Managing the Intimidating and Disrespectful Customer

8 Tips for group exercise instructors on how to survive those intimidating members who make teaching a gut wrenching living hell!

Is the Customer Always Right?!

Yes, we’ve all had them in our classes. The intimidating members who make the dubious task of teaching a fun and free spirited exercise experience a gut wrenching, living helllllllllllll! Sally Sour Puss, Nora Know-It-All, Zachary the Zombie and let’s not forget Oliver the Over Achiever… the list can be endless!

What propels people to enact there absolute worst behavior in our presence? Is it the scent of pheromones in the air that stimulates their primal need for attention? Or is it the shear fact that they are resorting back to childhood and can’t play nicely with all the other kids in the sandbox? Who knows?

What can we do as a seasoned fitness professional to counteract the litany of these characters and possibly turn things around, from our teaching perspective, and create harmony and happiness? Here’s my go to action plan when I’m confronted with this situation:


Get to know everyone in your class by name and introduce them to each other so they feel a community connection. Tell them to bring their friends and significant others. Try writing down people’s names and occupations so you have something to remember them by, and greet them by name every single class. They want to feel special! People have “bad days” just like us, allow them to work out their frustrations in class. Be the “Edu-Tainer”.


In an early morning class, be respectful of time. Start right on time, move quick and end early so your members can get on with their day. You could even offer to put away their equipment so they can rush out and get ready to head off to work. Starting and ending on time also applies to the evenings, but I’ve found people seem to feel more rushed before the workday begins.


Maybe your class isn’t for everyone! Suggest other instructors classes at you facility or studio. It demonstrates team camaraderie. If you teach an early morning class as well as a fuller evening class, encourage people in your evening class to give the morning class a try. They may be willing to wake up extra early for an instructor they like and bring their friends along too. Maybe the enjoy less of a crowd!


Give them what they came for. If you teach an early morning class, be energetic, but don’t be over-the-top or play your music too loud. I’ve found that people who work out in the morning need things toned down, just a smidge.

If you teach an evening class, read the crowd and go with whatever vibe you’re getting from them. It could be different, and you’ll need to modify to meet their needs. People will come back if you give them what they want, and that can be different depending on the class format, time of day and gym location.


Tell everybody that shows up to your class that you appreciate their time. Thank them for being there in the beginning of class. Make sure you start and end on time, and thank them for coming again at the end of class. If you have the chance after the music ends, run over and hold the door for them as they leave, giving each member a high five as they exit. This really builds rapport and makes them feel like they should come back.


More often than not, the bad behavior may actually be a means that a member simply wants to be heard. Give them a chance to voice their opinion, make suggestions and bend your ear. Acknowledge their concerns and offer suggestions and solutions. Diffuse the energy when you can.


Yet, the most important thing you can do is teach a safe and effective class. If you’re a true professional, most likely people are going to want to do a workout that you lead, and they’ll be more inclined to bring friends along and follow you to whatever time-slot you may teach in the future.

8. Be You!

Oh, and of course, be funny when it’s appropriate, be serious when it’s necessary and always, always, always be true to yourself and your own personality. People can see right through someone who is trying too hard. Believe it or not, they want to get to know you as an instructor, not just as a drill sergeant, so let parts of yourself shine through. Decide. Commit. Inspire. Succeed. Win-Win!

Managing the Intimidating and Disrespectful Customer

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