Have you ever had a client show up in your class and within minutes you know the class is too advanced for her?

Then, as the class progresses, things go from bad to worse…the client struggles more, you worry about her safety, the client gets frustrated and can’t connect to what you are saying or showing, you get frustrated and want to tell the client to stop disrupting the class, then, you start to tailor the class to the struggling client and you feel the other clients getting upset and bored and as if they don’t count.

By the end of it, everyone is happy the class is over. The new client probably feels incompetent but wants to blame you for poor instruction. The other people in the class feel unsatisfied by someone bringing the level of the class “down” and question your expertise in managing a group. You the teacher are likely feeling exhausted and depleted – like you failed because you couldn’t make your participants happy or fully meet their needs and expectations.

So…what can you do to save the situation, uphold your integrity and credibility and ensure all of your clients leave happy?

Reassure your regular clients that they did great in the class. Acknowledge the fact that the level was more basic than usual but served as a great review and reinforcement of key skills. Tell them how much you love working with them so they leave feeling valued and important.

Approach the struggling client after class and engage in a private conversation. Do not let her leave without speaking to her. The objective of the conversation is to build rapport and trust with her. Find out what she enjoyed the class, why she chose to attend and what she thought she would get out of the class. Simply listen so you can really figure out what she wants and needs

Trust your judgment and prepare to tell the client that another class would be better for her. Do not worry about offending or hurting the client. In fact, this has nothing to do with being offensive. This is all about caring enough to be honest with someone because you want the best for them. This is the message you need to convey to this client. The only reason you engage in this conversation in the first place is because you care enough to take the time to talk. The key to success though, is you truly feeling this level of care toward the client. If you come at it from the perspective of wanting to tell the client she is “out of her league”, “inappropriate for the level of the class” or “just not at the level yet”, the conversation is doomed and the outcome is going to be negative.

Stay focused on your objective of building a lasting relationship with this client and keep her best interest top of mind. Turn the situation around in your head and ask yourself whether you would appreciate someone taking the time to find out what would make an experience more meaningful and fulfilling for you? Once you take that approach, it makes total sense to talk to the client directly and make recommendations based on what you think will really serve her.

Start by asking the client a few questions:

How was the class? Make sure to compliment her on participation, effort in the class; or, comment on something he/she did well in the class.

Then ask how long the person has been doing Pilates and how long they have been coming. This will give you clues as to their level of experience. If, for example, this person has been doing Pilates a long time and looked like a disaster in your class, you will have to tread lightly when recommending a lower level or different type of class.

Ask about other classes the client has taken and about times of day she prefers for classes. This will help you know what other classes to recommend; if they like to come at 9:30am because they work from 11-7pm everyday, then you will try to find other options that fit this schedule)

Then, tell the client you want her to get the most out of each class she attends and suggest another class that would “really serve her”. Use the word serve very consciously so the person doesn’t think you are evaluating their performance or her ability. It now becomes about finding the BEST class rather than one where the person will be able to keep up.

Tell the client something to the effect of: “You may enjoy the class we just did, but I really think you will progress much more, AND faster, in a class that has less complicated and finicky choreography. I want to make sure you get the most out of the classes you attend so I would love to look at some other options with you?

Then suggest looking at other class options. Take out the schedule and circle other classes that you feel would serve the client better. See if you can actually get the client to book into one of the options you have suggested. That way the loop is complete.

If the client decides to continue coming to your class after all is said and done you need to embrace the opportunity to refine your skill of “managing a multi-leveled group”. It is a skill you will be very happy to acquire in the long run, so the price of short-term frustration will be well worth it.

Share your experience!

Have you ever had someone attend your class that is in over their head? What strategies did you use to manage this? Please share your experience in the comments section below.