What do you do when a client wants to stop training with you?

This is a scenario that has faced most fitpro’s at one time or another. Just before the session is due to start the client texts to say they can’t make it. As a one off this is nothing to be too concerned about. When it happens a second time or perhaps the client is continually moving training sessions then alarm bells should be ringing. This behaviour is a fair indicator that the client is losing interest and there is a good chance they will stop training altogether in the very near future. From a psychological perspective they are starting to move back towards contemplation and the nearer they get the more likely they will stop training. Several other psychological indicators will also be showing this backward movement. The client’s level of efficacy around training will be diminishing and their decisional balance will be moving to a more balanced state. In other words, their PROS and CONS around exercise/training will be starting to balance up.

The first thing to note here is that if you are regularly psychometrically testing your clients you will pick this trend up early. Early intervention is far more effective because you are now working with a client who has only dropped off a bit in terms of their readiness to change. A conversation at this point should be able to uncover what is going wrong and also find out how you can rectify matters.

The problem arises when you have not been monitoring psychological readiness and then this happens out of the blue. If this is the case, then all is not lost. The first thing you need to do is get the client to agree to a meeting. Be as flexible as possible as regards when this will take place as the client will be looking for any reason not to let this happen. This meeting will be a consultation and will require you to use a range of motivational interviewing (MI) tools. Active listening is going to be critical and using your OARS (MI acronym):

  • Open ended questions
  • Affirmations
  • Reflections
  • Summaries

You are likely to meet some resistance to returning to training in this scenario. If you started out with the client using good MI techniques, you will have a good handle on why they started training with you and what they wanted to get from it. These areas will form a substantial part of your open-ended questions as you need to discover what has changed. It may also be that you have inadvertently said or done something that may have shifted the client’s perspective. It is important that you discover whether this is the case and in doing so do not get defensive about whatever you did. In most cases it is best to acknowledge this (apologise if appropriate) and move on. Going back over this will not achieve anything positive in most cases.

To some degree this counselling session will be much like starting out with a new a client. No matter how well you know this client it is going to be important that you re-engage with them immediately. Engagement is the first part of the MI process and failure to do this each time you meet a client can ultimately lead to a break down in the relationship. With this session there is a good chance that your engagement hasn’t been too good over some of the previous sessions and this has contributed to this current situation. You have to know how to handle resistance and most importantly be aware that you can’t put any more roadblocks up. A lot of the terminology in the last few paragraphs is common when learning MI. But the one really important aspect that holds true is that a breakdown in communication has occurred somewhere and as the trainer you have failed to pick up on it.

Good MI technique improves your communication skills and psychometric testing helps you to pick up on indicators that something is not quite right. If you are using both techniques to their fullest potential you will nearly always catch this client before they fall.