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How do you handle conflict with a client or between one of your trainers and a client?

AFrom our company’s beginning in 1990, we have followed certain procedures with scheduling, cancellations, payments and session content to ensure smooth sailing with our in-home sessions. We also have in-depth monthly meetings and workshops (our “Training the Trainers” series) in which we go over procedures, policies and challenges that have arisen. We come to a consensus on how to deal with certain issues; leadership in our company does not come from the top, but rather from each other.

Conflict most likely stems from miscommunication. When it happens, we step back to figure out the issue at hand and what both parties’ expectations were. I do not believe that the client is always right. To the contrary, I believe in our trainers. If there is a plan of action and procedure already established, then I believe the conflicts that arise can be handled with the tools the trainer has already received from the company.

I urge trainers to inform me as soon as conflicts happen or when they sense their warning signs. I ask trainers to gather documentation to support their side in a conflict. Our trainers are diligent in documenting each session, cancellation (if there is a late charge or not) and goal achieved (or not), so they have substantial evidence to back up their beliefs. With the information in hand, I then review the circumstance with the client.

My advice on dealing with conflict: Take notes, be prepared and organized, and make decisions to the best of your ability. Each conflict and person is individual. Sometimes rules are meant to be broken when extraordinary events happen. I am fair to our trainers, and most often take cues from them on how the situation should be handled. Empowering people to make the right decisions
is what keeps us working well together.

Lisa Hoffman, MA

President, Solo Fitness Inc.

New York City

One conflict I experienced stemmed from a client who was training with me just once a week, but still expected me to perform miracles. I found out that she was telling other people behind my back that she had been training with me for a year but was not seeing any improvements. I was very upset when I heard the rumors.

Because I believe in direct confrontation, at her next training session I simply asked her about what she had been saying. She said that she was unhappy that she had not lost enough weight and seemed to stop improving. She admitted that she had “toned” a lot but needed to lose pounds. I had already given her an exercise program and meal guide to use when she wasn’t training with me, but she chose not to adhere to them and therefore was not seeing the benefits. I made it clear that she had to take action outside of her training sessions. I explained to her that talking negatively about my training practice was not good for my business and that I found it unfair that she would say such things about me as her trainer.

In a nutshell, I believe that if conflict arises between a client and me or between a client and one of my trainers, I would like it brought to my attention so it can be dealt with immediately. I will always listen to both sides of the story and,
at the end, give my opinion.

Janet van Rensburg

Owner, Janet’s Personal Training,

Fourways Health and Racquet Club

Johannesburg, South Africa

Most of our conflicts have concerned scheduling. At Personally Fit Individualized Training we travel to most of our clients and do our best to maintain a set schedule with them. We have always individualized our programs to fit our clients’ specific needs, which may mean meeting them three times per week or once per week. However, clients who have been training two to three times a week on a long-term basis receive priority scheduling.

Before we first train clients, we interview them, determine their expectations and goals and honestly answer their questions. We explain up front our written policies regarding scheduling and payment. Should a conflict arise, we listen to our clients and respectfully refer them back to our written policies. We always try to work with our clients to accommodate their changing needs. As we build relationships with them, we discuss alternatives to meeting their health and fitness goals and reevaluate their goals as needed. Encouraging our clients with a phone call or giving them an article applicable to their goals helps build the relationship between trainer and client.

If trainers do something that the client is not comfortable with, we immediately address it and attempt to fix it. If the problem is a client’s doing, we honestly talk about it and see if we can come to terms. Most often a conflict is just a misunderstanding and we quickly resolve the situation. However, we sometimes have to refer the client
to another trainer who can more appropriately meet his needs. In this way, we can amicably part ways.

In our 17 years in business we’ve had very little client/trainer conflict. This is a result of great rapport and professionalism between our staff and clients. We are honest about how we can help our clients. Most new clients come to us through word of mouth because our current clients have received better care and results with us than they had previously experienced.

Christopher D. Mondragon

President, Personally Fit Inc.

Cary, North Carolina

Conflict resolution requires humility, positive confrontation skills and patience. Most people I know shy away from conflict instead of dealing with it in a timely and professional manner. That’s a mistake because it allows the conflict to escalate. I have found that most conflicts arise from miscommunications or a lack of desire to follow rules that have been spelled out in advance. In other words, some people think rules should apply to everyone but them.

As soon as a conflict arises, I set aside a few private moments with the individual and have her communicate with me (or I with her) what the perceived problem is. I apologize if the fault is mine and we work on a resolution. If the client is not following printed training or scheduling policies, I usually find a positive way in the immediate
or near future to either hand the client off to another trainer or eliminate her from our client list. I have learned that a client or trainer who is an ongoing problem is not worth the stress and tends to drag down the others. I document what action was taken in conflicts and go from there.

My best advice to ward off potential problems is to clearly spell out your expectations before hiring a trainer or beginning a new client relationship. I have would-be clients and trainers sign documents regarding scheduling, cancellations, illness, etc., and give them a copy to keep for reference. If they have a problem with what is expected, they generally will not start a relationship with my company. Be positive, supportive and avoid burning bridges.

Kay Cross, MEd, CSCS

Owner and Personal Trainer,

Body by Kay Personal Training

North Richland Hills, Texas

If a client and I have a conflict, I’ll talk with him to understand the conflict, listen to how he is feeling, and ask him what we can do together to solve the issue and prevent future conflict.

If the conflict is between one of our trainers and a client, I’ll talk with the client to again identify the conflict, listen to his feelings, and ask what I
can do to help solve the problem and prevent future conflict.

If the issue is about his trainer or exercise program, sometimes we can work together to make a change so we don’t lose the client. Sometimes this entails switching trainers or working with the current trainer to make her aware of the client’s feelings, the conflict and what she can do to resolve it. If the client chooses to work with a different trainer, I’ll discuss this with the original trainer so she learns from it and maybe becomes better at identifying and dealing with conflict in the future.

Sandy Bacino

Team Manager, First Fitness

Personal Training

Chicago l

AAIDEA PERSONAL Trainer april 2002 tricks of the tradeA IDEA PERSONAL Trainer april 2002AIf you have a question, send it to
IDEA Personal Trainer via regular mail
(see “Access IDEA” page); e-mail at
[email protected]; or by fax at
(858) 535-8234. Include name, company, city, state/province and phone number.IDEA PERSONAL Trainer
april 2002


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