NASM CNC Chapter 15: Coaching and Communication

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    Chapter Goals:

    • Discuss the verbal and nonverbal communication methods.
    • Define and know active listening and its components.
    • Find the strategies for building rapport.
    • Use communication that is effective and find the soft skills to elicit change. 
    • Find the appropriate levels of assistance and coaching that are needed for your clients to achieve their goals.

    The Science and Art of Communication in Coaching

    Health and fitness coaches commit a lot of time to making their craft and building a successful programming scheme that makes a good difference in the lives of their clients. But even if you make the best program possible, it does not necessarily guarantee any kind of success. This is all dependent on so many factors, and many are not able to be controlled. But the factors going into the programs to make them successful are effective design, implementation, and the attainment of goals. 

    Coaches need to be able to communicate information in a form that influences the decision making and behavior change for the clients. 

    The actual adherence to the programs vary based on many factors, some of which we will cover in this chapter.

    Communication is defined as the process of sending and receiving messages in both verbal and nonverbal ways. But it is also much more than that. Communication is a dynamic and complex structure involving the thoughts, feelings, and needs of everyone involved. 

    Soft skills are personal attributes relating to how well one person works with another person. 

    Self-awareness is the knowledge you have of your own habits, feelings, and motivations. 

    Nonverbal Communication

    Communication is about sharing words, but also a major part of it is what is not said but seen by the person during conversations. They actually believe that only 7% of what is said comes from the words you use; the rest comes from the way you say it and then around 55% from your body language while saying it. The physical environment is going to play a large part in this also. So, choosing a location free of distractions and clutter will reflect on how well messages are received, and how well you are perceived by the clients.

    People create their first impressions of you based upon several different traits. These are things such as the level of trust and the level of competence they perceive. And those initial judgements that they form are very unlikely to change over time. one example could be if someone is chatting with their coach and the coach checks their phone in the middle of it, then they will likely remember how they were not focused on in the future.

    Some examples of nonverbal behavior are:

    • Body language and your posture = things such as slouching your body, crossing your arms, sitting or standing straight up, and also fidgeting and seeming worried. 
    • Facial expressions = things such as looking down or away from the client, looking around the room, staring for too long, or smiling or scowling. 
    • Tone of voice = things like raising or lowering your pitch of voice at the end of a sentence, or maybe speaking soft when you are requesting something or asking a hard question.
    • Rate and volume = things like very slow or too fast rate of speaking or speaking extremely soft or extremely loudly. 

    Improving Nonverbal Communication

    When working with new clients, the emotions and the apprehensions of the client should be taken into account. New clients in their first session are likely to be nervous, excited, or even skeptical regarding you or the program, and this should not be taken too seriously. 

    By mirroring the client, we can create a better sense of comfort and security, and the opportunity for the coach to notice the cultural differences in their style of communication. Some cultural differences that may exist are differences in eye contact, gestures, speech rate, bod language, and even personal space needs. 

    Verbal Communication

    This specifically is in reference to the words that are used for communication. These conversations take place in person, over the phone, or even via texting.

    Word Choice

    Word choices should vary depending on the client you have and their age, past experiences they’ve gone through, and the knowledge they may have on a topic. When clients are super ready for the program they are starting, the words chosen need to be brief and simple. 

    The words you choose when working with people in nutrition need to be considered more so due to the possible emotional responses or alternate meanings that can exist for many clients. 

    Denotation is the literal meaning that the word has.

    Connotation is the emotional meaning or the meaning that is perceived by the person hearing it. It is sometimes just different from that denotation. 

    Words like skinny or fat often tend to be perceived in ways that are different depending on your past and who you are. Words need to be chosen to give the client a positive image in their head, so part of this involves being familiar with your client and avoiding any trigger words until you may know more. 

    Focus on positive goal behaviors in these ways

    • Decrease mindless eating by teaching the client to eat things that are nutritious and eat these throughout the day. You should focus on teaching them to plan ahead for their day and prepare the snacks for themselves in the proper serving sizes and make sure they are ready to grab and go.
    • Decrease the consumption of carbohydrates by teaching them to take in proper nutrition ratios for health and energy systems. This can be emphasized by educating clients on the nutrients that are out there and then mapping out some sample meal ideas with some goal ratios to shoot for.
    • Decrease the consumption of sugars by eating healthy and nutritious treats. This can be done by helping clients to identify healthy drinks and snacks that should be taken in and help with fulfilling their sweet tooth. 
    • Do not skip meals by teaching the client to eat a minimum of three balanced meals every day. This can be emphasized by helping them to create a plan based upon the client’s daily schedule that provides doable options for each meal. 

    Supportive Language 

    Supportive language relates to building efficacy and competence for the clients through the implementation and success of programs. 

    Nutrition coaches are focused on designing goals that reach positive results. 

    Written Communication

    This occurs in communication taking place through text messages or email. It may even be there if there is written media by the coach throughout the gym. The message should be endured to have clarity for people reading it. The tone and intentions of the message should be considered highly. 

    Individual Differences

    The coaches are likely to have a very diverse set of clients that all differ in their age, gender, ethnicity, experience in exercise, sexual orientation, and their socioeconomic status. These all need to be considered in everything we do, like we discuss when looking at word choice and other factors learned form initial sessions. 

    Active Listening 

    This is the act of just being mindful in the way you hear things and trying to comprehend the meaning of the words you are hearing. Simply becoming a better listener is one of the best ways to improve your communication drastically. When a coach is too excited or motivated, active listening can be hard to employ. For this, we should always keep this in mind if we wish to be successful communicators. 

    Stages of listening

    Listening is complex and has five stages.

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    • Receiving is the first stage. In this we are focusing on hearing what the client is sharing with you. So, the coach should filter through information. The environment is key to note here, as it can be the greatest distractor. 
    • Understanding is the second stage of listening. Here the coach should try to identify the meaning of what is being said and heard. The coach should have a focus of not assigning bias or assumptions with the songs. 
    • Remembering is the third stage. This is a natural flow that happens. To remember the most, you should try not to get distracted.
    • Evaluation is the fourth stage. This is when the coach is working to be free of bias and keep a positive attitude.
    • Responding is the final stage of listening. This is when you provide some feedback to the client and progress the conversation further.


    This is the paraphrasing of words and emotions that is done when you are active listening. 

    Learning and practicing the reflective listening skills is worthwhile and practicing more often has been shown to give more emotion and to better retain info.


    This is a powerful tool for communication, and it shows engagement while also giving opportunity to gain a deeper understanding. If you desire a yes or no question, you ask a close-ended. But when you want a long answer with actual details you should ask an open-ended question. 

    Probing questions are questions in which more detail or information is desired. 

    Divergent questioning is the use of broad questions that do not have a right or a wrong answer. 

    Building Rapport

    The initial goal of all coach and client communication is for building trust and develop understanding. 

    Rapport is a relationship that is based upon mutual understanding and trust.

    Client centered processes are approaches in which clients are understood and the development of programs is based on the needs and preferences of the clients.


    Rapport is a large determinant of adherence. Adherence is built by the credibility and trust that a client sees in their coach. 


    This is the ability to identify with someone else’s feelings, thoughts, or attitudes. 

    NASM CNC Chapter 15: Coaching and Communication 1
    NASM CNC Chapter 15: Coaching and Communication 2
    NASM CNC Chapter 15: Coaching and Communication 3

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