You are here: Home Training Design Human Behaviour and Exercise How Behavioural Styles Influence Behaviour

How Behavioural Styles Influence Behaviour

Problems in communication often stem from clashes in behavioural styles or roles. Ensure you communicate effectively as a personal trainer by learning which style(s) or role to embrace and which to avoid.

A behavioural style refers simply to how someone acts at any one time.  The four behavioural styles we are primarily interested in are the aggressive, passive, assertive and upset styles. 

When working in the fitness industry you will come across the full range of personality types and behavioural styles.  Part of your skill set needs to be managing your own behaviour and personality to suit the situation, and ensure you communicate effectively with people at all times. 

The study of different behavioural styles was made popular in particular by the work of Canadian psychiatrist Eric Berne.  Berne developed the concept of ‘transactional analysis’ or ‘TA’ to categorise the different behavioural 'roles' that people fulfill when they communicate with each other.

personal training parent/adult/child flowchartBerne believes that when people communicate with each other (transactions) they fulfill the role of either; the ‘Parent’, the ‘Adult’ or the ‘Child’.  

Note that you don't actually have to be a 'Parent', a 'Child' or an 'Adult' to fulfill one of these roles.

When communicating as a ‘Parent’ Berne believes that people run the risk of becoming overly critical, dictatorial and aggressive towards the person they are communicating with

When communicating as a ‘Child’ Berne believes that people run the risk of being overly emotional, easily upset and submissive to the other person.

The ‘Adult’ on the other hand remains reasonable and rational throughout the communication – ‘Adults’ listen and process the information they gain through ‘transactions’ with others to work towards achieving logical, rational and sensible outcomes that aren’t guided by emotion or the need to exert control over the other party. 

So when you are communicating with your clients, gym members and fellow staff it is imperative that you fulfill the role of the ‘Adult’ at all times.  Regardless of the role being played by the person you are communicating with – for communication to result in mutually beneficial outcomes there must be at least one person (you) fulfilling the role of the ‘Adult’. 

personal training shoutingYou see, problems in communication are likely to exist when:

1. ‘Parents’ communicate with other ‘Parents’ (In this scenario people are vulnerable to criticising and become increasingly aggressive towards each other and neither party are likely to ‘back down’.  The result of this is...people are highly likely to behave aggressively towards each other and theres a fair chance that physical or verbal conflict will eventuate.)

personal training child emotional 2. Children’ communicate with other ‘Children’ (In this scenario 'emotion' takes over and the parties are likely to become distracted from the purpose of the communication or what they are trying to achieve.  The likely result of this 'communication' is that important detail will not be addressed, agreed upon or even discussed and both parties tend to get way, way off track!)

personal training parent v child3. ‘Parents’ communicate with ‘Children’ and vice-versa (In this final scenario one party is likely to dictate to the other, the other party becomes very submissive or 'throws their toys out of the cot'.  The likely result = immediate conflict, frustration, and the submissive party gets walked over and fails to have their perspective considered, sowing the seeds of a likely future conflict)

The aim of ‘Transactional Analysis’ is to help people identify and strengthen the ‘Adult’ role when they communicate with others, as behaving like an ‘Adult’ is often not as easy as it sounds.

Think about the last time someone barked an order at you in a way you didn't like - did you remain calm and listen to what the person was saying (or barking), and then deal with the issue like an adult? Or did you take offence and either become aggressive towards the other party or submit to their barking with the thought and promise of vengence 'brewing somewhere in the dark recesses of your mind'?

What about the last time a client of yours indicated that they didn't like an exercise you'd given them and said they would like to do something else - did you tell them they needed to toughen up and keep doing it because it was the best exercise for them? Did you get slightly upset that your client didn't like the exercise or the programme you'd put lots of your precious time into? Or did you behave like the 'Adult' and investigate why they didn't like the exercise, learn from this, explain why you chose the exercise for them and suggest an alternative that might be a better fit?

We can build on the work of Berne as personal trainers by looking at four overall behavioural styles that people use at any given time, specifically whether people are more or less; aggressive, passive, assertive or upset and think about the 'roles' people may be fullfilling with each behavioural style.

personal training relaxedMost people have a natural behavioural style which mostly comes from their personality.  They might be described as ‘easy going, happy go lucky’ and will typically display a ‘passive’ behavioural style. 

personal training driven and focusedThey could be described as ‘driven and focused’ which may mean they display a more assertive behavioural style.

Essentially the 'Adult' role in Berne's 'TA' is a healthy mix of the passive and assertive behavioural styles. The relaxed nature of the passive style helps to put others at ease and enable them to talk, from which the passive person gains vital information. The focused and driven nature of the assertive person ensures that vital information is communicated effectively when necessary, in a rational and sensible way without becoming overpowering.

Human behaviour is very changeable however.  In different circumstances we tend to change the way behave, for personal training upsetexample if you are pressured you may go from being passive to being quite upset or you may even become aggressive. 

Upset behaviour is sometimes disorganised, emotional and dramatic, much like the ‘Child’ role in Berne’s transactional analysis. 

personal training agressiveAggressive behaviour usually involves a personal attack (verbal or physical), emotional language, and dominant/confrontational body language, which would be associated with the worst aspects of the ‘Parent’ role in Berne's transactional analysis.

It’s important to realise that your clients, gym members and all your fellow workmates are 'real' people and as such your actions can and will affect their behaviour either positively or negatively just as other peoples actions can affect your own behaviour.  This is why learning how to manage your behaviour and personality to suit every situation is such an important skill set for you to develop.

For example, if you encounter a ‘D’ type personality in the gym who is being very aggressive, you should avoid being aggressive in response as this will likely lead to conflict (two 'Parents' getting stuck into one another).  Ideally you would be a mix of passive & assertive (the rational Adult), you’d listen carefully, ask questions, respond quickly, maybe take notes, and you'd deal with the issue promptly if you could.  If however you became upset or embarrassed when confronted by an aggressive gym member then you would likely take the 'Child’s' role which could either make the situation worse immediately (the aggressive person would feel they were being ignored by you) or result in a resolution to a problem not being investigated or achieved.

Similarly, if you are dealing with a ‘S’ personality type who is very passive and a first time gym member or new client you might like to be slow, steady, careful and inform them before you do things, give them information to take away, and reassure them. The worst thing you could do would be to take the 'Parents' role and start barking orders at them left right and centre in a misguided attempt to exert 'control'.

Great personal trainers act like ‘moderators’ and 'peace-keepers' – they keep everyone in the gym happy by giving them all what they want, when they want it and how they want it.  A great personal trainer can turn fifty highly strung people in a weights room into a peaceful humming chatty bunch, simply through effective communcation. 

Here is a summary of the four behavioural styles and how to identify them


Tend to be quite forceful and sometimes loud, outcome focused, not considerate of others feelings and may attack those who don’t agree or act the way they want them to, tend not to listen well.

Body language is usually a front on stance, animated hands, direct eye contact, and close proximity.


A little shy, not expressive and tend to ‘go with the flow’.  A passive person is likely to be quiet and quite happy in the background.

Body language is typically side on and can be a little ‘closed’, may have little eye contact, keep a comfortable distance, quiet voice and hands by side.


Upfront and direct, without the negative emotion of an aggressive person.  They are usually concise, clear and prompt.  Seek full disclosure and pro-active communication.

Body language is typically front on but at a comfortable distance, good eye contact, active listening, animates their arms and body only to explain and communicate concepts.


Usually emotional and have trouble communicating either due to sadness, embarrassment or confusion.

Body language can vary widely from very closed (for someone upset/sad/embarrassed), to uncontrollably upset with shaking, crying, and wailing.

With Berne’s Transactional Analysis in mind you need to realise that for any interaction to have a positive outcome you must be fulfilling the role of the ‘Adult’, regardless of the role or behavioural style the other party is fulfilling.

This means you must always avoid using an aggressive behavioural style (the worst aspects of the Parent) or an upset style (the worst aspects of the Child) and embrace the best aspects of the assertive and passive styles, namely; be relaxed yet direct, be clear, concise and prompt, keep a comfortable distance from others, be open with your body language, always try to maintain eye contact and be pro-active with your communication.

Now if you follow this link you can download and use the personality and behaviour worksheets from  Use these worksheets to have a constructive analysis of your own personality and behavioural style. This will help you understand your own behaviours and what aspects of your behavioural style you may need to manage to ensure your interactions with others are always positive and effective.

Its good to 'get along' with others in this line of work folks!

Registration content image - exercise program templates.

PT Program Template

FREE Download

Make writing personal training programs easy with these custom designed exercise templates, and keep your clients focused and progressing.

Link to PT Program Exercise Templates

Registration content image - client back care guide.

Client Back Care Guide

FREE Download

Pain-free clients are happy clients. Claim your free copy of the client back care guide today. Your clients will thank you for it!

Link to Client Back Care Guide