Karen Nathan by Karen Nathan
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You’re knowledgeable and eager to coach your clients as they work toward a healthier lifestyle. Based on your hard-earned certification and knowledge of health-coaching theory, you recognize that building rapport is a critical part of your success as a coach. So, how exactly are you supposed to do this? Here are five rapport-building strategies to add to your coaching toolbox.

1. Be fully present

It goes without saying that your clients deserve your undivided attention.

  • Before your coaching session starts, clear your mind of your personal thoughts and daily to-do list. Put the focus on your client by taking a moment to read the notes from your previous session.
  • Meet in a quiet space, where you will not be interrupted. In my case, this means closing my office door, turning off my phone and muting all technology.
  • Start the appointment on time. This shows that you are respectful of the commitment your client has made to coaching.

2. Pay attention to body language

Nonverbal cues are subtle, but also quite beneficial to setting the right tone.

  • Maintain proper eye contact, so your client can see that you’re interested in what they have to say. If you look away too often, you might be perceived as bored or distracted.
  • Keep an appropriate distance. If you sit too close, it might feel awkward. If you sit too far, it might seem as if you’re aloof. I ask my clients about their seating preference and then follow their lead.
  • Be aware of your posture and the movement of your head, arms and legs. I have learned that when I sit up straight, avoid fidgeting with my legs, and keep my arms open, I appear and feel more self-assured, attentive and friendly. This allows my clients to feel relaxed and ready to focus on their personal health behaviors.

3. Use your client’s name.

Speaking your client’s name during select moments can be quite a personal gesture. If used appropriately, you may be able to emphasize an important point. “Janice, I know that eating well on business trips is important to you. What are you ready to do differently on your next trip to New Orleans?” My advice is to use this technique sparingly, so that it maintains its effectiveness.

4. Get in the habit of saying thank you

Saying thank you is more than just being polite, it’s an opportunity to build openness. I’ve discovered that a simple expression of gratitude in conversation allows my clients to feel accepted and heard, no matter the situation. For example, I’ve had moments when clients disclose personal matters or admit ways in which they’re struggling with health-behavior change. This is a strong indication that a “thank you” is in order. For example, “Thank you for trusting me with this information.” Or, “Thank you for your honesty.” You can start this practice right away by remembering to thank your clients at the end of every coaching session. “Thank you for making the time to see me today.”

5. Delight your client in unexpected ways

Your clients are working hard on improving their lifestyles and will appreciate that you care about them. I stay connected to clients in a variety of ways. I’m not talking about social media posts, but more personal connections are helpful. I might share a recipe or news article that relates to a previous conversation. Some clients appreciate holiday greetings or birthday wishes. Others prefer text reminders or motivational messages between our coaching appointments. There is no formula, but you definitely solidify your rapport when you attend to your client’s individual needs and concerns.

Building rapport is an active process, but it’s absolutely worth it. When the coach-client bond is strong, you achieve higher levels of trust and understanding as well as a more collaborative approach to the behavior-change process. In my experience, this helps my clients in their journey and has the added bonus of making me feel like I have the best job in the world. Remember, it gets easier with practice.

Which of these strategies will you try in your next coaching session?

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