Don’t Be a Jerk of a Gym Owner! (How to Be More Likable)

How to be more likeable

Chris Cooper (00:00):
Stop being such a jerk! How to get people to like you. I’m Chris Cooper. This is “Run a Profitable Gym.” And I haven’t always been this likable. Today I’m gonna give you three big topics: how to stop being unlikable, how to get people to actively like you, and then we’re gonna talk about the five levels of influence. Look, this is important stuff because you’re a knowledgeable, caring subject-matter expert, but if people don’t like you, they won’t come to your gym or they’ll leave too quickly to change their own lives. It’s hard to always be likable. But today I’m gonna give you some tips on how to do it, how I got over being pretty much unlikable in my gym, and what this all means for you long term. If you want more info and support, go to to join a group with thousands of the world’s top fitness entrepreneurs.

Chris Cooper (00:50):
Now let’s start with a story. If you’re a physician, how do you make sure that nobody’s going to sue you for malpractice? Well, of course the insurance companies have done a lot of research on this, and what they’ve found is that people sue almost every physician except for the physician that they like. That’s right. Your technical expertise matters less than your bedside manner when it comes to determining if you’re going to get sued by a client for malpractice. Now, in the fitness world, we don’t get sued for malpractice, but people do vote with their wallets, and if they don’t like us, they will leave. I figured this out the hard way. I once had this client named Patricia. Fantastic client. I liked her. We worked together every Tuesday and Thursday after she got done with her job at about 4:30 in the afternoon. And Patty, Patricia, came in for years to do personal training—even when she had overuse injuries from her job and her physiotherapist told her “stop working out at that gym. Just rest and let things recover.” The problem was that with two half-hour sessions a week, she wasn’t getting a lot of fitness gains. And so she wasn’t really losing weight because she had a stressful job and she was still eating poorly. She wasn’t recovering her shoulder because with two workouts a week, she would come in and we would do either some rehab or she would go super hard, but you couldn’t do both ‘cause you didn’t have time. And so it was a kind of a frustrating lack of progress for both of us. And so I would give her this homework to do at home, and one day she came in and she said, “Coop, you know, I’m just not doing this homework at home. I wish you could just come to my house and motivate me every day.” And of course she was kind of joking, but she was also kind of telling me “I’m not satisfied with my progress.” And instead of being empathetic and saying “hey, Patty, here’s how we can help,” what I said was “your motivation’s not my problem.” Now of course that’s a jerky thing to say, and of course there’s a reason I said it. And if you know me or you’ve met me in person in the last decade, you know I’d never say anything like that now. But at the time, I was a burned-out, exhausted, broke, distracted, unfocused, overwhelmed gym owner. I was having a horrible day. I couldn’t figure out how to pay the rent, let alone ourselves. So we were fighting at home about money again. I just had a trainer call and say that they were going to be late.

Chris Cooper (03:13):
And so I was trying to sort out what to do with their clients and whether I’d have to cover their class for them again. I was totally not thinking about Patty. And so with my guard down, this just slipped out. Well, of course she didn’t respond. She laughed—and she never came back. And she was right to. Why would she? Who wants to be around a jerk like that? If you’re having trouble containing your jerkiness, hiding it or putting a positive face forward, I’m gonna give you some tips right now that have really helped me because I had to work at this. Even when things got better, I had to repress this instinct of being the know-it-all teacher that just knows everything “and that’s why you should listen to me,” of always being right, or just kind of being this jerk that put people off.

Chris Cooper (04:01):
So here’s some tips. Number 1, in your gym somewhere, have a door that closes. And when you’re not in your best mood, at least like a nine out of 10 personality, over the top, feeding other people energy, smiling, happy to be there, if you can’t behave at least at a nine outta 10 level, go into the room with the door that closes and close the door until you can. Now I’m not saying hide out. I’m saying hide your bad mood from other people. Next, maybe you have a time of day when you are low energy. For me, this is around 2 o’clock. I get up at 5, I work hard, I’ve got lots of energy, and then I just kind of crash around 2 o’clock, and I need a nap. If that’s you hire somebody to replace you, it’s more important that the coach that’s in front of your clients brings energy than even knowledge. They can be like a Ph.D., but if they’ve got a bad mood, they show up late, they’ve got their hoodie up, they’re gonna turn clients off. And you can’t change their lives if they’re not right in front of you. Okay? Hire somebody to replace you at your low-energy times. That’s also like 6 a.m. for me. At 6 a.m. I’m buzzing with ideas. I’ve got stuff I wanna do to grow my business. And while I do have lots of energy, I also have lots of distraction. And so while I’m coaching this class, I’ll be rushing through it because I want to get to writing the blog post or whatever it is that I’m passionate about. So the second tip is to hire somebody for your low-energy times. The third tip is to know your limit. I know from 20 years of coaching that if I coach three hours in a row, the third client is not getting the same energy that the first client was.

Chris Cooper (05:39):
So two clients in a row is about my limit, and that’s true if I’m doing personal training or group classes or I’m on the phone with an entrepreneur looking to grow their business. Two is my limit. I cannot deliver at peak “Coop-ness” for more than two hours at a time. I’m just exhausted and I need a break. So that’s number three. Number 4 is to focus on your “seed clients.” So these are the people who show up with batteries included—not every day, but most of the time they should actually feed you energy instead of sucking the energy out. Look, if you’ve got a personal-training session with a client who you’re dreading 48 hours before it even happens, then you need to get rid of that client. Now maybe you can’t get rid of the revenue from that client yet, but you need to actively pursue ways to move that client to somebody else who will work better with them.

Chris Cooper (06:27):
That’s probably one of your staff. I’m not saying fire them because you don’t get along or they don’t feed you energy. That’s not always their job, but if you’re working with them, it will drain you, and that will negatively impact the following clients. Okay? Next I want you to remember that clients should leave your business feeling closer to you than when they got there. That doesn’t mean you have to take steps in your relationships and gradually move them closer to marrying you. It just means that when a client walks out the door, you should ask yourself “am I closer with this client or further away today?” Now you can obsess about this, but if you’re gonna think about anything with the client, you have to ask yourself “do they like my service better or do they like it less than they did when they got here?”

Chris Cooper (07:17):
Okay, that’s really important. Next, don’t be distracted. Distraction is the root of unhappiness. It’s the root of bad moods. You need to not carry your phone into a training session with you. That thing will go off. It is literally built to distract you. That’s how it’s set up. And if you’re distracted, the clients will like you less. You will like the client less because you’re thinking about the person that you’re supposed to be responding to instead of the person who’s right in front of you. So don’t bring your phone into the session, and don’t let your clients bring theirs unless there’s an emergency afoot. Next tip, get a mentor. Look, part of the reason that you’re unhappy and stressed out is because you’re overwhelmed. When you’re buying mentorship, you’re buying speed because you’re buying focus. A mentor can tell you not just what to do but also what you can ignore, what you can save for later, what you don’t have to worry about today.

Chris Cooper (08:13):
One of the big things that people tell me when they get into our mentorship program is that their stress level just goes way down. As soon as they make that first investment in mentorship, it feels like a weight’s just been lifted off their shoulders ‘cause they’ve lifted it and put it squarely on the mentor’s desk and said, “Here, help me sort this out. Tell me what to do next.” My next tip might sound counterintuitive, and that is to stop doing high-intensity interval training exercise when you’re stressed out. Look, your body does not know the difference between physical stress and mental stress. There’s a lot of overlap there. And when you have mental stress, if you’re just pounding your body into the ground over and over, you’re just gonna keep burying yourself deeper. What I suggest as a fitness professional is that you take the advice that you would give to your clients: when they’re in a period of high stress, high anxiety, high overwhelm, they should do something that’s not going to stress them out even more.

Chris Cooper (09:07):
Yeah, short term maybe a hard workout is what you need to clear your head and get a mental break. But stress compounds. You know this. I don’t have to explain the physiology of this. And for me, what happened years ago was I was completely stressed out. I was completely overwhelmed. One day I walked into my gym and I saw the coach’s lunch spread all over the front desk where clients were coming in. I was mad and distracted. A coach started leading a warmup in the group. It was super boring. It was the same old thing we’d been doing. And I walked out and didn’t come back to my gym for about three months. I was at the absolute breaking point. What did I do? I went out and rode my bike. I let my fitness slip for two or three months knowing that I had another 50 years ahead of me because I needed that break.

Chris Cooper (09:56):
And so it might be time to take a break from hit. If you’re an overwhelmed and stressed-out gym owner, don’t give up on your fitness. Don’t stop moving. But don’t crush yourself in the gym anymore. Next, you should maybe think about talking to a therapist or somebody who has some kind of objectivity on what’s going on. I talked to a psychotherapist named Bonnie Skinner at Level Up Coaching every second week. I don’t go in with big problems. I don’t need to talk about my mom or my relationship. What I do is I just talk about what’s bugging me that week. And just airing it out, exposing it to the light of day, usually resolves the problem. And that has led to a much less stressful, happier life—even with the huge company that I now own. Finally, the last tip is know when it’s appropriate to rant, vent, or complain and when it’s not. Remember, when you own a business, you step on stage, and if what people see of you is ranting and complaining, they will not want to be around you. Think about it. Nobody wants to go out to dinner or drinks with a friend who’s always negative, who’s always complaining. And when you put that foot forward on Facebook or Instagram and you’re just ranting or complaining or being passive aggressive, nobody will wanna be around you. We constantly mistake our clients for our friends, and we vent to them. Well, they don’t want to hear that. They’ve got enough drama in their own life. Or we think that everybody paying attention on Facebook is already in love with us. That’s not true. People are judging everything that you say or do. So if you have negative things to say or you want to complain about a member, a coach, a staff person, the government, your taxes, whatever, talk to somebody in your personal life that you trust not to share that opinion with everybody else.

Chris Cooper (11:39):
Yeah, you gotta get it out. Talk to a therapist, talk to your spouse, talk to your best friend. Do not share that stuff on Facebook, okay? Don’t spread that stuff around. So that’s how to get over being disliked. Have a door that closes. Hire somebody to replace you at low-energy times. Know your limits. Focus on your seed clients. Focus on leaving clients happier or clients leaving your gym happier. Get rid of your phone. Get a mentor. Stop doing high-intensity interval training when you have to. Talk to a therapist. And know when it’s appropriate to rant and when it’s not. All right, I’ve told you how to stop being unlikable. Stop being a jerk. Today, I wanna tell you how to actually be likable so that you attract people to you instead of pushing people away.

Chris Cooper (12:28):
My first job in fitness was actually selling treadmills. So in 1998, this local treadmill store opened, and I was its first manager. I already had a degree in exercise science, which is what they called it back then. And I had been working as a trainer for about two years. So obviously I knew everything about fitness. And so when people would come in I would just barf information all over them. I would ask them technical questions that there’s no way they knew the answer to. Like, are you training to improve aerobic capacity or are you working on your stamina? And 30 minutes later, they would leave more overwhelmed, more confused and further from buying a treadmill than when they came in. And so several months into this process, I really hadn’t sold any treadmills. I was horrible because people just didn’t like me. And so then the store hired an assistant manager named Sean.

Chris Cooper (13:15):
Sean was a part-time magician. I think he called it an “illusionist” at the time. And Sean started selling treadmills like crazy. But Sean knew nothing about fitness, nothing about exercise, and really nothing about the treadmills, but he was good at it, and people loved him. And Sean gave me a tool that I’ll be forever grateful for. He handed me this book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” I read it, and I started reading it with this mindset of skepticism. But when I started trying the tactical advice in Dale Carnegie’s book, it worked. And I started selling more treadmills, and people started to like me, and I started to like myself better, and I started getting people more fit and moving them toward their goals. There are six big lessons from this book—”How to Win Friends and Influence People”—that I wanna share with you right now because these are things that I’ve printed out and put on my wall as constant reminders.

Chris Cooper (14:08):
20 years later, I still need to be reminded of these things, but I think they can help you, too. So first, never criticize, condemn or complain. When you spend time criticizing other people, condemning other people’s actions or complaining about what other people do, your brain starts looking for negatives. You start looking for other things that people are doing wrong, and that makes you unhappy because that’s all you’re seeing all day. Daniel Pink in one of his books wrote that most people don’t have a single happy thought all day. And it’s because they’ve trained their brain to look for negative things. And so when you criticize others, condemn and complain, you start looking for negative things, and that trains your brain to be unhappy. Fault Finding, nitpicking, being a jerk. And Dale Carnegie’s book helped me get over that. Look, it is really hard to stop complaining.

Chris Cooper (15:01):
It is really hard to stop criticizing other people or looking on them in judgment, but when you do, you’ll be a better person and be more likable. The second rule from Carnegie’s book is to give honest and sincere appreciation. This is an amazing skill that I work on all the time. When you’re thanking somebody, tell them exactly how their advice or their help has changed your life. I’ll tell you who’s amazing at this is some of the people in our Tinker Program. It’s no coincidence that the most successful entrepreneurs in Two-Brain are also the best at sharing their thanks and gratitude. I have a card from a gym owner named Amanda Chace, and if you open it up, you’ll find a very specific thank you in here that I appreciate so much that I keep it behind my desk because on days when I feel stressed out and overwhelmed and wonder if I’m actually helping people, I’ve got this whole wall full of people saying “thank you” in very specific ways. And I can look at that and remind myself that I am doing good out there, and that makes me more likable.

Chris Cooper (16:04):
Give honest and sincere appreciation. This is actually a gift you can give yourself, too. On a day when you feel stressed out or pissed off at somebody, just send 10 sincere and thoughtful thank-you messages, and you won’t be stressed out anymore. Okay, third, speak in terms of the other person’s interest. Really this means “put yourself in their shoes.” What do they want and can you help them get it? This is really where the No Sweat Intro came from. It wasn’t a sales pitch or “hey, wanna try my free thing? And, you know, maybe you’ll figure out how it helps you. Maybe you’ll like it as much as I do.” Instead, the No Sweat Intro is you being empathetic enough to say “how can I get this person to the goals that they want?” and understanding exactly what they want. They don’t come in your door because they wanna buy CrossFit or they want to try Pilates.

Chris Cooper (16:54):
They come in your door because they’ve got a problem that they hope you can solve. They know that you’ve got a toolkit that they don’t have, and maybe that toolkit is CrossFit, or maybe that toolkit is boot camp or kettlebells or whatever, but they’re trusting you to have the tools. And you to tell them what to do based on what they need to do to get to their goals. So speak in terms of the other person’s interest and constantly frame it as “we are doing this today because it will help you get to this goal.” You know, “teaching the why” is such a foundational part of coaching that it should be the first thing that every single coach learns—how to frame what you’re doing in terms of the other person’s “why.” Okay? Then the fourth thing that I learned from the Dale Carnegie book is to remember people’s names.

Chris Cooper (17:39):
This is so simple but so powerful. If you remember people’s names, they will be impressed because their name is like the sweetest word that they will ever hear. They feel important when you remember their name. When I started getting this down, I started actually taking courses on how to remember names better because I realized how important it actually was. When a client that I hadn’t seen for nine years came in and I remembered their name and their wife’s name, they were blown away. You know who is great at this? Greg Glassman. The first time I ever met Greg, he came into the Canada East Regional. This was 2012, and he’s just swarmed by people, and outta the crowd he spots Anthony Bainbridge, and he says, “Hey, Anthony, how’s it going? How’s your mother doing? Did she get over that illness?” And Anthony was just stunned, like shocked.

Chris Cooper (18:31):
And he told me later, “Like, I haven’t seen that guy in three years. And he remembered my name, my wife’s name, and that my mother had been ill.” That is how you build long-term attraction and eventually influence. But I’ll talk about that later. Fifth, be interested in people instead of trying to be interesting. Look, everybody tries to impress everybody now using social media. We try to be influencers. Here’s the funny thing: if you want to influence other people, you need to be interested in them instead of trying to be interesting to them. That sounds counterintuitive in the world of social-media influencers and talking heads and gurus. We all try to be interesting, but the reality is if you really want people to like you and trust you and stay with you, you have to be interested in them. That’s the paradox. Finally, number six is to avoid arguments.

Chris Cooper (19:26):
Now, I don’t like arguments anyway, but I’m not above a good debate. But here’s what I’ve learned: When you wrestle with a pig, you both get dirty, and the pig kind of likes it. That didn’t come from Carnegie’s book. That’s a lesson that I learned from my grandpa. And the thing is that now every argument that you get in, every wrestling match you have with a pig, is broadcast to everybody everywhere, and it stays recorded forever. So when people see you getting into arguments online, they don’t think “wow, Chris is so right. He is so smart. He is way smarter than that dude.” What they see is “here’s a person who likes to argue.” Nobody wants to be around a person who likes to argue. If you have to have a debate with somebody, do it in private. This also, you know, leads into another tenet of Carnegie, which is correct in private praise in public.

Chris Cooper (20:16):
When you’re engaging with somebody and there’s a chance that the engagement can go south or turn heated or escalate, you wanna do that in private. Take it offline. Nobody wants to see you do that. Okay? So that’s how to be likable. This is just such a fantastic book. Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” I make myself read it again every single year, I always get something new out of it. I keep a dozen copies on my shelf in my office, and I give a copy to everybody in my family as they graduate high school. It’s that important to me. It’s one of maybe like three books that I want everybody to read. Next, I wanna talk about the Five Levels of Influence. I’ve been talking about how to not be a jerk and how to be likable. How does that translate into influence?

Chris Cooper (21:02):
Well, leadership really boils down to influence. Before people can follow your lead, they have to first like you. Then they have to really know you, and then they have to trust you, and then they’ll follow you. You’ve probably heard this before: to sell people, they have to know, like and trust you. But that’s out of order. First, they have to like you. Then they have to gain deep knowledge of you and still like you. And then they will trust you, and then they will follow you. Now, I’ve created a graphic of the Five Levels of Influence, and this is a mishmash of John Maxwell’s “Five Levels of Leadership” and Robert Cialdini’s book “Influence.” But this is what I’ve found in my career. So at this first level, the bottom level, people follow you because they have to. You hire them, and you will fire them if they don’t follow you, right? Like “under pain of being fired, you will do what I say.” That’s not very good influence, and it never lasts long. Level 2 is they follow you because they know and align with your noble purpose and your mission. So now you’ve hired them to work at your gym, and they know what your purpose is. They know what your mission is. They’ll forgive you some of your little mistakes because they really wanna help people get fit. Okay? That’s Level 2 influence. And you know, maybe they don’t like everything that you do. Maybe they don’t like the way that you do it. Maybe you’re kind of a jerk, but they give you some leeway and some grace because they understand what you’re trying to do. Okay? Level 3 is when you attract other people who wanna do what you’ve done and believe that you can help them get there.

Chris Cooper (22:36):
So in the CrossFit world, these would be people who have like won the Games, and they attract other people who want to win the Games. In the normal gym world or, you know, the real CrossFit world, this is coaches and trainers who see that you have built a successful gym, and they wanna work for you because they think “hey, Chris has a good career. He can help me get one, too.” Level 4, they want to recruit other people because of what you’ve done for them. So now you’ve helped them build a good career, you’ve helped them change their lives, and they want to bring their friends in to change their lives. They want to tell other trainers to come in and join your movement because it’s been so great for them. And level 5, they wanna do things just because of who you are.

Chris Cooper (23:19):
Now, this has been kind of amazing to me to witness over my career with Two-Brain Business, too, because, you know, originally we hired people who are already our favorite clients. They already believed in the mission, they already wanted to help, and they wanted to be business coaches. And then finally, you know, then they wanted to be as successful as I had been. They wanted to have like a lot of gym owners to help. But now what we’re seeing years into this, seven years in, is that people are calling and just saying like “I don’t have a product. I don’t have a project. I just want to be around Two-Brain more. Like, I want to do something with you. What can we do together?” And a lot of the times these are just great collaborations with really major brands. And I won’t say them publicly because they haven’t been released yet, but there are some massive partnerships out there that really started with just a conversation at our summit.

Chris Cooper (24:13):
Like, “Hey, Coop, love what you’re doing. How can we be part of that?” And then collaborating and building together. And this is amazing to me because knowing where I started out 20 years ago, 25 years ago, selling treadmills, I was not a likable person, let alone somebody who big brands would just come to and say, “Hey, we wanna do something with you. We don’t know what that is, what it’s gonna cost. How can we work together?” It’s really taken a lot of practice. It’s meant overcoming being unlikable, training myself to be more likable and liking myself better in the process. And then finally understanding how to have good influence without undermining your brand, your entire business and yourself. I’m Chris Cooper, this is “Run a Profitable Gym.” And if you want to chat more about this, go to where I’m always around just to answer questions and provide as much free advice as I possibly can for those who are not yet ready for our mentorship practice. Thanks! Take care and grow your gym.

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