Creating Connection

Effective Approaches to Ensure Your Clients Feel Heard

By Cindy Williams
[Classroom to Client]

There is more to an exceptional massage experience than well-executed hands-on skills. In 2014, I conducted a series of interviews across the country with massage consumers to gain a firsthand understanding of what clients want from massage sessions. While clients definitely want to receive massage from a well-trained, technically skilled therapist, they choose whether to continue as a regular client for more expansive reasons. One of the primary complaints clients reported in these interviews was that many massage therapists don’t listen to their needs and don’t create an individualized experience based on what is asked for. Clients want to be heard and responded to based on what they say. In short, they want connection.

What is Connection?
Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary defines connection as “A situation in which two or more things have the same cause, origin, or goal.”1 You must communicate effectively, authentically, and with curiosity in order to determine what caused a client to come to you, as well as what their goals are. This information can then be applied to the massage experience in several ways so the client feels heard. From the first moment we meet a new client, to the massage session and beyond, creating and maintaining connection is simple when a few basic communication skills are applied.

How to Connect
Following are simple ways to let your client know you care about why they are coming to see you and how you can help them reach their session goals.

Make a Pre-Session Phone Call
It’s helpful to make a reminder call about your upcoming client appointments, because it reduces the number of cancellations and no-shows. However, the pre-session call can also be a great time to find out why your client is coming to see you. For first-time clients, ask them if they are seeking relaxation and stress relief, or if they have a specific pain or injury they want to have addressed (it might be both). Whatever their needs are, respond with empathy, saying things like, “I understand how tiring stress and/or pain can be, so I look forward to providing you some relief,” or, “Thank you for letting me know ahead of time so I can have some [warm towels, warm rice bags, pain relief cream, etc.] ready to go to make the session even more effective,” or, “I have some great techniques to address neck pain, so I’m sure I can help.” Reflect back what you hear them say.
If you are calling a repeat client, you can ask how they’ve been feeling since the last session. Ask, “How is your shoulder feeling? Have you felt any improvements, or is it still hurting?” The simple act of remembering what was addressed at the last session proves to your client that you were paying attention. You don’t have to go into elaborate detail, but you can begin communicating that you care about their needs.

Listen Actively
Active listening is a skill. The more you practice, the better you become. A few valuable suggestions made in a Forbes magazine article are particularly appropriate for massage therapists:2
1. Face the speaker and maintain eye contact. Avoid engaging in any other activity, such as resetting the room or warming a rice bag, while your client is reporting their current status.
2. Try to picture what the speaker is saying. For massage therapists, this is especially helpful as you determine how to approach the client’s area of pain or stress.
3. Try to feel what the speaker is feeling. Essentially, put yourself in their shoes. This is the cornerstone of empathy, and it will go a long way in helping a client feel heard and connected with.
The information you gather through active listening will help you plan the session, as well as negotiate the time you spend on each part of the body. If your client complains of neck pain, you might suggest 15 minutes of the hour be spent there. It’s essential to tell a client what your plan is so they can tell you if they prefer a different plan. They might prefer you spend the entire session on their upper body only.
As previously mentioned, when I conducted the consumer interviews and asked about their not-so-positive massage experiences, many individuals reported that they didn’t feel the massage therapist listened to them. One consumer summed it up by saying, “She just did what she did.” In other words, the session was a routine rather than a response. Stagnant routines do not create connection.

Request Feedback
Even though requesting feedback is taught as an entry-level skill, some therapists don’t practice it. Excellent therapists check in both during and after the session to ensure clients feel comfortable and safe, and needs are addressed. You aren’t required to constantly engage your client in feedback during a session (they probably also want to quietly relax). You do, however, create a greater sense of connection when you are applying the right amount of depth and spending the right amount of time based on your client’s response. One of my favorite questions occurs directly after working on an area of concern. “Does this area feel complete, or would you like for me to spend more time here?” This is one simple example of how to truly customize a session.

Follow Up
Lastly, make a follow-up call. Even if you only leave a message, a brief call asking how your client feels the next day will show you care. Another idea is to send an email a week or two after the session that links to an article offering education specific to their challenge. You can find many article ideas for clients at

Why Connect?
People like to talk about what matters to them. Even folks who are quiet and shy still want to tell their story to an authentically curious and caring person, especially when pain and stress is the problem. If they believe you are willing and able to offer support, they will likely feel safety and comfort, and be more receptive to your hands-on work. Our work as massage therapists is as much about relationship building as it is about applying the appropriate techniques.
I received wise words from a teacher many years ago that stuck with me. He said, “Treat each client as if what they are saying to you is the most important thing you will hear all day.” It goes a long way. Your clients will keep coming back, and you will find that you are more effective when you’ve been present enough to hear them. Then, the common goal can be reached.

1. Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary, accessed September 2017,
2. Dianne Schilling, “10 Steps to Effective Listening,” Forbes, November 9, 2012, accessed September 2017,

Since 2000, Cindy Williams, LMT, has been actively involved in the massage profession as a practitioner, school administrator, instructor, curriculum developer, and mentor. She maintains a private practice as a massage and yoga instructor. Contact her at