There’s no question workplaces have become more casual, but not all traces of professionalism have been erased. How do you maintain your professionalism when your personal life has become difficult? The challenge for techs is in knowing where to draw the line between personal and professional when the two are so closely connected.
Amy Bickel, a nail tech and owner of Amy’s Nail Spa in Temple, Texas, had eight surgeries to remove suspicious cells before she finally opted for a double mastectomy.
Bickel says she let her clients in on what was happening, even though it meant that for most of the day she was talking about her upcoming procedure. “It was going to be on my mind anyway,” she says. “So I talked about it with my clients. I asked them what they would do in my situation, and they offered support and advice. We laughed and cried together as we spoke.”
Bickel felt she could trust her clients enough to be open about her personal life, but is such openness generally a good policy when you’re the professional behind the desk? It’s a question techs face daily, whether the topic is a recent but passing aggravation about your mom, kids, friend, or husband, or something more serious like illness or divorce. No rule book exists for this sort of thing, but general principles can help techs make a distinction between what’s okay to share and what’s best to leave at the door.
Only tell clients things you would want the whole world to know. “If you wouldn’t want it plastered on a billboard, don’t say it,” warns Bickel. “Clients will repeat it.” Bickel learned this lesson when a stylist from another salon called to offer support. “I asked how she had heard,” says Bickel, “and she told me one of my clients had been in for a hair appointment and was talking about me.” Bickel says if it could hurt her or her family, she doesn’t say it.
Don’t share things that won’t concern you in two weeks. “For example,” says Maureen Volpe, founder of the Volpe Nails franchise, “Don’t talk to clients about a fight with a spouse.” She gives two reasons: First, you’ll relive the anger of the fight each time you repeat the story — you’ll never move past the argument. Second, clients will ask you about it when they return for their appointment three weeks later and your frustrations could resurface. Instead, leave the argument at home and process it without talking with clients, she suggests.
This doesn’t mean you need to pretend all day. It means you use discretion in what you share, realizing that clients will revisit the topic at their next appointment — and you may not want to. For example, even though Bickel chose to talk about her experiences with breast surgery, and even with all the support she felt from her clients, she was overwhelmed when she returned after her double mastectomy.
“I wasn’t ready to talk about it right away,” Bickel says. She says clients would come into the salon all excited, saying, “Let me see! Let me see!” However, Bickel pulled back from sharing her emotional and physical changes with her clients. “I really shut them out,” she says. Today, Bickel readily talks about her surgery, and she uses the topic to stress the importance of early and regular breast exams. She turned her personal trial into an opportunity to help others because she was willing to cross professional lines into personal topics.
Reassess the “personal/professional” boundary line. Bickel says techs should stop trying to make a distinction between “personal” and “professional,” an almost impossible feat since being a nail tech is often more an identification than a job. Since it is inevitable that techs will talk about their personal lives, they should filter their stories with a lens that blocks out ones that could be offensive, such as stories about who they partied with last night. The distinction here is between ongoing, personal, and difficult events such as illness or divorce and personal stories such as last weekend’s party, intimate moments, or a knock-down, drag-out fight with a boyfriend. When techs blur this line, they could not only make clients uncomfortable, they could also lose credibility.
Clients can offer you support. Not all clients will empathize with what’s happening in your personal life, but some will be like water in the desert. It’s OK to lean on the strength of a client who loves you and is concerned about you. Any tech who has worked for a couple years can tell stories of the salve of being emotionally transparent with a client. However, if this becomes the norm in the relationship, it’s time to draw the line. Clients shouldn’t function as your personal counselors. If you find the relationship is unbalanced and you’re leaning on the client too often, it’s time to draw the line. Don’t weigh clients down with your concerns over the span of a couple of appointments. You can give them a quick update, but don’t consistently dominate the conversation when they’re paying you for your time.
It’s not about you. This is a hard realization when life events overwhelm your psyche, but it’s true nonetheless. Some clients will want to journey with you on the highs and lows of life; others are there only so their nails look nice. These clients pay you so they can talk about themselves and their concerns, and this is fair. “I let them lead,” says Bickel. She recommends techs watch body language. If, for example, you see a client turn her body away from the desk while you’re talking, change the subject. Turn the conversation back to less personal topics.
It’s OK to take a break. There will be times when the events of your life consume your thoughts. It’s okay to learn which clients are safe to lean on and invite them into your story. Still, there will be days when you feel overwhelmed, frantic, and on the edge of a meltdown because of what’s going on at home. It’s OK. Take a minute to excuse yourself from the client, go to a private area (even if it’s the bathroom), and breathe. Repeat a positive mantra or run through the top 10 things you’re grateful for — anything that helps you refocus and rebuild your energy. Then walk back into the room and turn your attention back to your client.