Wednesday, June 6, 2012

When Clients Make You Feel Uncomfortable

There are times in a personal trainer's career that certain clients can make them feel uncomfortable. Back in my management days, I was offering an online reader some advice regarding a flirty client. I think this is a very sensitive issue, especially for the trainer who works in clients' homes and makes his bread & butter from customer satisfaction. However, when the trainer feels uncomfortable, he or she cannot perform to the best of their ability. In all my years training in commercial, private, and corporate fitness gyms, I have never "facilitated" a flirtatious client with any reciprocal action or verbal advances. Believe it or not, I tend to look at trainers that sleep or fool around with their clients as a means of devaluing what they offer. I have known many trainers that have slept with their very attractive, age-appropriate clients--from witnessing the flirting and affection, to listening to stories in the break-room--and I have always frowned upon it. 

Here is the original message from my reader and my response follows:

Okay, this is hard for me to talk about. I have a certain client that is gay, which I don't mind at all. I have trained many gay people in the past and in fact-- my all time favorite client happened to be gay. A great guy, never made me feel uncomfortable.

So on to the problem... This new client is a very forward gay man. I actually have no problem with a man telling me I'm good looking or whatever, as I am very secure with my sexuality, but this guy is taking it too far. I'm a nice guy but he is taking it to the point that even I am strained. I've told him I have a girlfriend, I've told him I'm not gay. Nothing seems to work. He thinks I'm magically going to start liking penis. I figure if it hasn't happened in 29 years it ain't happening.

Anyway, the guy is always in boxers when I go to his house. He makes it a point to have a button undone on them which is absolutely disgusting. He talks about how good looking I am constantly. He is touchy-feely but not terribly so, or I would punch him in the face. Also he is a terrible client. He is basically paying me so he can have a young guy in his house, I guess. I mean we don't get through half the exercises, he talks constantly. So his results are sure to be sub par.

I mean I'm just starting my business, and I need money--but not this bad! He bought 9 sessions, he has used 4 of them. I'm trying my best to make it through these sessions so I can keep the money which I need for rent and bills since I'm just starting out. After they are through I am probably going to write him a letter stating that our "business relationship" isn't working out.

Comments? Take it easy on me it wasn't easy to tell this story. Thanks John!

My response:

Here is my suggestion--and I have had many gay clients in the past--and they have always been my better clients (training wise).

I feel for you. You are in a tight spot.

However, your level of comfort is important--especially this early in your career. Situations that force you to problem solve under stress, in your first few years in the industry, will dictate your longevity in the field. If you are uncomfortable with one of your clients (be him gay flirting with you, being a paraplegic, or being a Klansman), you have to establish yourself not only in the eyes of your  customers, but in yourself. If you approach your client and tell him you are uncomfortable, it may make subsequent sessions even more uncomfortable, or you will lose a client. This is why situations like this must be addressed  at the time of occurrence. You cannot let them simmer.

I think the bottom line is...it doesn't matter that your client is gay and hitting on you...you are uncomfortable.

Your lack of comfort has rendered you loss of control of the session (hence the continuous talking during sessions) and ultimately leads to a lack of respect (as a professional). I hope you understand what I am saying. You can place any person in this scenario (doesn't mean just his sexuality). In the summer of 2000, I began training a couple (husband & wife). They owned 9 dogs that were not friendly. In order for me to get my things into the house was an ordeal that took 15 minutes because they had to remove all the dogs from the basement. To get me into the house, the dogs had to be allocated into a room into the house because they barked viciously. This scared the crap out of me every time I visited the home. Even during the sessions,  the dogs would bark loudly and trounce onto the closed door [to the basement].

Nevertheless, I felt very uncomfortable every time I had to visit that client home. I wasn't scared of dogs, but I was scared of dogs that didn't seem friendly. There is a difference. I stopped training  those clients because I simply was too preoccupied with a fear of the dogs ripping down the doors during our training session.

Another personal story that I can share is the time I was training a man that had firearms all over his house. Guns were hanging in every room and seemed to be readily available if needed. This made me uncomfortable because the man had a very aggressive personality.



You can bet I trained this guy for about 3 weeks and then I ceased our training. Why? I could not lead without a certain level of comfort being reached. The point is, tell him you are uncomfortable with his forthcomings and if he is not acceptable of your feelings, then refund him the remaining sessions.

I would like to see you gain control of this steering wheel and keep him. I think it will do alot for you as a professional in the long run.[END]

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