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How to deal with difficult clients

Helping clients achieve their objectives, and improve their health is rewarding for any personal trainer (PT). For many, it is what motivates them to continue in their career of choice.

With clients year-round, it is normal for PTs to work with a wide array of personalities. Demanding clients exist in every profession. Dealing with them though does not need to be the intimidating task everyone thinks it is. To help, OneWorkout has compiled the following list of tips to handle difficult PT clients.

1. First impressions matter:

When establishing a relationship with a client, be professional, but approachable. A PT-client relationship can be compared to that of an athlete and their coach. It should focus on the goals a client wants to accomplish.

Working out traditionally has a laid-back atmosphere. While training and sweating it is unlikely that a client will wear a suit and speak formally. That being said, do not get too comfortable, as this might make your client uneasy.

It is important to pay attention to the vibe your client sets. Listen to the vocabulary they use. Matching their tone can put them at ease and make a stressful situation less tense if one arises.

2. Outline expectations from the start:

The beginning of a PT-client relationship is the perfect time to set boundaries and manage client expectations. At the end of the day, you are there to do a job, and they have goals they would like to complete. If this wasn’t the case they would not have hired you.

When a client has unrealistic expectations or targets, raining them in is a part of your job as their PT. Contrary to what many think, this does not need to be a stressful process. You can do so in a way that outlines solutions instead of problems.

Make sure their objectives are specific and measurable, with markers along the way. Celebrating the small wins will keep clients motivated and focused on the positive.

PT and client completing a variation of a push-up and celebrating at the same time.

It is always possible for a client to become difficult after you have started working with them. Do not be afraid to hit the reset button and recycle this step as needed. It is important to make sure boundaries are constantly established. Expectations need to be set, no matter how long a client has been with you.

3. Understand the true issue at hand:

Many believe problems are bound to arise while working with clients. Instead of avoiding them, confront them with understanding and compassion. As Bill Gates once said, “your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning”.

There may be a plethora of reasons a client is being difficult. They could have had a stressful day at work and are blowing off steam at the gym. Perhaps it is more than a day and they have been going through a tough period for some time. It is not necessary to know all the nitty-gritty details for you to show compassion. It is important though to check in with them in a non-confrontational way.

During this time seek to understand the situation from the client’s perspective. With as much or as little detail as they are willing to provide. Make sure to acknowledge and validate any concerns they are having. At the end of the day, they want to feel heard and listened to. Do not be afraid to talk about how you, their PT, feel as well. Especially if you're no longer in sync with each other and want to get back on the same page.

Remember the boundaries you set when you first entered into a working relationship. They will make it easier for you to navigate difficult issues when they arise and address them in a timely manner. The longer you let an issue sit and fester, the less likely you are to solve it.

4. Recognize any potential personality conflicts:

You can’t please everyone. This is a common but important sentiment to consider when working with clients. You can do everything right. Make a good first impression. Set boundaries. You can even empathize with problems they may be having. None of this matters though if there is a personality conflict at play.

A client with an incompatible personality may drive you crazy just for being who they are. You could also do the same to them without even knowing it. Nobody is to blame for this. It simply is what it is. However, it is not worth losing your drive and passion when another PT could be a better fit for this client.

Try recommending them to a PT you believe would help them achieve their goals. One who fits well with their personality. At the end of the day, your main concern should be their success and if someone else can help them, be open to that.

PT helps client work out. It is clear there are no personality conflicts between them.

5. If all else fails part ways:

This point may seem obvious, but many business owners are afraid to put it into practice. When you have tried all the above strategies and everything else has failed it is time to cut your losses.

As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “remember no one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. Take these words to heart when evaluating your relationship with a difficult client.

Do not be afraid to cut ties just because it means losing the associated paycheck. There are enough stressors in life and other clients that deserve your attention. Saying no can be hard at first, but in the end, you will be better off because of it. Both personally and professionally.


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