Yeah, THAT Happened at My Gym
A Lesson on Handling Sensitive Situations
We've all been there. The circumstance we actively seek to avoid. That uncomfortable scene we rehearse in our mind. The moment we can only hope to never endure.
I'm talking about that dreaded, awkward conversation with a member that you just can't run away from.
I was the evening shift manager of a bustling gym. At the time, my gym was the local hotspot to workout, show off the guns and bums; to see and be seen. It had a cool and hip vibe but, more than anything, a sense of acceptance and camaraderie. It didn't matter who you were or what you looked like.
You had your impeccably sculpted gods and goddesses, sprinkled with some older folk, and the always dependable gym-casuals.
Everyone got along. It was gym utopia. Until one day, someone broke a golden rule.
She was a new member with the utmost pungent body odor, who LOVED to work out during prime time hours... on the center treadmill.
Not one week into her arrival, she was made an outcast. Members vehemently complained to staff and DEMANDED immediate resolution.
As manager of the gym, it was my job to provide every member a welcoming environment. As such, I had to assess and address the situation. After conducting a discrete sniff test, I determined that “the talk” was an absolute necessity in order to eradicate the issue, appease the complaining members, but more than anything, help the offender become an accepted member of this crazy, amazing gym family.
After she finished her workout, I asked if she had a moment to speak. I told her that it was called to my attention that she had a body odor that made some people uncomfortable.
I asked if there was anything I could do to help ensure she be embraced by her fellow members. I identified with her and mentioned that I, too, have had the same issue - citing that I genetically sweat a lot, and have occasional body odor precipitated by what I ate the night before or from taking certain supplements. I mentioned that I use sweat absorbing powder for my sneakers, wash my clothes after working out, and use a neutral scented deodorant.
I thought my words were poignant, and my approach smooth. I was feeling good about how as a young manager, and in a first time situation like this, I handled things. I was anticipating a “thank you” and a discussion. Instead, I got a membership card flung unto my chest like a frisbee before she stormed out.
Shortly after, I called the phone number on file and left a message apologizing for upsetting her and explaining my intention was solely to help. She did not call back.
The next evening she showed up at the gym.
She asked for her membership card, checked in and worked out. A member on the treadmill next to her, looked over at me and gave me a thumb’s up. And, while I never did another sniff test, I didn’t need to.
It seemed like ages before the member acknowledged my existence, until one night, after a month of her working out - without looking at me, she said, "good night."
What did I learn?
As gym operators, we need to be sensitive to all members and their needs. We need to be aware of how and when to speak. We need to practice empathy and be gracious.
After all, the gym is where our members go to feel better about themselves. If we can play any role in making their lives better, it should be our priority and our privilege – even when we don’t have the perfect script to read from.