I’ve been a long term fan of Mr Fabio Comana (ex-program director for the American Council on Exercise) and I’ve been following and learning from him for quite some time. When I saw this article that he wrote, I thought it’ll be great to reshare with the other personal trainers. Here he teaches us how to build rapport with our clients. The benefits of a strong inter-personal relationship between you and your clients are many! One most important benefit is that with good rapport, we’re able to coach them better to facilitate their program as they’re more open to learning from you.

Here goes!

Part 1

A common error made by health-fitness professionals when meeting new or prospective clients is failing to recognize the level of rapport desired by that individual (i.e., showing them you really care). We are often too quick to jump to investigation (gathering health-exercise-goal information) without building a specific level of rapport. Understandably rapport is not often a strength and we like to play to our strengths by investigating. But, remember, many people want to know you care rather than how much you know initially – their expectations are already that you are knowledgeable

Work on your moment of truth – that initial time frame in which one makes decisive decisions about you – make them positive and memorable (e.g., 7-11 rule whereby in 11 seconds, a person may make 7 decisions about you). To help, here are some quick tips…

Open your attitude and body. This implies putting aside judgment; not being confrontational or adversarial. Be accepting of their belief systems or attitudes, regardless of your own opinion or fact.

Now is not the time to educate or preach – assume a supportive role not a directive role – you will have your time for this. Position your belly-button and heart towards the person of interest. Ever watched business negotiations? The artful negotiator visibly unbuttons their jacket prior to sitting, displaying a non-verbal sign of openness and willingness to work together.

Part 2

Open your ears. Humans speak 125 – 250 words per min vs. listening at a rate of 500 words per min. You cannot learn about someone if you talk, so follow the 70:30 rule (let them talk 70 % of the time). Ask open-ended questions that encourage dialogue, but be respectful of individual differences.

Effective listening implies capturing both content and the emotion driving the content and occurs at different levels – active listeners capture everything as they are free of distractions (people, noise, etc.) and avoid trying to multi-task as we often witness with passive, selective or indifferent listeners. Trust me, without active listening, you may ‘hear”, but perhaps not ‘listen, resulting in you potentially missing the true essence of their dialogue. Some of us may have this fault and know it all too well…lol.

This applies to note taking as well – ask permission to take notes (if you deem it necessary) and use this opportunity strategically. Utilize conversation breakpoints where you can jot down key notes then paraphrase some of their dialogue in your own words for clarification – this helps connect you together.

Also take notes on any ‘nuggets” (areas where they appear to be very passionate) – this may be a trump card you may have to play at some point. For example, if you are talking and you notice the person’s body language deviate negatively from baseline, it is time to play your trump card to save yourself.

Mary is proud of her daughter’s soccer accomplishments and you notice this, but during your conversation you mention something and observe Mary changing her body language towards you, showing signs of closing off or becoming defensive from baseline (i.e., her starting position), circle back to your nugget (e.g., “Mary, before I forget, I want to ask you something else about your daughter’s soccer accomplishments…”)

Part 3

Eyes: Focus upon the social gaze area (approximately 90% of the time), the triangle between the eyes and mouth with an easy look (avoid power gazes – triangle between the eyes and mid-forehead, or intimate gazes – eyes to chest). Avoid eye tracking around the room (guys, we know we can be easily distracted) – proves distracting to the speaker. If you need to ‘look’ (you get my drift), do so during dialogue transitions (i.e., when initiating a response / asking a question, and include a postural change / shift to make it less obvious..lol). Gents.., females have better peripheral vision than we do, thus can do this more subtly. However, be sensitive to individual differences (ethnic, cultural, etc.) where they may tend to avert their eyes – don’t go chasing after their eyes.

‘Beam’: Amazing what a genuine smile can do, unless teeth are missing or you still have lunch sitting in between your teeth. It presents a simple ice-breaker and welcoming sign, but a fake sign is pretty apparent, especially to women who are more perceptive than men (they spot incongruences in non-verbal communication 87 % of the time vs. 42 % of the time in men) – especially in moms who have had babies – why? They develop great skills in understanding non-verbal communication and voice tonality with a newborn. During a genuine smile, your eyes tend to wrinkle a bit due to our zygomatic muscles, while our lips turn upwards versus a fake smile… where there is generally with no eye wrinkle (I know, it may wreak havoc with your crow’s feet).

Part 4

We are told “laughter is the best medicine” – it increases EEG activity in left brain that releases endorphins (opiates) that have an analgesic and immune-boosting effect, while also improving oxygen uptake and vasodilating peripheral vessels (red face).

Truth be told, we need to laugh more – as adults, only laugh ~15x / day in comparison to kids who laugh ~400 x/day. So, share a few laughs, especially at your own expense – let people know you’re fallible and human after all. It is deeply rooted with bonding and building relationships. Although females generally smile and laugh more than males (87 % vs. 67 %), is it hardwired into our DNA or attributed to other reasons (e.g., societal roles)?

Baby girls smile more than baby boys –that helps explain genetics, but in dating, females see the ability to make them laugh as a dominant trait in men. Although smiling makes more approachable, excessive smiling may be perceived as a sign of being more subordinate as they smile more in presence of a dominant person in both friendly and unfriendly environments. This may have some negative professional implications (i.e., being passed over for a leadership position). On the flip side, men should consider the benefits of smiling more social settings.

Slightly related, but interesting to note is that in unfriendly or stressful environments we think of our “flight or fight” response, but some theories points to women responding with a “tend-and-befriend” response as their coping mechanism (from our Paleolithic ancestors – to gather children and seek support while the men fight). May offer some explanation to smiling differently. Nonetheless, smile and warm up someone’s day…

Part 5

Continuing with rapport: Ever considered the intention behind your handshake? Are you quick to assume that someone wants to shake your hand upon first meeting? If I extend my hand to shake yours as a friendly gesture, have I obligated your to reciprocate?

The handshake is supposed to help establish a physical anchor to the forthcoming dialogue, but it may communicate the wrong tone. Play it safe – extend your hand slightly, palm-open (facing upward – an inviting position) and if the person begins to reciprocate, continue forward into a firm shake. But, if they don’t, you can still recover by cupping both hands together rather than feel left out there hanging.

Compliment your shake with some positive, personalized dialogue (e.g., using their name – “a pleasure to meet you Angelica [as you smile and lean forward], what a great and unique name, and I am looking forward to learning more about you”). Be careful of your hand position – my hand over yours (i.e., palm facing downward) implies dominance (even negating or nullifying); palm-up implies a submissive stance, but your safest bet is with the top of both thumbs facing upward (i.e., palms perpendicular to the floor) = neutral; double-grasping (i.e., cupping a hand with both of your hands) is reassuring to some (e.g., an older client fearful of falling), but disarming to others (e.g., disarming someone intentionally trying to be dominant).

This also applies to placing your other hand along their forearm or upper arm. However, you also need to be sensitive to cultural differences. Europeans generally shake 1 – 3 times; Americans up to 5 or 6 times; any less may be perceived as distant or uninterested. Therefore, do your homework and shake hands with intention, but know your intention. Now, ever considered how others interpret hand gestures and pointing …?

Part 6

While exceptions always apply, an open palm or palm-up position is generally considered inviting, but also regarded as a submissive gesture. Good speakers aiming to engage their audience often use this position to connect with their listeners.

On the flip side, watch a couple walking and holding hands, and you may observe the male (usually the more dominant partner) walking slightly in front with his palm facing backward while her palm faces forward. The closed palm is often interpreted as aggressive, deceitful or lying; whereas the palm-down position coveys a position of authority, both of which are not appropriate when building rapport.

Likewise, finger-pointing is considered a negative authoritative position that often leads to people listening less as they feel more intimidated or threatened by the speaker. A good option to consider is the index finger squeeze-to-thumb, with the thumb pointed forward, a strategy used by ex-president Bill Clinton to convey important information, but in a non-threatening manner.

Other hand gestures including fingers placed in a steeple position in front of the face; hands or fingers covering / touching the mouth; nose or ear touching; head or chin support, chin stroking; hand rubbing; fists in front of face, in the crotch region or on a desk; and hands placed behind your back all have hidden messages, thus we should all pay attention to any potential mixed messages we may be communicating.

Finally, always be aware of cultural differences as many gestures have very different meaning amongst different cultures. For example, the 2-finger V-sign, the traditional ‘OK’ symbol or even the thumbs-up sign are all considered positive gestures in the U.S., but have less than positive connotations in some cultures.

Contributed by : Mr Fabio Comana

Help spread the word