Building Rapport with Your Clients
Barbara A. Brehm
Successful fitness professionals like working with all kinds of people, and figuring out what makes them tick. They are good at developing a rapport with clients in just a few sessions of working together. Rapport refers to a relationship marked by mutual understanding and trust.
As fitness centers reach out to a more diverse range of clients, some fitness professionals find they are working a little harder to learn more about clients from different walks of life. It is easy to develop a rapport with clients similar to yourself and your family. As you expand your client base and reach out to a wider variety of people, you may find that it takes a little longer before you and your clients communicate on the same wavelength.
Learn about your clients' backgroundsWho are your clients? What are they like? If they differ from you in age, ethnicity, gender, size, socioeconomic status or educational background, do a little research. If you find significant cultural differences between you and your clients, learn about their beliefs, attitudes and lifestyles. Talk to others who work with this population. Spend time with your clients, and listen to what they have to say.
Some clients may not talk very much or ask very many questions. Some older people and some cultural groups may believe that asking questions is rude, and indicates that you have not been clear. To find out if they understand instructions, watch them perform the exercises or ask them questions. Are they more comfortable writing? Perhaps they can fill out a form. Older people often need glasses to read, however, so don't expect them to fill out forms unless they have their reading glasses handy.
Encourage clients to participate in exercise program design. You need information from them so that your recommendations fit their lifestyles. Some clients may expect you to be the expert, and will not offer much opinion. They may not realize that personal training is most successful when trainer and client work together to craft an effective exercise and behavior-change program. Simple handouts and written feedback forms may be helpful in this situation.
Show interest and respectWhile it may take time to develop a strong rapport, you can begin every relationship with interest, respect and positive regard. Remember that communication occurs not only with words, but facial expression and body language. Wear professional attire. Smile and make good eye contact. Clients can usually tell if you are faking it and don't really want to be there. Dig deep and find solid motivation for your work. When you love your work and the people you work with, it shows!
Suspend judgmentPeople's lives are complicated. While you might find many logical reasons to criticize the decisions your clients make, forgive them for being human. Clients may be struggling with low self-esteem, addiction, stress, depression, anxiety, health problems or issues with food that you don't understand. You don't have to endorse counterproductive behavior, but you can be supportive and patient as you encourage clients to stick to their behavior-change plans.
Help clients feel safeIt's easy to market your programs to people who love to work out and enjoy walking into a fitness center. It's also easy to forget that this describes a minority of the population! For many, the fitness center is a foreign and intimidating environment.
People who have health problems or other physical limitations face extra barriers when beginning an exercise program. Help them feel safe emotionally ("I belong here") and physically ("I won't get hurt"). Share your training, credentials and experience working with clients who are similar to them. And always refer clients to a more experienced personal trainer or healthcare provider if you learn your clients have health problems beyond your scope of practice.
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