Small talk. It’s enough to make even the most confident speaker’s skin crawl with awkwardness.
It’s bad enough at a cocktail party, but when you’re in your hair stylist’s chair for sometimes three hours or more, it can make your relaxing “me time” feel like a boardroom meeting. Sure, there are those of us that love our regular styling / gossip sessions with our hairdresser – it’s like a scheduled six-weekly appointment for a coffee date with a friend. But what about when you just want to zone out not have to discuss your holiday plans at length? With that in mind, we grilled some of New Zealand’s top stylists about how to broach the subject of nixing the small talk when all you want to do is bury your head in a magazine.
Jennifer Morgan, Redken business advisor, colour specialist and owner of Morgan & Morgan Urban Retreat Takapuna
“Generally body language (and experience) tells me whether or not a client is in the mood to chat. Personally, I am not very good at silly small talk so I am usually going to engage my clients in a genuine conversation or let them relax and have some time out. It’s not hard to tell whether or not your client wants to talk and at the end of the day, it’s her experience that counts.
“My advice to clients is to be honest. As a colourist working with people all day, I actually appreciate having someone in my chair who doesn’t want to chat. It’s like a little downtime for me where I don’t have to talk and I can just concentrate on the task at hand. If someone says to me, “Do you mind if I just read a magazine? I’m all talked out today,” I would have no problem at all with that. As I said, it’s a nice quiet time for me, too.”
Grant Bettjeman, Kérastase ambassador and owner of Bettjemans Salon
“Having your hair done is all about the experience. The chat, or no chat is very much part of that. We, as hairdressers tend to attract the clients that suit our particular style and not just in hair. If the stylist is a “chatter”, then their clientele tend to be. Stylists who chat and share a little about themselves tend to have the biggest loyal clientele. I have worked with talented silent stylists who struggle to maintain a clientele, which suggests that the conversation and communication is very much appreciated and expected. Salons tend to be full of laughter and that is always a by-product of the chat.
“However a change is happening as our clientele get younger. They communicate digitally and are living in an increasingly non-verbal world. Their “chatter” is via their digital devices, earphones, tweets, emails, text and Facebook. Stylists very quickly decide whether it’s appropriate to talk. I would like to see the salon as one of the last bastions of fun chatter.
“If you want a quiet time while you have your hair done, tell your stylist. Something like, “I’ve had a busy day and am looking for some quiet time to relax. No offence but I’d just love to chill.” Some clients ask their stylist for a huge pile of magazines before they start.”
Jamie Barakat, L’Oreal Professionnel artist and master stylist at KTIZO Hair & Skin
“We all lead very busy lifestyles so explain to your stylist that you have been looking forward to coming into the salon and treating yourself so you can relax, have some quiet time and escape life’s everyday duties. Then proceed to catch up on the latest fashion magazines without the awkward chitchat as your stylist works their magic.”
Louise Pilkington, Pureology ambassador and co-founder of Dry & Tea
“I can usually tell by my client’s body language how they’re feeling. When a client seems tired, flustered or distracted (i.e. looking at their phone a lot), I know straight away to give them space and just perform my magic. Over the years I have always spoken with my team about chatter. When a client chooses a salon or stylist, it’s because they are engaging, friendly and talented. A great stylist is good at engaging as some clients love hearing about the latest cafe, bar, restaurant, movie, music, art, fashion etc. Hairdressers are very social and mostly on the pulse with what’s happening due to the amazingly wide variety of people we meet each day.
“A stylist talking too much about themselves or sharing intimate things can be off-putting. On the other hand if a stylist is too shy or really says nothing the whole service this can be just as awkward, therefore a happy medium is important. It’s all about learning to read your client’s vibe and respecting their wish for amazing hair and silence sometimes.”
Rebecca Brent, Kérastase ambassador and owner of Willis York Salon
“I have always had the philosophy of letting the client lead conversation. You can tell if someone wants to chat or not. It’s the same for all beauty treatments. If I go for a massage or facial and they talk constantly I won’t go back. It definitely comes with experience knowing when to talk to break an uncomfortable awkward silence and when to be quiet.”
Wayne Richardson, L’Oreal Professionnel artist and owner of KTIZO Hair & Skin
“When it comes down to it, our job is to create an atmosphere where the client feels comfortable in the salon and enjoys their experience. Conversation is a huge part of this experience and this is where the stylists need to know how to read the client’s body language, gauge if they would like to talk and choose the right topics.
“We teach our stylists to ask one or two open ended questions to begin with, such as, “What have you been up to lately?” If the answer is short and sweet such as, “Not a lot,” you can tell whether they are in the mood for some good banter or just wish to sit and relax. As a client you shouldn’t feel pressured to have a conversation when you just wish to relax.”