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June 10, 2011 | Fitnovatives Blog

Creating Rapport: The Doorway into an Effective, Enduring, Training Relationship

Builiding RapportCarl Rogers, arguably one of America’s most influential psychologists, pointed out, "Intellectual training and the acquiring of information has, I believe, many valuable results—but becoming a therapist is not one of those results."

The ACE Integrated Fitness Training™ (ACE IFTTM) Model builds on a similar notion: "Fitness professionals who excel in exercise science and understand the intricacies of training principles will still lack effectiveness if they cannot establish positive and productive working relationships with their clients."

Rapport with clients is necessary for designing effective exercise programs of the ACE IFT model. Understanding the psychological and emotional needs and characteristics of clients forms the base upon which to build this rapport.

The mutual construction of the client and trainer partnership is grounded in an understanding of shared goals, an agreement of the tasks each will perform and a bond built on non-possessive warmth, friendliness, genuineness, respect, affirmation and empathy.

Let’s look at how to create that all-important first "moment of truth impression," the doorway into creating rapport. When it comes to building the foundation of a relationship, nothing is left to chance. Nothing. It begins with your own self-talk, your own clear, accurate perceptions of yourself in your role.

Consider this: with every conversation you have with a new client, there are six people you must be aware of. The first two include what each of you said to each other. The second two come from what each of you meant to say. Then there are two additional people that come from what you each understood the other to say. Lots of first impressions to make, aren’t there?

Considering the need to build rapport with these "six people," and the necessity to take into account their varying personality styles, designing a positive first impression requires great skill.

So, what specific steps can you take to insure that you will be perceived by your client as trustworthy, dependable and consistent in a very genuine way?

Can you allow yourself to experience positive attitudes towards your client, demonstrating warmth, caring, and respect without erroneously believing that doing so will detract from your professionalism?

Can you step into your client’s world so deeply that you have no judgment and instead are filled with acceptance?

Assuming that you are dressed professionally for your training role, appear fit, neat and clean, are friendly and welcoming, it is the manner in which you communicate that establishes the first impression probably more than any other one element in the design. Your clients will long remember the way you communicate after they forget what you said.

Most important is your ability to listen actively. This means listening to another person, communicating to that person that we are interested in what they have to say, communicating to that person that we understand what they have to say with no judgment. You allow your client to relax, face the client with an open posture (not "hiding" behind a machine), "stand in their shoes," avoid disagreeing or arguing, and ask questions to clarify.

Always ask, "Am I understanding you?" or "Did I get what you are saying?" Then ask, "Is there more?" Then validate what your client says by expressing how it makes sense to you. "What you are saying makes sense since…" Finally, empathize with your client’s message by stating, "I imagine what you must be feeling is…"

We get into the rhythm of our client by "mirroring" them on as many levels as possible. It is useful to mirror their tone, body language, and emotions carefully so as not to appear mocking. You can do this by matching, not imitating, their posture and energy. Finding commonality builds camaraderie and trust.

Passive listening will not help create rapport. Listening to your client while NOT communicating that you are interested and understand is the hallmark of passive listening.

Competitive listening will not help create rapport as it involves not listening but rather thinking about what you are going to say next, because you are more interested in expressing your point of view than understanding the other person.

Building a well-crafted rapport will allow you to move on to investigate, plan and act on your client's behalf.


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 2013 “The 100 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness.”