By Judith Humphrey

During the 30 years that I was building my company, I became increasingly tired and stressed. There were plenty of gyms near me, but I regarded them as sweat factories where people rode bikes that went nowhere. It was only after I sold my company that I made a dramatic discovery: signing up with a personal trainer can turn your life around.

Working with a trainer, I enjoyed the physical experience of discovering the power of my body and the beauty of a more aligned and confident physical presence. But it took me three tries to find a personal trainer who was a “good fit” for me. The first one was OK, but we didn’t connect on a personal level. The second one didn’t read me very well and pushed me too hard.

The third one, as the expression goes, “was a charm.” The reason I love working with him is that he not only has technical skills, but he has superb emotional intelligence. Every word he delivers inspires me, motivates me, and makes me feel hungry for more coaching. Each session is fun, we laugh, we talk, and we connect on an interpersonal level. I would never leave him.

If you want to keep your clients for the long term—you’ll need this emotional intelligence (EQ). These are the interpersonal skills that allow you to form better and more lasting relationships with your clients.

In the world of fitness, emotional intelligence is imperative. It enables you to elevate the client experience and retain clients in an increasingly competitive industry.

This is the first in a series of four monthly articles that will explore how you can develop your EQ and use it to foster deeper, lasting client relationships.

This first article is on how to “connect” with clients. The next three will deal with body language, the art of listening, and vision.

The Importance of Connecting

In his book, Social Intelligence: The Revolutionary New Science of Human Relationships, Daniel Goleman writes: “We are wired to connect. Neuroscience has discovered that our brain’s very design makes it sociable.”

The clients you deal with want that connection with you – in fact, clients rarely leave trainers for technical reasons. Whoever left a trainer because he couldn’t bench press 250 pounds? It’s more likely that relationships end when there is an interpersonal disconnect.

As you build healthy bodies, make sure to create these crucial ties with your clients. Even if you feel you are a social introvert, you have an obligation to give your clients an experience that is personally enriching. Hence the term, “personal trainer.”

Three Ways to Connect

There are many ways to reach out and connect with your clients, but let’s look at three that will create “stickiness” in your client relationships, and encourage clients to enjoy working with you and stay with you.

#1 Show Interest 

The first way to connect is to show interest in your client’s life. You’re dealing with a whole person, not just a body or a set of muscles.

During the initial assessment start probing. You might ask what that individual’s current exercise routine is. Or where he lives or what brought her into the gym.

Over time, you may ask what your clients do professionally, whether they have children, what sports, if any, they play, and what their hobbies are. And if someone tells you they’re going to be giving an important presentation, next time they come, say “How was your presentation?”

The important thing is to remember things they’ve told you and ask about them. Never start a session with the generic, “How’s it going?” That’s a non-starter. Ask more specifically about something that’s happened to them that week.

#2 Show Sensitivity

The second rule of connecting is to be sensitive to your client’s feelings. A sensitive trainer recognizes what a client is going through – and responds accordingly.

Your client may come in and say, “Hey, I know you assigned me cardio workouts at home, but work’s been crazy and I haven’t found the time.” Instead of saying, “You need to find the time,” or ignoring their words all together, say, “Hey, I completely understand. Sometimes life gets in the way.” 

If your client pulls you aside and says, “You know, I’m just not having fun with these sessions anymore,” take note of that, stop what you are doing and say “Let’s talk about why that may be happening.”

Showing sensitivity also means giving kudos to your clients because they show up and work hard for you. So, instead of saying “see you next week” at the end of a session or giving a pro-forma high five, be specific. Say, “Wow, you worked really hard today,” or “You hit a personal best on your pull-ups, impressive stuff!”

#3 Show Respect

The third rule of connecting is to show respect for your clients.

If a client asks you to explain something, do so with as much clarity as you can and if you don’t have the answer say, “I’ll get that for you.” Once you’ve explained something, ask the client, “Is that clear?” or “Does that answer your question?”

Show respect by being sensitive to your client’s personal boundaries. If you are with a client and take a video of her doing an exercise, don’t show it around to other trainers. In fact, one disgruntled client said she left her trainer because he did just that.

Show respect, as well, by not mimicking the poor posture or bad form of a client. You may be trying to show your client what not to do. But it’s far better to focus on what the client should be doing.

Finally, show respect by not talking to other trainers, gazing at other clients, or checking your phone when you are with your client. Sure, it’s tempting to do so, but showing respect means you are 100% focused on your client.

These three ways of connecting will ensure that you are giving your clients all the personal attention and respect they deserve.

About Judith Humphrey

Judith Humphrey is Co-Founder and CEO of EQUOS Corp, a firm that teaches EQ skills to fitness professionals, manual therapists, and health care practitioners. Before entering the world of fitness, Judith was Founder and CEO of The Humphrey Group, a company that works with corporate leaders around the world who wish to speak with clarity and confidence. Judith is a Fast Company columnist, and the author of three books on communication: Speaking as a Leader: How to Lead Every Time You Speak (2010), Taking the Stage: How Women Can Speak Up, Stand Out, and Succeed (2014), and Impromptu: Leading in the Moment (2018).

EQUOS will be offering a one-day workshop, “The Emotionally Intelligent Fitness Professional,” in Toronto on November 9th and December 7th. For further information, visit their website.

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