A healthy dynamic between a professional and client is dependent on many factors. Ultimately the goal is to have a mutually beneficial exchange where each can empower each other, learn from each other, push each other to grow, and each move towards their respective goals. The key to true success when it comes to any relationship is ensuring that we can clearly establish boundaries, manage our expectations, and have open lines of communication in order to establish and maintain a good level of trust between both parties. In this article, it is my goal to articulate these ideas from both perspectives; how to achieve success as a client, and how to achieve success as a professional working with your client.

Establishing Boundaries

Professionals’ Perspective

One key component of a healthy dynamic with your client is to make sure that you as the professional establish clear boundaries. Without clearly established boundaries, it can be easy for clients to take advantage of you, whether that be not respecting your time, not knowing what is appropriate or not appropriate to say, encroaching on your personal space, or perhaps misunderstanding the nature of your relationship with them.

The boundaries you choose to set for yourself are completely up to you. Some coaches are perfectly okay receiving a text message at midnight from a client; some are not. Some therapists are perfectly okay being invited to a client’s wedding; some are not. Some professionals are more lenient when it comes to punctuality and scheduling. Whatever your boundaries are, it is important to make them clear to the person you are working with. If not, you will simply continue to become frustrated, harbor resentment, and/or allow clients to take advantage of you. This is certainly not good for you as the professional, but it just as well may adversely affect your client. If you can’t be your best self for them, then chances are you won’t be very effective at helping your client become their best self.

As the professional, you are in the position of power. You are being sought out by your client, usually because they are hoping you can help them in some way. Because of this dynamic, I find it to be even more important for the professional to remain just that: professional. This entails knowing and establishing appropriate boundaries to help both you and your clients succeed.

Clients’ Perspective

As a client, this may not apply quite the same way, as the tendency for your coach or therapist to cross your boundaries may not be as common a phenomenon as the other way around. That said, it is just as important to establish boundaries for yourself. I’ve seen it too often where a trainer or coach expresses more than professional interest in a client. Often times it starts with flirting but eventually can turn intimate or into a full-blown relationship. I advise against this, unless you find that you seem to be soul mates and end your professional relationship to pursue a personal one. It’s not a good idea to mix the two.

It is also important as a client to understand and respect the boundaries set by your coach or therapist. Typically, I think it’s a good idea to keep communication focused on discussing of payments, scheduling, or questions specifically about your training or therapy. Anything outside of that should be saved for in-person chats. As coaches and therapists, we can have many different clients who are working with us. If we spent all day texting back and forth with every client we had, there would be literally no time for anything else. Like I said before, it’s usually best to keep professional relationships professional, and personal relationships personal, otherwise things can get overly complicated.

Managing Expectations

Expectations are something that need to be tempered when it comes to anything. More often than not, setting expectations and then not having those expectations met sets us up for disappointment, frustration, or resentment. This is even more so the case when our expectations are completely unrealistic. When we are talking about expectations between a professional and clients, we also want to make sure to set realistic expectations for ourselves and for each other.

Professionals’ Perspective

As professionals, we have certain expectations in regards to how our training or therapeutic interventions will manifest with our clients. With enough experience, we start to learn more and more effective strategies and begin to develop better understanding of how our strategies will help our clients. Whether it’s helping rehab from a sprained ankle, putting 30 pounds on their squat, or helping guide them through a deeply traumatic experience, we place expectations on ourselves, our techniques, and our client outcomes.

In order to avoid letdown via unmet expectations, it is important to understand that no plan or treatment works the same way for every client. Every single client is unique, and will respond differently to training and/or therapy protocols. It’s important to not beat yourself up if your plan doesn’t quite achieve the results you thought or hoped it might.

It’s also very important to not only manage your own expectations when it comes to client outcomes, but to also help your clients manage their own expectations. Let your clients know the nature of your work. Help them to understand that their healing and/or journey to get stronger is ultimately their responsibility and they came to you for a specific reason. It is not your job as a professional to “fix” them. It is your job to simply meet the client where they are at, and help illuminate the path for them, but they are the ones who have to walk that path. As the professional, you must clearly clearly communicate what you believe your client would benefit from most, your plan to help them improve those things, and ensure that your client buys in and understands the process and what is required of them. If you do this, chances are you will avoid the pitfalls of unmanaged expectations, and have much better relationships and successes with your clients.

Clients’ Perspective

Many of the same issues arise from unmanaged expectations on the part of the client. As a client, I believe the most important element of finding success with your training, rehabilitation, or healing is understanding your role in the process, and the role of the professional(s) you are working with. Understand that it is not the responsibility of your coach or therapist to achieve your success for you. The path you are on is your own. Your coach or therapist is there to help guide you, provide useful insights and information, and teach you effective skills and to educated you in order to help you to find success.

Unfortunately, the health and fitness industry has helped to foster incredibly unrealistic expectations when it comes to training and therapy. Results shown on TV, Instagram, magazines, etc. are almost always typically blatantly false and misleading depictions of what can happen, what will happen, and most importantly what it actually takes for most people to make it happen. More often than not, it takes years of work in order to build the strong athletic body you might think you want. By the same token, it realistically takes more than one session of therapy to resolve what took 10 years of abuse and trauma to manifest.

Make sure to communicate clearly with your coach or therapist. Ask questions. Get feedback. Own the process. Utilize the knowledge and skills you have access to in working with a professional. Make sure that the person you are working with is genuinely listening to you and what you are asking of them. You are not just a collection of broken parts and symptoms, nor are you a package of sessions or a monthly billing. You are a human being, and in order for you to get the most out of your relationship and time with your coach or therapist, you must continue to make sure you are heard, and that they are in your corner.

Communicate Clearly

In any relationship, communication is key. In the dynamic between a professional and client, its the glue that binds all the other things I’ve mentioned thus far together. In order to effectively establish boundaries, they must be clearly communicated. In order to manage our expectations, we must constantly be asking questions and getting feedback throughout the training or healing process. Having a shared understanding and remaining on the same page relies heavily on effective communication.

Professionals’ Perspective

As a professional, it is your job to communicate clearly throughout the process of working with your client. As they begin to make progress, your plan going forward usually needs to change. Programs need to be adjusted, exercises modified, set and rep schemes tweaked, and short term goals might need to shift as old goals are reached. Since the variables are constantly changing, it can sometimes become confusing to a client who may not fully understand the reasons behind your ever-changing plan. If you can communicate your thought process, get feedback from your client, and both make decisions together as you progress, chances are good that you will both find long-term success.

One other very important thing that needs to be mentioned to is make sure you are listening to your client. It can be tough to strike a balance between giving your client what they think they want, and giving them what you as the professional think they need. The two are unfortunately not always congruent. That’s why it is very important to communicate the reasoning behind your approach and get your client to buy-in. If you and the client you are working with are simply too far apart in your priorities when it comes to training or healing, then instead of trying to jam a square peg into a round hole, it might be best for you and your client to move on from each other and find a better fit. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, I very much encourage you as the professional to be upfront informing clients when you feel like you are no longer the best person to help them. Sometimes your relationship has run its course, and the best thing to be done is for your client to move into the next chapter of their process with someone else as their guide.

Just as important as what you communicate is HOW you communicate. When working with a client, particularly those who are coming to you for help at their most vulnerable, make sure to communicate carefully, being mindful not to use disempowering words, or words that might perpetuate fear-based thinking in your client. As coaches and therapists, it is our job to help instill confidence and self-efficacy in our clients. Implying they are broken and need us to fix them is doing them a complete disservice. Putting everything into a greater overall context, and not falling back on sensationalistic claims serves your client far better.

Clients’ Perspective

As a client, your primary concern when it comes to maintaining effective communication with your coach or therapist is to continue to make sure you are listened to and heard. So often as professionals, we tend to let our own excitement about helping you overly dictate our approach. Remember that when you hire a coach or therapist to help you on your journey, that it is YOUR journey, not theirs. Make sure you are getting from them what you are seeking from them. Reiterate your goals. Continue to clearly define what the next step is for yourself. Make sure that your coach understands where you are at and what you need at any given time. If you don’t feel like the plan is working the way you want it to, let your coach know. If you feel like you need to shift focus a bit, let your coach know.

It is also vitally important to respect where you are at in the training or healing process. Understand that it is a process and not a quick fix. The process never really ends, it just changes over time. Learning how to embrace and enjoy the process as opposed to only looking forward to the end-goal can be a huge game changer. Getting constant feedback from your coach or therapist is a must to stay process-oriented. If you feel in your heart of hearts that the professional you are currently working with is not providing you with what you need, do not hesitate to let them know. It doesn’t serve you or your coach well when you continue to show up session after session not making the progress you feel like you should be making. Just because we are the professionals does not mean that we are always correct in our approach, or that we are the best person for you to work with. That is ultimately for you to decide.

Wrapping Up

I know this article is kind of a long-winded one, but hopefully it is helpful. Maybe much of what I said is obvious, but you’d be surprised just how common these issues can be, not just in professional-client relationships, but relationships in general. I’ve been guilty of every single one of these things at one time or another, and I’m continuing to improve as I continue to work with new people and foster new relationships with clients. We all can learn from each other, and help each other to grow. I think learning how to set boundaries, manage our expectations, and communicate effectively are all solid pieces of advice when attempting to partake in a healthy relationship dynamic.