Q&A

How Do I Guide an Uncomfortable Conversation Into a New Direction?

Q.

How do you turn a conversation with a client in a new direction when it’s going into uncomfortable or negative territory?

A.

Elizabeth Morris of The Nail Hub
<p>Elizabeth Morris of The Nail Hub</p>

There’s nothing more awkward than a client providing way too much information or bringing up inappropriate topics. Sometimes it even gets started by a coworker and snowballs from something innocent to raunchy. So how do you get the conversation back on the professional and polite track? Here are two approaches.

The indirect approach (great for people who don’t feel comfortable being confrontational) is to distract your client. Something as simple as dropping something on purpose, or pretending to remember something, or excusing yourself for a quick second, will be a small distraction capable of derailing the conversation a bit. Then immediately jump on a different subject. Think of it as your “Squirrel!” moment that distracts your client from her current train of thought. The key is to ask the client a totally unrelated question —  something about herself, so she can talk about it for a bit. For example, ask about her kids or work or something else she wouldn’t relate to a naughty topic.

The direct approach (great for people who are comfortable speaking their mind) is to be honest. Let your client know you really appreciate her comfort level with you, but that you prefer to keep things polite and professional in your salon. You also might consider whether this is an innocent mistake on the part of your client, or if she is a repeat offender. If that’s the case, think about whether you really want that type of client in your chair. I used to have a client who persistently wanted to talk about her intimate moments even though I told her it was a little TMI. She just didn’t stop, so I stopped booking her. You have the right to feel comfortable at work, so if your client doesn’t respect your wishes then consider setting her free.

Overall, just don’t be a hypocrite. If you expect your clients and colleagues to be professional and polished, then you need to maintain decorum as well, and maintain it consistently. The issue of inappropriate topics usually arises because clients feel really comfortable, which means you’ve already somehow crossed the professional barrier in the past. There are some personalities who just randomly start spouting off about all manner of things, but most clients only get raunchy because somehow they think it’s OK.

It can also be caused by a lack of consistency in overall expectations. If you talk about unprofessional topics sometimes and reprimand them other times, then your clients may get confused and think it’s OK to do that too. So lead by example and your clients will follow suit. If you always keep your conversation on the polite and professional side, you most likely will never get comfortable enough to talk about inappropriate topics to begin with. Remember people who pay you for services are not your friends, they are your clients. You can be close without crossing that important professional line. 

— Elizabeth Morris, The Nail Hub (www.thenailhub.com)

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