelligence Makes a Difference”.

Exit Positive

These days, it’s unlikely that anyone will spend 20 years at a single company. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, between the ages of 18 and 32 the average American will have about nine jobs. Eventually you too may find that it’s time to move on from your current position. The first step is to review your employee handbook or employment agreement. Then consider how you will notify your employer. The following actions are standard; at the same time they’re considerate.

  • Provide at least 2 weeks notice. Anything less than that will tarnish your name in a way that may follow you forever.
  • If possible, give up to 4 weeks notice, so that you can assist with the transition period and training.
  • Give notice in person, and also provide a written letter of your intentions.
  • Be prepared for your boss to ask why you are terminating your employment. Be honest, but keep your responses simple and professional. This is not a time to confess how much you disliked working there.
  • Depending on your position, you may be shown the door immediately; watching how your employer handles other employees who resign may prepare you for what to expect.

Once you’ve given notice, tie up your employment as seamlessly as possible:

  • Ask your employer how you can assist with a smooth transition; follow the company’s preferred way for you to notify your clients.
  • Set your employer up for success by documenting how you do your job; your effort will be remembered.
  • Take the time to go above and beyond during your last 2 weeks; you may cross paths with your employer, co-workers or clients in the future.
  • Use your last 2 weeks as an opportunity to let your professionalism shine through. Professionalism is saying what you mean and doing what you say.

For more tips on professionalism, refer to the second article in this series, “Increasing Professionalism In and Out of the Studio.”

Remember, successful professionals don’t burn bridges. They build them.

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