Developing listening skills
Before embarking on my career in Pilates & Movement education, I worked in the field of public relations for more than a decade. Given that my work had always been in client care, and essentially to listen and communicate, I’d always considered myself a great listener.
As a teacher, I quickly discovered that the listening skills I’d needed in the boardroom were very different than those I needed in the studio. Over the years, my personal development had focused on topics such as “how to be a great public speaker” and “negotiate like a pro,” but not once was I taught listening skills to help me work more effectively with clients. I realized that I needed to find ways to improve my listening skills, tactics for retaining information, and uncover exactly what to listen for.
Fortunately for me, I was invited to participate in a Body Harmonics Apprenticeship and Mentoring program for new teachers. It was this program that really pulled back the curtain for me on how best to communicate with clients, starting with the art of listening.
Using different strategies, my ability to listen has greatly improved, and it’s made a profound impact on how I’m able to work with clients one on one, ensuring they leave every session feeling heard.
Be an active listener
One element of working with a new (and hopefully long-term client) is to build a strong rapport centered on trust. How do you do this? Start with active listening. You client wants to feel heard, and this is one of the best ways to ensure they feel front and centre. Practice the 80-20 rule (they talk 80% of the time, you talk 20%) by asking open ended questions to get them talking about the meat and potatoes of who they are, what they’re looking for from the session, and any areas of concern. Consider preparing your open-ended questions in advance to guide your conversation and help maximize the relevant information you’re able to obtain.
Listen to what’s not being said
Using your visual skills, carefully listen to everything that your client is saying through non-verbal communication. Take notice of their facial expressions and body language while they’re talking, when you’re talking and as they’re moving. These cues can sometimes tell us more than words.
Be genuinely interested
Your client wants to be heard and understood, so being interested in their concerns, issues and feelings is essential to building the trust that will keep your client motivated and coming back. Provide them your undivided attention by maintaining eye contact, using non-verbal cues such as nodding to demonstrate your understanding, and if there’s an appropriate time, show empathy for what they might be going through. Your client is the most important person in the room to you, so make them feel that way!
Increase information retention
Research tells us that we only retain 25% of what we hear—which isn’t much1. As a Pilates and movement teacher you have a significant amount of knowledge to remember about each client. With experience, remembering key elements about your session can become easier. But taking notes during and/or after a session can speed up this process and help with recall. Be strategic and focus on a few key details about the session that will be valuable for you and your client down the road.
Listen and repeat
One way to build a strong rapport with your client, is to demonstrate throughout your session that you’re listening. Repeating words, phrases or statements that your client referenced earlier in the session can be an effective way to make your client feel heard, and an opportunity to deepen the overall experience and create more relevancy for your client. Try to focus on two or three details they share, and when the time is right, find an authentic way to bring it up, highlighting that they mentioned it earlier in the session.
My hope is that some of these strategies for improved listening can assist in taking your client sessions to the next level. As practitioners, our clients put a lot of faith and trust in us, unconsciously expecting a personal connection. Making sure that we are always actively listening is a fantastic way to ensure our clients feel heard and understood.
1 Julian Treasure. (July 2011). 5 Ways to Listen Better. www.ted.com/talks/julian_treasure_5_ways_to_listen_better?language=en#t-12340.
Interested in learning other ways to take your teaching to the next level?
Body Harmonics is introducing a new course in 2020 called the Essentials of Client Care. It’s a three-day course that covers the key to providing exceptional client care, securing and maintaining clients for the long term, and how to keep them on track and committed. Learn more and enroll.