Dealing with Difficult People

I was a year and a half into making a living doing what I’m passionate about while working diligently on my Bachelor’s degree furthering my education for this field and everything was going great. I had a supportive boss, worked side by side with some of the best trainers I’d had the pleasure of meeting and was well on my way to filling my schedule with clients. Then, something happened.

For the first time in my young career as a fitness trainer, I had a client (for the respect of the client let’s call her “Ann”) that I was ready to walk away from. She had some serious shoulder issues and had very limited range of motion. Her goal was to lose body fat, which meant we had to rely rather heavily on her legs to create a demand for energy. The problem was she didn’t want to work legs, not only did she not want to do legs she bluntly said “I don’t think you heard me right, we’re NOT doing legs.” At the time, I was very frustrated, and out of frustration my response to her was “we can’t use your arms, you don’t want to do legs, so what do YOU want to do?” I was fed up. I could not get through to her that ten thousand crunches were not going to help her reach her goal; I also could not get her to pick up her intensity no matter what I tried. I worked out side by side with her, I tried positively motivating her, I attempted to be a bit more tough and push her, nothing would work. I became extremely frustrated with her, to the point that I told my boss “I don’t think I can handle her anymore, I’m done.”

Fast forward about a month, my boss asked me “what’s going on with Ann?” My response was “I don’t know, she’s working a lot, she’s not motivated, so I’m just leaving it up to her, when she wants to train she can call me.”

A couple of days later I was watching a video on the topic of dealing with difficult people. As I was watching I felt a sense of conviction and all I kept thinking about was my experience with Ann. After finishing the video, I sat in reflection for a while, just thinking.  Ann had come to me because she needed help. She didn’t know what was best for her; that’s why she hired a professional in the first place. She didn’t need someone to force feed her something; she needed someone to teach her how to reach her goals in a way that she can learn, and understand. The light bulb lit! I liked Ann as a person, I was frustrated with her because she wasn’t reaching my expectations for her.

The job of a great personal trainer is sometimes a difficult one. The clients are on an emotional journey, and we are their tour guide. It was my job to guide her on her path, but I had allowed my emotions to get involved. I developed a “my way or the highway” mentality with her because of her defiance, and that only grew stronger the more she pushed back. But it wasn’t my job to make her do what I say no matter what she feels, it was my job to get her to her destination in the most efficient way possible.

Ann had given me my report card. It was my job to listen to what she was telling me, and understand what she meant, but I didn’t. I had failed as a listener, I had failed in my delivery, I had failed in my programming, and I had failed her as a trainer.

The experience that I had with Ann is one that will stay with me for the remainder of my days. I believe the greatest thing we can do with our life is to dedicate it to bettering others. We cultivate that betterment, through our failures and shortcomings. Failure is our report card back; it shows us where we are falling short, and where we need to improve. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to repair the damage with Ann, and thankful that at that moment she, the student, became the teacher.

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