Developing effective client relationships requires that you understand some basic principles about human interactions. Whenever a relationship is created between two parties, particularly in those relationships where one party is seeking help or advice from the other, each person assumes a role, either as the expert or as the subordinate, based on whether one is the person providing assistance or the person being assisted. This is a very important concept to understand, because the assumption of these roles has a direct impact on the behavior of each party and determines how you interact with your corrective exercise clients.

How Roles Affect Behavior

People who assume the role of subordinates (i.e., clients) will do what an expert tells them to do, generally without question. You may have noticed this when observing a personal trainer or fitness professional working with a client. For example, you may have seen a trainer’s clients lift weights that are too heavy for them or perform exercises that are unsafe or beyond their abilities because the trainer instructed them to do so. This happens because the clients believe it is not their place to question the expert. They are only following instructions in order to avoid disappointing the expert and do not feel responsible for their actions or the outcome. While you may wish to have your own clients follow your instructions without question, this kind of relationship means that if anything goes wrong, the clients will blame you. They will think you (as the expert)  should have known better.

While you are a specialist in the area of musculoskeletal assessment and corrective exercise, immediately assuming the role of expert will reinforce clients’ perception that you (and you alone) are responsible for fixing their problems. This will hamper your ability to help your clients to learn and to gain self-confidence, because they are now relying on you to take control of every aspect of their program.

When clients assume subordinate roles, they behave in distinctive ways. For example, they may not speak up when they do not like certain program elements, become disinterested when you explain things in technical terms, blame you when things are not working out as expected, and ultimately drop out of their programs. In short, if clients view you as the expert with all the answers, your ability to encourage them to participate, learn, build confidence in themselves, and adhere to their programs is greatly diminished.

Develop a Teamwork Approach

Learn to incorporate communication strategies that encourage clients to participate in problem-solving and program design. This will shape client expectations and behaviors in a beneficial way by helping them to feel responsible for the success of their program. This strategy will increase their adherence and motivation to the program ensuring that they reach their pain-reduction and movement goals.