Karen Nathan by Karen Nathan
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Your clients come to you with high hopes for getting healthier, whether if that means losing weight or quitting smoking. But what happens when your client stops making progress? What if the client doesn’t quit cigarettes or lose all the weight she wants to lose?

As a health and fitness professional, it is important to be able to talk to your clients about diminished progress. While these conversations may be awkward, being able to do so is definitely a skill that becomes sharper the more you practice it. Your clients will ultimately appreciate that you’re in tune with their needs and wishes.

One of the keys to being an effective coach is to avoid linking your value too closely with your client’s success. While you can give your clients the best guidance and tools, each client is responsible for his or her own individual behavior-change process and, ultimately, the results that are achieved. Just because a client had an awesome week doesn’t mean you are the greatest coach ever. Likewise, if a client fails to reach a stated goal, it doesn’t mean you are a failure as a coach.

Here are some great strategies to help you have more productive conversations with your clients about making progress toward their stated health goals:

1. Help clients set realistic expectations for what they can achieve. 

Your client may wish to lose 100 pounds before her daughter’s wedding in four months, but you know that is not realistic. Be straightforward and honest. This will likely build trust and serve you both well in the long-term.

2. Be curious.

Perhaps your client stopped progressing because he or she isn’t following through on the lifestyle modifications to which she committed in previous coaching sessions. Instead of being the end of the line, or worse, a place for your client to feel judged or defensive, it is actually an opportunity to help your client be curious about what is standing in his or her way. When you ask powerful questions in a supportive and non-judgmental manner, you help your clients identify and lower barriers to change.

3. Perspective matters—a lot.

Remind your clients to compare their current selves to their past selves, instead of some perfect ideal. This will help your clients appreciate how much progress they have already made, and can be very motivating.

4. Align progress with specific behaviors under your client’s control.

This is a more nuanced approach, but it will serve both you and your client well. When it comes to weight loss, for example, the number on the scale is just one measure of success. Encourage your clients to frame progress in terms of the skills and behaviors they can practice consistently (and will, of course, lead to weight loss). This is somewhat unique to each client, but includes behaviors such as increasing fiber intake or finding non food solutions to manage stress.

5. Be comfortable with the fact that you cannot help every client.

Occasionally you and your client will agree that he or she isn’t moving forward. Take a deep breath and remember to take care of yourself. Then, prove yourself to be a consummate professional and help your client find the best next step for him or her.

Don’t be shy about discussing progress with your clients. The journey toward health behavior change will be smooth and rapid for some and bumpy and circuitous for others. You can support your clients unconditionally, regardless of the pace of their progress.

Expand your knowledge of behavior change with ACE's Health Coach Certification.

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