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What’s the Most Important Skill a Trainer Needs to Keep Clients?


I’m pleased to have this guest post by Kate Swann, the FIRST and ONLY psychologist that I’m aware of to provide resources for industry professionals, including a book  (copies of the book are available FREE to FITREC professionals). 

This post is the first in a series on Client Retention – A Psychological Perspective.

If client retention is the most important part of building a successful Personal Training business, then…

Hands up who knows the most important skill needed for PTs to retain their clients!

Outstanding knowledge of muscle groups/exercises?


Breathtaking ability to motivate?


PHD in aerial-suspended ViPR? [Hilarious! – D]

No, no, no!

It’s learning how to hone their active listening skills.

Believe it or not, listening, and listening well, is a skill. Sure, some people are born with it (they’re the ones you go to when you need to talk), but most people need to develop or hone their active listening skills.

Why do we call it active listening?

Because you don’t just sit there while the client is talking, thinking about what you’re going to have for lunch, or working out what you’re going to say as soon as they’re finished.

When you listen actively, you work hard to stay present. You slide your own thoughts to one side, and focus on what the client is saying.

And it’s hard work.

Here’s the difference between good listeners and bad listeners. As you read the list, think about a person you know who ticks the boxes on the bad listener list.


  • Interrupt or change the subject
  • Speak over you
  • Are chronic problem solvers or advice givers
  • Shift their body around impatiently or can’t hold eye contact
  • Finish your sentences
  • Hijack your point by saying, Yes! That happened to me! I remember when . . .

Does a bad listener you know come to mind?

Think about what it’s like when you talk to that person, and how you feel. You’re likely to feel they don’t really know what’s going on for you – they don’t understand you. You may feel shut down, or dismissed.

Not a very nice feeling, especially if that person is someone important to you.

Now let’s take a look at the characteristics of good listeners.


  • Are patient and don’t jump in when you’re thinking
  • Don’t interrupt
  • Give their full attention, including eye contact and posture
  • Let you know they’re following you by nodding in agreement or asking you to clarify something
  • Don’t judge or criticise
  • Don’t relate everything you say to their own personal experience
  • Are genuinely curious about what’s going on for you

As PTs, in order to truly connect to your client and give them a reason to attend your sessions even when life’s stresses get in the way, you need to listen hard, and let them know you’ve heard and understood (active listening).

Let’s take a look at an example to illustrate. Beth is a 42 year old accountant working full time with two primary school age children. She’s desperate to lose those kilos that snuck on after having the kids.

Beth: I’m really struggling with getting here over winter. The kids just seem to be sick all the time, and I have to take time off work and try and work from home. I’ve been thinking I should suspend my membership and get back to it next term.

Response from PT who hasn’t read this article:

PT: Yeah, that happened to my Mum too when we were kids. I don’t know how you Mums do it. I’ll suspend your membership now.

Response from PT with a black belt in listening:

PT: That sounds really tough. Poor Tim and Bella. But more importantly, how are you coping?

Beth: Yeah, it is tough. And I’m not really coping. That’s why I thought I’d try and cut something out.

PT: Mm, I get that. But I also know how important building your fitness is to you.

Beth: You’re right! And I hate always putting myself last on the list. But I don’t know what else to do.

PT: What else have you thought about?

Beth and her PT go on to discuss other options, and with the PT’s help, she realises she can enlist the help of her husband, change her session times, and alternate sessions with walks at lunch time during the day at work.

Active listening allows you to get an accurate picture of the challenges and frustrations your clients face. They feel cared for and supported because you’re actively letting them know you value them as individuals, not just a membership number. And when their motivation and commitment start to wobble, you can use the knowledge you’ve gained about them to reconnect them to your service.

Work on your listening skills and you’ll see the results for yourself!


One thought on “What’s the Most Important Skill a Trainer Needs to Keep Clients?

  1. Pingback: Empathy – If It’s Not in Your Trainer’s Tool Kit, You’re Losing Money. | The HealthyPeople Recruitment Blog

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