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November 28, 2011, 11:28AM PT in Fitnovatives Blog  |  0 Comments

You Won’t Inspire Your Client Unless You Connect

personal trainer communication

Some physicians “treat” patients and others “take care of” people. Who would you prefer to call when you need a doctor?

The same distinction can be seen among fitness trainers who make “safe and effective exercise programming decisions” for their clients while others who have more of a coaching mindset go one layer deeper and unlock their client’s potential, helping them learn how to enhance wellbeing and performance.

The difference between the two groups ultimately results in how fitness professionals connect with clients on a more personal level. Since 85% of success in the workplace — and in life in general — relies on “people skills,” reading and knowing yourself and your client is essential.

When I was studying for my master’s degree at Hahnemann Medical College, a professor made what we thought was a silly comment. He taught us the “3 A’s” of successful practice were Affability, Availability and Ability in that order. Actually, it wasn’t so silly to list affability first.

Tom Landry, the great coach, once said, “Leadership is getting someone to do what they don’t want to do, to achieve what they want to achieve.”

To be able to peer into what your client truly wants to achieve, even if they don’t even know it yet, is a remarkable feat and requires trainer-to-client communication that is founded on knowing yourself first.

A fearless personal inventory of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats will provide you with a great first step in understanding what you bring to your clients and help you develop the confidence to be yourself — to be unique.

To gain an in-depth understanding of your personal strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, I suggest you undertake a technique I often use with groups and organizations who are ready to move to the next level of performance — a SWOT analysis.

What do you do well? What do others see as your strengths? Where could you improve? What are your negative work habits? What opportunities are open to you? What trends do you see and how can you take advantage of them? What threats are out there in your professional life that could harm you? What is y­our competition doing that you aren’t?

A more simple assessment, first described by Robert Rohm, Ph.D., will also help you better understand your personal approach to clients. Based on the scenario described below, who do you most reflect?

Let’s say you are on an elevator with four other people. As the doors are about to close, someone tries to squeeze onto the elevator. One person in the elevator is in a real hurry. The second person actually holds the door open and greets the person who is squeezing in. The third just smiles and patiently awaits the person to get on and the door to close. The fourth demonstrates a bit of anxiety about the amount of people on the elevator, concerned it might not be able to handle the weight.

These are four types of people on the elevator: outgoing, reserved, task-oriented and people-oriented. Which are you?

This is based on the DISC model of understanding personality types, developed by Dr. William Marston in 1928 and still widely used today.

  • D (dominant) types are outgoing and task-oriented. That’s the first person on the elevator described above. These are the “get it done now” types. They prefer to be treated with respect and demand to see results quickly. They want to know “what?”
  • I (inspiring) types are also out-going, but are more people-oriented. This is the second type of the elevator. These types enjoy interacting, socializing and what others think of them is therefore important. Recognize and admire these types and you connect. Think in terms of these types wanting to know “who?”
  • S (supportive) types are more reserved and people-oriented, the third type on the elevator. Team oriented, they enjoy helping others. Be friendly and demonstrate sincere appreciation and you have engaged this person’s deepest internal guiding principles. These types are curious about “how?”
  • C (cautious) types are the reserved, task-oriented fourth type on the elevator. They want quality information, focuses on being correct and accurate. Always acting trustworthy and demonstrating integrity catches these people’s minds and hearts. These folks want to know “why?”

Whether you choose to dig into a personal SWOT analysis, or learn more about the types of personalities you are working with using the DISC model (or another similar model), develop a deeper understanding of who you are, what you value and what motivates you.  This will help you develop communication abilities that will cement connections for health and fitness-enhancing relationships that far surpass merely teaching clients how to exercise.

By Michael Mantell
Dr. Michael Mantell

Michael Mantell earned his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania and his M.S. at Hahnemann Medical College, here he wrote his thesis on obesity. He’s served as the Chief Psychologist of Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego and the Chief Psychologist for the San Diego Police Department. He provides breakthrough strategies to help business leaders, athletes, individuals and families create healthy, fit and happy trajectories in life. He is the Senior Consultant for Behavioral Sciences for ACE, an international behavior science fitness presenter, an Advisor to numerous companies and fitness organizations, on the Sports Medicine team of The Sporting Club of San Diego and is featured in many international media outlets. He is listed in the greatest.com 2013 “The 100 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness.”