Don’t Let a Bad Attitude Ruin Your Group Fitness Class

As instructors, we each have a unique set of talents and interests, and our member needs are just as varied. That’s one of the most amazing things about the career we have – our ability to specialize within it and teach to our strengths and desired clientele. But there’s a flip side; it’s simply impossible that every member who takes our class will like us. The more classes we teach, the more probable it becomes that someone will display a bad attitude during class or walk out. It’s all about how we deal with those attitudes that makes or breaks us as an instructor.

Story Time!

This is a story about a class I taught recently that changed my attitude about how to work with (and sometimes around) dis-satisfied customers.

As I was about to start my HIIT circuit class, two brand new members entered.

  • Person #1 was smiling.
  • Person #2 was frowning.

Person #2 was upset before ever entering my class, so I knew that deep down whatever was going on with her wasn’t about me.  I went through my standard welcome, introduction, and explanation, hoping to find out something about my new members that might help me integrate them into our class.  When I asked Person #2 what other classes she had tried so far, she stopped moving, looked me in the eye and said, “Look, I’m going to be honest with you. I really just wanted to come to the spin class but we got the wrong time.”

  • What I wanted to say was, “The door is over there.”
  • What I actually said was, “Well, I’m sorry that my class wasn’t your first choice, and I hope you enjoy the workout.”

Right off the bat, she already had a negative feeling about this class because she wanted to be in a spin class.  It was going to take a lot to make her like me, and more than likely, no matter what I did, her attitude wasn’t going to change.

We continued with class….

In 24 years of teaching, I’ve had my share of rude members, angry members, and a few walk-outs.  It comes with the territory.  I won’t detail the next 30 minutes of this participant’s attitude and behavior; I’ll just say that this was one of the rudest attendees I can remember, ever.  However, I couldn’t let it get me down.  There were 15 other people in my class, most of them long-time regulars, so I remained my energetic, positive, goofy, professional self for the entire time she was there, although the energy drain on me was huge.

At 30 minutes, she walked out, much to my relief.

The last half hour of class went quite smoothly and it was a good class.  A few times, I examined the group that had formerly included “Ms. Grumpy,” expecting to see signs of relief on their part that her negative energy was gone.  Everyone continued just fine, not one peep, eye-roll, or sigh of relief.  They were all so attentive to their own workouts and intensity levels, they hadn’t noticed her negativity, nor had they really noticed her departure.

Moral of the story

OK, so here’s the moral.  A bad attitude doesn’t have to spread, and by staying positive as instructors, we can keep it from spreading.

As hard as it was for me to feel this person’s hostility in the room, by continuing to teach just like normal, and ignoring the attitude, I quarantined her effect on the rest of class.  While she was in the room, I had been absolutely certain that this girl must be draining other participants’ energy and they’d be just as glad as I was that she was gone.  Nothing.  No reaction.  They were fine with and without her.

Quarantining a bad attitude so the rest of my attendees can have a great class isn’t a dreary part of my job; is part of my POWER and skill!

Foster Positive Outcomes

  1. Non-competitive environment defined up front
    When we teach our members to work on their own goals and results, they don’t compare to others and will focus on themselves.  No matter what class I’m teaching, I mention in my introduction an appreciation for each one’s uniqueness, abilities, and ask that they work at their own pace.  If it’s a Zumba class, I say, “Dance your own dance.”  If it’s a weight training class, I say, “Run your own race, work as hard as you want, and compare only to yourself.”  If it’s a yoga class, I say, “This is a non-harming, non-competitive class were all are welcome.”  The point is, each member is responsible for their own workout.

  2. My own attitude shift from victim to powerhouse
    Honestly, there were several times when I wanted to ask this person to leave because she looked so unhappy in my class, and her half-hearted movements weren’t doing her any good. But she wasn’t hurting herself or anyone else, so I spoke to her as often as I spoke to everyone else and kept the energy up.  I did not change my behavior for her, because everyone else was depending on me to fulfill my role as instructor.This represents a huge shift in my own attitude.  When I was a newer instructor and someone didn’t like me, I let it get under my skin and was devastated by minor criticism.  My next evolution was to develop a thick skin to let negativity bounce off me, or to toss a funny but passive aggressive comment back at the offender to preserve my own ego.  The problem with bouncing attitude back is that there can be casualties; it can then draw the attention of others who weren’t previously aware of it. Now I’ve let a drama of one infect a class of many.  No longer.  My newest teaching version of myself, continuing on with the quarantine analogy, is to act like a white blood cell.  When bad attitude hits me, I surround it so it doesn’t spread to the healthy cells around me.  Pfft.  I won’t take on the drama – I’m too powerful for that – and I will insulate the rest of my class so they can get the good class they deserve.

  3. The following mantra – “It’s not about me.  It’s not about me.  It’s not about me.”
    This person was frowning before she ever entered my room.  Since I wasn’t her favorite spin instructor, it didn’t matter who I was.  It’s hard, sometimes, when we’re in the front of the room to remember that the expressions on members’ faces aren’t always because of us. That goes for the happy expressions as well as the sad expressions.  That’s not to say that there aren’t these amazing moments in class where we feel like we’ve got them all in the palm of our hands and they’re hooting and hollering and we helped them get there.  That stuff happens, and I’m grateful for it.  But I also try to remember that sometimes people bring in baggage that they can’t set down for an hour and I have to honor that, or at the very least not let it affect the others who are depending on me.

  4. Even when it is about me, it’s really not about me
    Most of the time, a member’s baggage is their own, and they bring it in with them.  But sometimes, it’s our teaching personality and they actually don’t like us.  I’ve heard that I’m too loud, I talk too much, I tell too many jokes, I whoop, I cue like an air traffic controller, I act like a know-it-all, etc.  My favorite criticism of all time is that I’m too short, as though I’m going to be able to fix that!Those critiques are all true!  My teaching style is energy-outwards, including large visual cues, jokes, and whoops.  It’s my instructor persona and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  The same teaching traits that repel a few members attract a lot of members.  In the end, with authenticity, consistency, and pride for what I have to offer the fitness world shines through, and the members who like me stay.

Powerful teaching skills and awesome classes to all!


Positive attitude and outcomes in group fitness - kickboxing

Nancy Korf, MBA

Program Developer, Zumba

Nancy Korf, has been a fitness professional for 20+ years. She is an ACE-certified personal trainer and yoga instructor with specialty education in over a dozen formats. With a passion for designing multi-level, inclusive classes, her mission is, “fitness activities for vibrant living.”

She master trained for CrossCore®, was project leader for a new program for Zumba®, and her writing has appeared in IDEA Fitness Journal. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and their two children.

View All Posts

ACE: Certified Personal Trainer
Yoga Alliance: RYT-200

Elevate the Group Fitness Experience

Get inspired to take action and elevate your group fitness experience with the GXunited Chats Newsletter.

GXunited: Demand Better Group Fitness.

Don’t Let a Bad Attitude Ruin Your Group Fitness Class

by Nancy Korf, MBA Time to Read: 5 min
0