In the first installment of this two-part series, we learned how to use Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP™) to read “maps” and focus on outcomes. In this second part we explore careful wording of criticism and how to be influential.

Stress Adjustment, Not Criticism
If your feedback is focused on what is going wrong, you are communicating that something is unwanted. Instead, base feedback on making adjustments toward a desired outcome. NLP assumes that all responses are useful in some context and suggests that feedback should focus on self-realization, not criticism. In one-on-one training situations, you deliver direct feedback because you’ve developed rapport with the client. However, in the group setting, feedback is a sticky subject. General feedback (delivered to the entire group) often falls on deaf ears. The person who needs the correction has no idea you are speaking to him, and those who don’t need the correction start questioning themselves. Indirect feedback (getting someone’s attention through eye contact or connecting without singling out a participant) is still problematic for individuals who have not established rapport. Direct, public feedback may spell disaster for a new participant or even a regular.

While your intention in giving corrections is good (you want to improve form for safety and effectiveness), such feedback has the potential to turn some people off as their internal dialogue ramps up. Their own maps trigger this response. If you approach technique correction from the understanding that everyone is working perfectly to accomplish what he or she is doing-—or that pointing out what you don’t want actually makes that image stay in the subconscious-—you begin developing solid strategies that allow students to self-correct safely.

First, learn to choose your battles! You cannot possibly correct every single misstep or imperfection. Come into your sessions with a game plan: “Which part will I focus on today?” During chair pose, for example, you might choose to focus on keeping weight in the heels to increase range of motion. As you teach the pose, choose statements, descriptions and questions that revolve around that one key piece of information: “Keep weight in your heels.” “Picture a 4-year-old’s chair and try to sit into it.” “Can you wiggle your toes at the bottom of your squat?” Each example illustrates the focus while allowing students to determine whether adjustments are necessary. You’re not pointing out the wrong behavior, but continually reiterating the outcome. You’re asking each individual to assess whether or not an adjustment might achieve the desired outcome. Choose one item to focus on, and make feedback as specific as possible.

Consider Possibilities, Not Necessities
The person with the most flexibility exerts the most influence. As a professional dedicated to leading people to a life of wellness, your ultimate job is to be influential. You influence others to make choices that lead them to success. Successful experiences lead to retention. Retention leads to a life of wellness. To be most influential in workouts, look at what can be done versus what must be done.

Textbooks teach programming based on physical needs. You assess your client’s needs and design a program. You create a class title and description, and then program around the promise of the class and the average attendee. While the physical elements are important, you must also remain open to the sociological and psychological needs of participants and program the workout to ensure that no one is left behind. If you don’t provide several pathways to achieve the end goal, you run the risk that participants will feel unsuccessful, moving them further from their goals. Loosely form your physical programs-—a framework peppered with possibilities-—and be ready to rearrange the puzzle pieces on the spot if they aren’t working.

It’s easy to get stuck in your routine; you researched, developed, practiced and delivered it. You have stock in it, and you want people to “get it” because you know it works. This is especially true in a group class. It’s tempting to turn a blind eye to those falling behind if most people are doing fine-—or, on the flip side, to get stuck too long on a segment, helping those who can’t follow. Either way, one group is not getting what they need, which might leave them frustrated. No matter how important the choreography is to you, keep in mind that it is merely a means to an end. Provide a point in each workout for every participant to feel like a rock star; it’s important to allow everyone to shine.

More Than Words
NLP introduces communication tactics that can improve your ability to influence others, transforming you from a good instructor into a great one. We have merely scratched the surface of NLP. Continue to explore the notion that words, while meaningful, are only part of the message you are delivering to the world. The more time you devote to the softer side of science, the better opportunity hard science has to help move all participants toward a life of wellness. While everyone lives in a unique reality, the one area where we overlap is in our need to feel successful. Success does not come merely by creating exercises and programs, but in the way you put the exercises together, deliver them and safely experiment without judgment.

Shannon Fable, 2006 ACE Group Fitness Instructor of the Year, owns Sunshine Fitness Resources, a consulting service for fitness professionals, and is group fitness director at Lakeshore Athletic Club outside of Boulder, Colorado.