I’ve spent some time in the fitness industry both managing and observing personal trainers and strength coaches. Over the years, I’ve come to recognize the common characteristics that separate the good trainers from the standout trainers.

Far and away, at least in my experience and by my judgement, the most important trait in a very successful trainer is something called “social intelligence.”

“Social intelligence develops from experience with people and learning from success and failures in social settings. It is more commonly referred to as “tact,” “common sense,” or “street smarts.”

Sounds obvious. I thought it was. I thought this was what you learned early in life as a way of coping and getting what you want from your environment.


What seems so glaringly obvious to some is a puzzle to others. It started me thinking, “were some people born with this intelligence, or were they taught, or did they just observe it and assimilated?”

What I am certain of is this; the absolute best of the best (that I’ve had the privilege to observe) know the following…

1. Verbal Fluency and Conversational Skills.

Look people in the eye and say hello. Be able to carry on a conversation with all types of people. Be direct and articulate. Don’t bog people down with industry jargon, nobody wants to hear that. Can you just comfortably talk to many different types of people? Look for cues early in your conversation that may key you into talking points relevant to your client’s interests.

Learn how to carry on conversations with anyone.

2. Knowledge of Social Roles, Rules, and Scripts.

Understand what is important to the culture of your business environment. Fighting the culture doesn’t make you a rebel, it makes you unintelligent. When I was a much younger trainer at 24 Hour Fitness, I stuck it to the man by wearing name tags with names other than mine. I showed them!

Actually I was just showing them I was unable to work within the parameters of company norms. Young and dumb. Adjust to or change your current situation if you feel you cannot adapt to your company culture.

Understand your companies culture.

3. Effective Listening Skills.

Read body language, it tells you the real story.

Listen attentively without having to chime in with your personal experience. Nobody cares, and trainers are notorious for this.

I would sit at a desk in the office at my previous employer and hear a trainer absolutely own a conversation with a potential client. Literally a barrage of “I’s” and “me’s.” I would literally shake my head and cringe.

Stop talking. Listen.

4. Understanding What Makes Other People Tick.

Read people and their true emotions, what motivates them. Again, let them speak. Read their body language. Are they intimidated? Excited? Skeptical?

Why are they in front of you?

Listen and allow them to feel comfortable enough with you to share their REAL motivation behind getting fit. Don’t talk too much, their experiences are not likely to be the same as yours.

Even if they don’t divulge their true motivations, try to read between the lines. Have they mentioned one single point multiple times? How do they react to your suggestions and advice?

Understand what makes people tick.

Matt P.

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