Effective communication goes beyond talking and listening. It takes into account the situation and the specific person you are in conversation with. Personalized communication can build business and customer loyalty or break it down. Poor service or lack of results isn’t always what sends clients screaming for the exit. It’s often the quality (or lack of quality) communication that robs a business of a healthy bottom line.
Let’s take a look at why communication is important for personal trainers and how to improve upon the skills you already have.
Essential Communication Skills for Personal Trainers
Helping clients succeed in their health and fitness goals requires strong communication skills because they are the building blocks for:
- Building rapport and relationship trust
- Client motivation and longevity
- Client education and skill development
- Professional networking relationships
- Public and private presentations
- Marketing and recruiting efforts
- Leadership roles
And that’s just the short list.
In defining effective communication, we cannot overlook the fact that communication includes more than sending a message; it’s also about receiving a message and how we listen and respond. Communication encompasses elements of the following:
- Active and reflective listening
- Verbal and nonverbal communication (body language)
- Interpersonal communication
- Written communication
What Is Effective Communication?
Clients are our business. If we don’t understand our clients, we don’t understand the business – and that’s a problem. When I say understand our clients, I mean working beyond identifying goals for health and fitness. To effectively communicate, we have to know what makes each person “tick”.
The first step is understanding how communication takes place. I recommend keeping Lasswell’s (1953) words in mind: Communication is about “who says what in which channel to whom with what effect?”
Let’s break it down:
- Who = who is communicating the message
- Says What = the message itself
- In Which Channel = the medium (or how the message is delivered – i.e., text, YouTube, Voxer, email, etc.)
- To Whom = the one who receives the message
- With What Effect = the outcome or effect/impact of the message
The second step is to observe each client’s personality type, which will allow you to gain an understanding of how each client communicates and how you can communicate with him or her based on their individual preferences. I like to use the DISC Model (Marston, 1928) because I have achieved success in with its application. DISC stands for Dominant, Inspiring, Supportive, Cautious. Each personality type communicates in different ways and prefers to be communicated with in different ways.
The Dominant personality (D) is direct, results-oriented, and works fast. These people prefer to know the “what”. In other words, get to the point, focus on the outcome, and provide choices or options.
The Inspirational personality (I) is people-oriented, so they like to know the “who”. These types can lose focus but are great decision-makers. With this type of individual, your best bet is to show enthusiasm and provide feedback as well as make personal connections by sharing stories and asking about the client’s family and happenings in his or her life.
The Supportive personality (S) enjoys helping and has a focus on quality relationships. An S personality prefers to know the “how” of a situation. These individuals are not interested in facts, data, etc. unlike the D personality. Working with these clients requires a gentle approach to communication. In other words, don’t push these types toward decisions in an aggressive way.
The Cautious (C) personality is laid back and task-oriented, but are not emotion-driven. While a C person enjoys facts and data, they want to know the “why” of a situation. These clients respond well to logical communication supported by third-party sources to validate the information their trainer gives them.
Of course, all this means you must also know your personality and what affinities you have for one method over another and adjust according to what your clients need – not what makes you comfortable. This is about growth, after all.
Although there are individual differences we must honor and respect, there are some basic rules we can use to make communication of a message quality.
Crookes (1991) described the following attributes that every message or communication effort we make include the following:
- Clarity. Is the message simple and understandable?
- Concise. Is the point communicated swiftly without “off target” fluff?
- Correct. Is the information correct?
- Complete. Does the message give the client what he or she needs to understand next steps for action?
- Courteous. Is the tone friendly and open? Could it be interpreted as an insult or threat?
- Constructive. Is the feedback positive and focused on what’s right?
I like to add one more step: Closure. Did you close the loop? Follow-up? Answer any remaining questions or address concerns?
What Channels Can a Trainer Use to Communicate
I advocate for using all that is at your disposal – phone, email, Voxer, video-chat, texting to send motivational messages, etc. Communication is really about building relationships and overcoming barriers. Don’t let a lack of communication diminish the return on your services or business. There are many barriers to building a business – available space, initial funding sources, logo creation, and others. Communication – an act that is an inherent desire for humans – shouldn’t be one of them. Build your skills, build your business.
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Crookes (1991). Complan column. Athletics Coach, 25, 3, 13.
Marston, W.M. (1928). Emotions of Normal People. London: K. Paul, Trench, Trubner, & Co.
Lasswell, H.D. (1953). The structure and function of communication in society. In: Bryson, L. (Ed.). The Communication of Ideas. New York: Harper & Co.