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The Perils of Over-Sharing for Fitness Professionals


This is the third in the series on Client Retention – A Psychological Perspective provided by psychologist, Kate Swann. Kate is a co-author of The Ultimate Guide to Training Overweight and Obese Clients (available free for FITREC professionals).

In this series, Kate provides unique insight on what makes your clients tick and how to keep them coming back week after week, year after year. Take it way Kate…

In this article, I’m going to cover the perils of self-disclosure.

It can be tempting to talk to your clients about your personal life.

When you’re in an atmosphere where your clients are chatting about their week and their daily trials and tribulations, it feels natural to join in with stories about your stresses and challenges. And while it’s fine to be human and friendly, self-disclosure becomes a problem when Personal Trainers make the mistake of over-sharing.

When you over-share, clients can feel like they’re not being heard. And worse, they may feel the need to look after you.

Suddenly, and with no warning, your relationship with your client has shifted from professional, where you’re in charge, to personal, where they’re in charge of caring for you.

Let’s take a look at an example. We’ll eavesdrop on a conversation with a PT and her client Anna who is in her late 30’s. They’ve been working together twice a week for a month.

PT: So how was your week?

Anna: Tough actually. My Mum found a lump in her breast and she’s been going in for tests. We’re really worried.

PT: Oh, that’s terrible. That happened to my grandmother and it was just awful watching her going through the chemo.

Anna: Oh, how awful!

PT: Yes, it was. Mum and I were beside ourselves.

Anna: How’s she doing now?

PT: Well she’s in remission, but we still worry about her. And of course Mum had to get checked too, so I was worried about her as well.

Anna: But your Mum’s okay?

PT: She’s fine. But, you know how when something like this happens how you keep on worrying?

Anna: Mmm, I do.

PT: So I said to Mum, you’ve just got to keep checking every month and have regular check-ups.

Anna: And do you check yourself too?

PT: No, I feel really weird doing it, so I don’t.

Anna: But that’s no good! You’ve got to make sure you’re okay!

This example demonstrates how when the PT over-shares about her personal life and her feelings, the client shifts her concerns from herself and what’s going on for her, to the PT.

Very quickly, instead of focussing on her training, or filling the space with some comments about her concern for her own Mum, the client starts caring for the PT.

The client has put her experience to one side and moved into the role of the listener.

When you over-share, you cross the boundary of the professional relationship between PT and client. Instead of feeling like she’s in the hands of a caring, competent professional, the client starts to feel like she’s doing all the work. She’s paying you to focus on her, but instead, you’ve slid into focussing on yourself, and your own emotions and experiences.

While the shift might be subtle, the effect is more obvious. That all-important engagement – the secret ingredient that keeps your client coming back session after session – has been damaged. Little by little, the client will start to question how important her training is to her, and whether it’s worth the time, effort, and financial commitment.

Once that line of questioning starts, it’s only a matter of time before a break in training for a holiday or due to a bout of the flu, becomes a final dropout.

So resist the urge to talk about your own experiences when your client shares something emotional with you.

Slide your own stuff to one side, and focus on the client and the job at hand.


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