Are you wondering how to improve your communication skills?
As a lifestyle coach, building people skills is essential to your success. A big part of that is communication. Knowing how to actively listen, understand where people are coming from, convey yourself clearly, and be understood will all help you enormously.
None of these skills are innate, so it’s important to consistently polish and refine them. Plus, lifestyle coaches need to develop competency in empathy, time management, and maintaining a positive focus. These abilities will help you lead clients effectively and compassionately.
The best way to motivate someone is to understand them and get through to them. No set of coaching tips would be complete without addressing communication. Are you ready to discover exactly how to convey yourself with both passion and grace? Then read on!
Good Communication Starts with Good Listening Skills
To be an effective communicator and, in fact, an effective coach, you must master your listening skills. You must be able not just to hear what people say but comprehend what they mean. Not only will people notice if you don’t truly understand them, but you will be limited in the ways you can help if your listening skills are suffering.
This is easier said than done, and it’s only natural sometimes to struggle to keep focused. To combat this, try active listening. Repeat things they say back to them to make sure you understand. This can help you clarify at the moment and keep you engaged so you don’t have as much time for your mind to wander. You can say things like, “I’m hearing that you’re finding exercise to be a real struggle when you’re tired from work.”
Listening isn’t the same as comprehension. Sometimes what people really want to say is under the surface of their words. Don’t be afraid to get clarity around how things are affecting them. For example, maybe a client says that the program just doesn’t work for them — that they’re still at an unhealthy weight. If you’ve looked into all the physical or practical possibilities that might be affecting their progress and nothing is wrong, you’ll need to find a way to motivate them.
To do this, you need to understand how they’re feeling. You might say something like, “Tell me more about what happens for you when you see that you haven’t lost any weight?”
They might tell you that they feel like they’re failing and that nothing they do will matter. You can then talk about how change takes time, give examples of other people who stuck with it and were successful or show statistics about the program. Make sure to give them lots of compassion and encouragement, and let them know that their feelings are valid.
Put Yourself in Your Client’s Shoes
As you might imagine, empathy is critical to coaching. An empathetic lifestyle counselor can make clients excited for sessions, more hopeful, and more well-nourished by the experience. While some people are more naturally empathetic than others, being able to understand where others are coming from is a skill that you can learn!
Just take some time to literally imagine yourself living the other person’s life. What things make them tick? What things upset them? What internal and external limitations do they have? Maybe they live in an area where there aren’t good parks or exercise centers. Maybe they don’t have the biggest support system. A lack of adequate exercise facilities and social support are big factors in determining whether a person can successfully prevent or eliminate Type 2 diabetes.
Social determinants of health (like exercise facilities and social connections) have a big impact on a person’s success rate. If you understand that, you can more easily work around any detrimental influences. You can help encourage your client to join groups, either online or in-person, to get more support. You can brainstorm ideas for exercise that they can do easily, for free, and at home (YouTube videos are excellent for this!)
Understanding why your client might be struggling is essential to effective coaching, so make an effort to be empathetic, even if you’re not perfect. Just make sure that you still stick to main points you want to cover in a session, and continue to motivate your clients to make healthy choices even if those choices feel emotionally challenging for them.
Pay Attention to Body Language
A huge part of communication is unspoken. We’ve all seen certain people walk into a room like they just walked onto a movie set — with an indefinable poise and strength that naturally commands respect. Likewise, we’ve all likely experienced meeting someone for the first time and simply knowing they are feeling doubtful and unsure of themselves.
So, make body language part of both your listening and your self-expression. Notice if your client is hunched over or looks down. They’re likely nervous, and you will want to be extra reassuring. Crossed arms, pointing fingers, and lifted shoulders indicate anger and resistance, so you might want to soften your approach, offer an alternate suggestion, or ask questions to understand what’s happening for them.
When it comes to your own self-expression, practice having confident but also approachable and open body language. You want clients to feel they’re safe and in good hands. To project composure and approachability, try the following:
- Sit up straight — your posture conveys confidence
- Keep your chin and head up
- Widen your stance and take up space, especially if you're a woman
- Likewise, if you’re a woman, try to uncross your ankles, legs, and arms, as that conveys fear
- Keep your hands out of your pockets, as that indicates self-doubt
- Gesture with your palms up, as that projects honesty and authenticity
- Hold good eye contact. If you struggle with this, you can alternate between looking at the other person’s eyes for a few seconds and their upper nose for a few seconds
Learning some simple body language techniques will benefit you well beyond your coaching business!
Set Good Time Boundaries
You don’t have endless time with your clients, so it’s important to make the most of all the moments you have. Don’t be afraid to guide the conversation, so you cover the most important points in every session.
Sometimes a conversation will veer off-topic, and what’s discussed will be just as essential or even more essential than what you’d originally planned. You can let your client know at that time that you have some other things to go over, but you also think the current discussion is important. Ask them what they want to talk about.
However, if things veer off topic and you see no urgency in the discussion, you can gently guide the conversation by saying something like, “We have twenty minutes left, and I want to be mindful of our time together. Let’s circle back to this later. I’m making a point of what you’re saying in my notes.”
Know Your Point
To communicate most effectively, it’s essential to know your main points before you go into a session. This can act as your north star if the conversation goes sideways. For example, maybe you want to address your client’s eating habits and discuss healthy options and good places to buy healthy food at a reasonable price. If the conversation starts to veer off into a discussion about how challenging it is to access healthy food in the U.S. or a talk about your client’s favorite foods, be mindful of time and circle.
We could all use a little more humor in our lives! When it comes to a topic that can, at times, be challenging, stressful, or just tedious, we need it even more.
So, try to be lighthearted and laugh as much as you can with your clients. Making the experience more joyful will shake out stress and help you connect with your clients. Plus, laughing actually has a lot of health benefits! For one, it reduces stress, which is a big factor in risk factors for Type 2 diabetes.
Does this mean you need to become a comedian? Of course not. Maybe you’re not really the funny type, and you consider yourself to be more serious. That’s okay. Simply being open to the power of lightheartedness, humor, and laughter are enough.
Focus on Positive Actions and Framing Things Positively
Most people are resistant to change. It goes against our innate desire for the familiar and comfortable. However, if your client is at risk for developing diabetes, they absolutely need to make certain lifestyle changes.
Likewise, many people are a little reluctant to make changes that someone else dictates for them. Even if they’ve recognized the need for support, they still might not respond in the best way if they feel you are limiting them or taking away things that they love.
The answer to all of this is to focus on what they are gaining instead of what they are losing. Instead of focusing on all the foods they can’t eat and the experiences they can’t have, try to keep the focus on what they will get instead. So, for example, instead of focusing on how they can’t spend every evening in front of their favorite show, you might talk about all of the benefits of exercising — a better mood, a body they feel more confident in, deeper sleep, and of course, a greater health overall.
Always take note of all the positive ways that they are improving. When you have a session, be alert to changes they still need to make, but first notice and name the things they are doing right.
Refining Communication Skills With Realizing DPP
Great communication isn’t just about speaking articulately. It involves developing great listening skills, having empathy, using humor when appropriate, and staying on track with your point. It also involves much more than what you say or the other person says. Body language is huge.
Great communication is a skill you can master. All it takes is a commitment to learning and the willingness to try out new techniques. The best way to practice is with other people. Make sure you connect with other lifestyle coaches who are as passionate about motivating clients as you.