Clients like to have their hair cut by somebody they are comfortable with– they like their look, their energy, and the way they style hair. And, sometimes clients want therapy versus hairstyling. Some stylists take it on. There is a fuzzy line between the two. On one hand, I want my client to feel on top of the world when they leave, or at least liking the way their hair looks. And yes, some I propped up more than others. Sometimes I need to give a bit more shoring to have a client a positive note to leave on. Is this called therapy? Do I really want that role?
I used to work next to this hairdresser, a very good friend of mine at the time, who never hesitated to ask really personal questions, and he played out the role of psychologist, even though he was one of the most neurotic people I know. “So how are you two really doing? Are you having sex yet?” My skin would crawl, it felt unprofessional. And yet, he was booked solid. He was known to be over-the-top sensitive, and a great listener, and he really did care. And, yet he would get right in your business. He attracted clients who liked that.
He gave, and gave, and gave. He booked himself tight, haircut after haircut. Lunch went down in five minutes, usually the fattiest, saltiest of foods, with a Coke. He oozed charisma, and he was a talented hairdresser. He worked like this for at least 20 years. I respected Joel in many ways and he would do just about anything for me. In fact, he helped me build my hairstyling career. He dragged me out of managing a fruit stand, I quit my hairdressing job, and didn’t know if I wanted to continue, although I cut hair in my apartment. He said, “What are you doing? You’re a hairdresser. Come open the salon with me.”
In watching him, a feeling would surface every once in a while, “When is the other shoe going to drop?” Then it did. After years of this incredible pace, he vanished from the business. He just couldn’t do it anymore. Clients who had appointments, didn’t get a call. Clients of eighteen years wondered why. Done.
Watching my friend give and give and give as a hairstylist, then burn out, was painful. Did he need to give so much to his clients that he had nothing left of himself? Seeing how he left the business created confusion for me as a friend, and as a stylist. Maybe it’s the only way he knew how. Maybe the intensity is what his clients expected of him. As a budding hairstylist, I could see the position required building relationships, sustaining them, not to mention having great technical skills, but did it mean I had to give up myself as an offering? I felt uncomfortable with how much he gave, and yet I believed that must be what it takes to be successful in this business.
I too, gave beyond what was necessary, but in a different way. My boundaries were soft around the edges. I’d let clients take advantage of me, I’d stress about being good enough. Would their hair be okay? Would they be okay with their hair? I took it home with me, and compared myself to Joel. I never measured up when I did compare our different ways of approaching our clients. I never wanted to ask personal questions though, I was too scared, afraid of offending them. If they wanted a more personal relationship with me, I waited for their cue. I would even sometimes use my clientele to shore myself up. I use to go out a lot with my clients. Then some where along the way, that all changed.
It started with studying with Rusk. I became an educator with them and it changed everything about how I saw hair. I took my career more seriously– I quit leaning on my clients for support. My job became about giving to them in a professional way,and keeping the personal talk down to a minimum. Now I don’t have a personal relationship with 99% of my clients outside the salon. I awakened to the fact their appointment time should be about them, and it is about hair, and I need to be talking about there hair, not their personal lives.
I listen to my clients now, and I follow their lead, always keeping in mind my job is hairstyling. Therapist versus hairstylist? No, contest. I much prefer my job as a stylist. Down deep, clients want to be waited on, taken care of, and walk out loving their hair.