This week a coach I’m working with got a message from a client of his that was rather disturbing and he asked for my help. “Going through a divorce. I haven’t been as engaged, but I intend to be from now on.”

Every coach will deal with this at some point, and it doesn’t even have to be this dramatic to affect their health and lifestyle behavior. Our clients (surprise) have lives outside their time with us and sometimes those lives have shifting priorities. Sometimes the client has bigger fish to fry, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they want to be off the hook just yet. In fact, there’s a lot of good news in this message!

So why is this client bringing this up? They are explaining their recent behavior, which mens they care what we think about them. That’s also great news; it means we have their trust which is paramount in any working relationship. They are also bringing up the topic, which should indicate to us that it’s not completely taboo. If someone brings up a topic without prompting, it’s usually a clue that the topic is not necessarily out of bounds. They might not want to dwell on it or pry into with you, but it’s not a topic you need to avoid like a racial epithet.

The client is clearly reaching out and indicating that their health goals are still a priority. That’s good news! Remember that clients can always just disappear (and most who slip up will). The client is also declaring that they are more inspired this week than last week. Last week, they didn’t reach out. They just disappeared. Now they are actually telling us verbatim, “I intend to be [engaged].” More good news!

So we have a client that 1) trusts us, 2) cares about their health and fitness goals, 3) is more inspired than before. Now how to respond?

First of all, every client and situation is different, but I think there is handy rubric to responding to messages like these that I’ve developed over the years (and dozens of messages I’ve gotten like this one).

[aesop_quote width=”100%” background=”#282828” text=”#000000” align=”center” size=”3” parallax=”off” direction=”up” quote=”Listen. Community. Consistency.”]

Listen. Listen to what they are saying, and prove you hear them. In these situations I will literally say, “I hear you.” Those three little words go further than any periodized program of multi-joint exercises. You can also paraphrase what they have said in your own words, ala Motivational Interviewing, which takes more practice. A simple, “I hear you” will get you 80% there.

Community. Emphasize that we’ve got their back. Say, “we.” “What can we,” “how can we,” “when can we?” People feel supported and do their best work in groups where they feel emotionally safe. That doesn’t mean you have to hug them and kiss them on the forehead (please don’t), it just means you need to go out of your way to prove that they are in a judgement-free zone that is safe to struggle in.

Consistency. My end goal is always consistency. Showing up. Doing the work. As Woddy Allen says, “80% of life is showing up” and a client that isn’t showing up, isn’t improving. So I put the focus on that. “how can we help you do the habit this week?” “What can we do to support your getting to the gym?” “When do we get to see you again? This also makes the help we’re offering specific to our area of expertise. It’s not, “do you wanna talk about it?” which is probably outside the boundaries of our relationship and really just bro-talk for, “I really don’t wanna talk about this, but I want to sound like I do so I’m gonna ask this bullshit, closed-ended rhetorical question to avoid looking like a jerk.” So be the awesome coach who gets people back on track and ask the question that will help them, and not the one that makes you look good.