Working with difficult clients is part of any job that involves working with people. Today I discuss what can make clients difficult, offer strategies for working with them, and when breaking up with a client is the best option.
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Welcome to Pilates Teachers' Manual, your guide to becoming a great Pilates teacher. I'm Olivia, and I'll be your host. Join the conversation and the Pilates community on Instagram at @pilatesteachersmanual and visit buymeacoffee.com/OliviaPodcasts to support the show. Today's chapter starts now.
[00:01:00] Hello, hello everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. I'm going to be chatting with you today about working with difficult clients, also connecting with maybe resistant clients or just working with people, I'd say.
You know, difficult and resistant are really subjective terms because. Someone that I find is a really difficult client to work with might be someone who you get along with grandly. So all of the information and opinions that I'm sharing are really subjective, and it really is a case by case basis. But I do want to share some tips and tricks that I have working with the various personalities that I've worked with and also share maybe some red flags of clients that you're working with. And maybe also some tips on breaking up with your client, if that turns out to be the best thing for [00:02:00] you to do and really for your mental health as well.
When I think about clients who are resistant or difficult, sometimes it's based on personality sometimes, you know, just the way the person is, is not my cup of tea. Sometimes that client will warm up to you and maybe, you know, it's just like weird when you first start working with someone, there's like a getting to know you phase. And maybe if you've been burned in the past, you're not so eager to just like, be really open with people at the beginning. Like there might be some warming up, so you might get past that, or it might be like a worldview or personality thing that doesn't change and it's just not something that you enjoy working with.
It might be that the person is difficult for you to work with as a teacher because they learn in a way that is not the way that you teach. And sometimes you can overcome that if you can figure out their [00:03:00] learning style and you're able to meet them, but sometimes you can't and that's also fine.
Sometimes things can happen, like they don't listen or they aren't following your directions or they're not progressing. Those can all be difficult things. They can again, go back to learning style. They can go back to personality. It could also be that that person has experienced trauma and that can affect their memory. And so in terms of listening and progressing, sometimes someone who's experienced trauma, isn't progressing because they're kind of stuck and that can be a difficult thing to identify. And also a difficult thing to work with.
And then also you might be working with a personality who's kind of skeptical of Pilates or skeptical of the exercises. There's like a little bit of a lack of trust of you. And again, that can be something that happens just when you're getting started. [00:04:00] Sometimes you can win those people over and as you are catching on, I'm sure sometimes you can't and that is fine.
Some things that you can do to kind of get ahead of those difficult or resistant people, and this might be something that if you're working at a studio, the studio has already outlined, but if you're working for yourself, you may want to have some terms and conditions or some expectations laid out really clearly. So that, that client can't say they didn't know what they were getting into, right?
In a few weeks, there's going to be an episode coming out where I interview Corey Sterling, or have a conversation with Corey Sterling of Conscious Counsel and I'll link to them because that's, their whole deal is getting your legal documents, and those are just like your explanation of responsibilities and expectations, really [00:05:00] outlining those expectations and responsibilities in a clear way so that everyone's on the same page about what's going on. And that is going to save you a lot of time in the long run, if you have those terms and conditions, because then there isn't any confusion or miscommunication about what's going to happen and how it's going to happen. Right.
You can make your marketing really clear. You can have your website, your Instagram, your, you know, liability waiver that you're sending clients, your cancellation policy, your payment policy. You want all of those things to be really neatly articulated. So that at least we're starting from a place that is clear.
We want to understand each other because everyone brings in their own experience to a situation. And a lot of times you can end up with you think that it's obvious and they do not [00:06:00] think that it's obvious or the other way around. And we just want to make sure that we're communicating well.
Once you have those boundaries and ground rules kind of laid out, I would say when I'm working with someone who is, you know, in my opinion, difficult that I really go above and beyond to be positive and to assume positive intent from that person. Because, especially when you're working with personalities, there are people who are really negative and really down on themselves and really down on, you know, what they're able to do. And it's easy to get sucked into that spiral of negativity. So if I'm working with a client who is really negative, one of my biggest tricks is to shift the focus and really redirect their attention from the horrible day that they've had to, you know, one of my go-to lines is it's always perfect weather for Pilates. It's always a great [00:07:00] day to do Pilates and you can just kind of redirect them to those things or really drawing the attention to the things that they can do.
If they're like, Oh, I'm never going to be able to do a roll-up. And I'm like, well, I just saw some really great engagement and I see that the muscles are working, that I want to be working. And, you know, you're, you're getting better. You point to ways that they've grown and progress that they've made, maybe not on the specific thing that they're complaining about, but that they're making in general.
And really just doing your best to be understanding and be welcoming. As I mentioned before, you know, if you are working with someone who, whether they've disclosed it to you or not has suffered trauma, and it feels like, you know, you're giving them the same exercises over and over. They're not remembering them, or you're making those same adjustments over and over to just really dip into your cup of compassion. And, you know, recognize that you'll never know [00:08:00] everything about that person. And if they need to be handheld walking through bridge, then that's okay.
I feel like as Pilates teachers, we really hold ourselves to the standard that we want them to nail that teaser that they've been working on. But sometimes that's not in the cards. And just showing up for that person and continually supporting them in the way that they need to be supported, even if they're not progressing in a way that you're noticing. Sometimes just showing up is progressing.
So if that's what's making it difficult, is that you're doing the same thing over and over again. It doesn't mean that you have to continue working with that person if that's just totally grinding your gears and like impossible. But I do encourage you to be compassionate and maybe even reframe what success looks like, maybe for [00:09:00] them and, but maybe also for you.
Another thing I'd say about working with those difficult clients is being firm with them in like, again, a very positive way, not in a confrontational or attacking sort of way. Again, we're assuming positive intent always so that we don't have headaches and a spiral of what ifs and how could they, and, you know, whatever, like, we're really going to try to assume positive intent so that we can exhale, but that you stick with the policies.
If you have a 24 hour cancellation policy that you hold true to that, especially if it's someone who's abused in the past. That if someone is no call, no showing, and there's some repercussion for that, that you hold them to those repercussions, so that you don't get steamrolled for one, but also, so that, again, it goes back to that clear communication that like, these are the consequences of those actions.
Of course, you know, there's always emergencies, but you want [00:10:00] to really stick by your guns and a lot of ways and say, yeah, you know, I'm sorry that this came up, but you know, the, this is the cancellation policy. It's easier to do that when you have a studio behind you, it can be really difficult to do that if you're just doing this for yourself, but it will be better if you do.
Coming up after the break, I'm going to be sharing a happy ending working with a difficult client story, a breakup story as well as sharing some red flags and maybe a little bit about breaking up with your client, that's coming up next.
I hope you're enjoying today's chapter so far. There's great stuff coming up after the break, too. Be sure to subscribe wherever you're listening and visit buymeacoffee.com/OliviaPodcasts to support the show there you can make a one-time donation or become a member for as little as [00:11:00] $5 a month.
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So let me share a happy ending story of working with a difficult client. And this is someone that I started working with when I was an apprentice teacher. They were actually one of my very first private clients. So I'm a little nervous about doing privates. It's a male client. So there's that, [00:12:00] that just as a, as a different dynamic as well, and this client did not speak the language that I spoke in terms of movement. They were not really open or communicative.
If I asked how something felt or, you know, does that feel okay? And I just either didn't get a response or maybe I just got a nod as just like very stern, very serious. And at times it would feel like, you know, like you're talking to a brick wall, They were showing up. They were doing all the things that I was asking them, but it didn't really feel like we were having a relationship as much as I was just like talking to the void, you know?
You might hear me share that and you're like, well, that's not a problem. Like those are my favorite clients. I don't have to talk to them at all. I just tell them what to do. But that was really difficult for me because that's not how I relate to people, but the happy ending of this story [00:13:00] is that I was able to figure out one, because I was getting feedback as an apprentice. Like there were feedback forms, so maybe a feedback form is all you need. But I was able to hear from that feedback form that, you know, he wasn't really into receiving positive encouragement that did not make his sessions better. So knowing that, okay, I'll tone down the compliments a bit. You know, he really wanted to know what he could do better. Like he wanted that negative feedback, which is what it's called for motor learning theory. It's not necessarily negative, but it's those corrections that you're giving and, you know, he didn't want music during sessions. Excellent. Now I know that and we won't do that. He appreciated when I would say things like last two or two more like that, so that he knew that like the end was coming up.
So it could literally be as simple as [00:14:00] having that conversation. And maybe it's in a feedback form, maybe it's, you know, can you come 10 minutes early? And we can just chat. And part of it's also trial and error. And then there's a point where they're warmed up to you and now I feel like we get along and we were able to kind of figure out how this session was going to go.
So knowing that sometimes working with difficult clients can be like that. There can be a happy ending where you do have a breakthrough or you do through trial and error, find something that really works for you, both. Amazing. Fantastic.
I'm talking about this a lot in the frame of privates where you're really working with someone's personality. Usually in group classes, if there's a person who you don't get along with, there's a little bit less interaction, so you don't have to interact with them as much. So I am going to say that this is more for privates, it occurs to me.
So when we're talking about [00:15:00] red flags, which I would say constitute like a client breakup immediately, the things that really come to mind for me are first of all, like any harassment, abuse or manipulation on the client side. You do not need to deal with that. You do not have to work with that person, even though I know there can be a financial incentive to continue working with that person because you know, you have to pay your bills. But I really would say if any of that behavior shows up, that is an automatic no-go.
I would say that for me, a deal breaker is not communicating. Whether we're communicating by email or text. That if you are not replying to my messages, if you are not acknowledging the requests that I'm making of you, then you know, that's not going to work. That's just a breeding ground for misunderstandings and miscommunication. So you need to communicate with me, if not during the session- although I would also [00:16:00] say if they don't communicate that they're like in pain or something, that that can also be like a red flag. That we need to have some open lines of communication.
Also a red flag is not respecting you. And that could be not respecting your time. They're showing up late. They're having to leave early. They're on the phone during your session. They're not calling and then not showing up. No call, no show is no good. They're not paying you in a timely fashion. Again, if you've got the studio behind you, you can usually mitigate that. But especially if you're working one-on-one, if they're not paying you or you're having to track down payment, they are not worth working with, in my opinion.
I would like to say that this behavior, again, not an exhaustive list of red flags, but definitely a handful of them, that this behavior of your client may not be malicious. It may be that they are just really clueless or [00:17:00] really incompetent, but there is a point where that, and obviously not with respect to the abuse or the harassment or the manipulation, that's always unacceptable. But with some of those other things, it could be that they just didn't reply to your email and they meant to.
In those cases, it would serve you well as the person working with them to assume positive intent so that you don't tear your hair out, but at the same time, break up with them. Depending on the reason for why you're choosing to break up with this client you may like to also refer them to another teacher. It could be that you're just a personality mismatch. Like if you came to me and you wanted a drill sergeant, you're really not going to get that from me. It's difficult for me to be that person for you, but I can refer you to another person.
It could be something like scheduling, like that could be a difficult client. They want to work out at [00:18:00] 6:00 AM and I want to drink coffee in my pajamas at 6:00 AM. It's not a good fit. I'm not going to feel happy working with you at that time. In that case, if it's something like that, it's not a red flag. It's just a we're not going to work well together moment. Yeah, refer them to someone else.
I would say don't waste your time hating them or being really anxious. And I have broken up with clients and I don't want to say that I gave myself an ulcer, but like, there was definitely some tension in my body as a result of that. But what really drove me to make that decision, the times that I have broken up with clients was that I really thought about how much of my day, how much of my energy was being wasted like feeling anxious, leading up to the appointment when I'm going to work with them. And then the anxiety following the appointment, the fact that I'm not enjoying it, that it really is becoming a draining experience for me. And then I thought about how would I [00:19:00] feel not working with this person.
Sometimes it's worth it to work with someone who isn't your cup of tea financially, or it's not that bad. But when I visualize, like, how would I feel if I wasn't teaching this person at that time? Like, what would my Wednesday feel like if I wasn't working with them? And the answer for me was like, Oh my gosh, so much better. My entire week would be better. I would sleep better then. Yeah. It's time to break up with them.
Is it better to do it in person? Just like a regular breakup, I would say probably is- or just like a romantic breakup or any relationship where you're breaking off with them in-person would be better. A lot of stuff's happening virtually right now. I'm not offended by an email breakup. Again, you don't want to be attacking this person. You want to say, you know, my schedule's changed. You know, I'm not going to be able to work with you at that time. I haven't received any pushback from clients when [00:20:00] I've said, you know, I'm not going to be available.
Whether I referred them to someone else, or I just said, my schedule is really full right now and I have to cut back. Even now I'm like whew, inside of my body, but you have to prioritize yourself. You have to respect yourself. And if this person is not respecting you, then you need to put your foot down and set that boundary. It's tough. I'm not going to say that it's easy. It's definitely tough, but it's also definitely worth it.
So, as you can see from every disclaimer on literally every point that I've made, it's really situational and what's difficult for you may not be difficult for someone else, in which case they're a great person to refer them to, right? But those are some things to keep in mind when you're working with those difficult clients. Also knowing that there could be a happy ending and you could find a way to work with this person that is beneficial to both of you. So don't give up hope necessarily, but also know that [00:21:00] not working with that client, even with the financial blow you would take by not working with them, just know that your time is more available to work with more clients that you adore and energize you and inspire you.
Really big thank you to my supporters on Buy Me a Coffee. I appreciate your contributions to this project and keeping it going and growing. Definitely look forward in the next few weeks to that interview with Cory Sterling from Conscious Counsel. It's a good one. It's good times. I hope you have a great week and I'll talk to you again soon.
Thanks for listening to this week's chapter of Pilates Teachers' Manual, your guide to becoming a great Pilates teacher. Check out the podcast Instagram at @pilatesteachersmanual, and be sure to subscribe wherever you listen. For more Pilates goodness, check out my other [00:22:00] podcast, Pilates Students' Manual, available everywhere you listen to podcasts.
The adventure continues. Until next time.