The Psychology Of Client Retention:
The Perils Of Oversharing

By shifting the focus of client interactions to yourself you risk damaging your professional relationship.

In this series on client retention, psychologists Kate Swann and Kristina Mamrot provide unique insights into what makes your clients tick, and how to keep them coming back week after week, month after month, year after year.

Last issue, we investigated how to turn yourself into a detective and pick up the clues you need to understand your client. Here, we discuss the perils of revealing too much about yourself…

It can be tempting to talk to your clients about your personal life. When your client is chatting about their week and their daily trials and tribulations it feels natural to join in with stories about your own stresses and challenges. And while it’s fine to be human and friendly, self-disclosure becomes a problem when PTs overshare.

When you overshare, clients can feel like they’re not being heard. And worse, they may feel the need to look after you. Suddenly, and with no warning, your relationship with your client has shifted from professional, where you’re in charge, to personal where they’re caring for you.

Let’s take a look at an example. We’ll eavesdrop on a conversation between a PT and her client Anna who is in her late thirties. They’ve been working together twice a week for a month.

PT: So how was your week?
Anna: Tough actually. My mum found a lump in her breast and she’s been going in for tests. We’re really worried.
PT: Oh, that’s terrible. That happened to my grandmother and it was just awful watching her going through the chemo.
Anna: Oh, how awful!
PT: Yes, it was. Mum and I were beside ourselves.
Anna: How’s she doing now?
PT: Well she’s in remission, but we still worry about her. And of course mum had to get checked too, so I was worried about her as well.
Anna: But your mum’s okay?
PT: She’s fine. But, you know how when something like this happens you keep on worrying?
Anna: Mmm, I do.
PT: So I said to mum, you’ve just got to keep checking every month and have regular check-ups.
Anna: And do you check yourself too?
PT: No, I feel really weird doing it, so I don’t.\
Anna: But that’s no good! You’ve got to make sure you’re okay!

This example demonstrates how when the trainer overshares about her personal life and her feelings, the client shifts her concerns from herself and what’s going on for her, to her PT. Very quickly, instead of focusing on her training, or filling the space with some comments about her concern for her own mother, the client has put her experience to one side, and moved into the role of the listener, caring for her PT.

When you overshare, you cross the boundary of the professional relationship between PT and client. Instead of feeling like she’s in the hands of a caring, competent professional, the client starts to feel like she’s doing all the work. She’s paying you to focus on her, but instead, you’ve slid into focusing on yourself, and your own emotions and experiences.

While the shift may be subtle, the effect may be more obvious. That all-important engagement – the secret ingredient that will keep your client coming back session after session – has been damaged. Little by little, the client will start to question how important her training is to her, and whether it’s worth the time, effort, and financial commitment. Once that questioning starts, it’s only a matter of time before a break in training for a holiday or due to a bout of the flu, becomes a reason to drop out.

Resist the urge to talk about your own experiences when your client shares something emotional with you. Slide your own stuff to one side, and focus on the client and the job at hand.


Kate Swann & Kristina Mamrot are Melbourne-based psychologists specialising in treating overweight and obese clients. For information on their books The Ultimate Guide To Training Overweight And Obese Clients, and Do You Really Want To Lose Weight? visit pscounselling.com.au