You’ll encounter many different breeds of beauty professional. Most will be enthusiastic, passionate professionals you’ll be pleased to call friends and colleagues — then there are “the others.” We’ll start with the least threatening and work our way to the real insanos. Some professionals will fit into multiple categories.
Hobbyists. Hobbyists are usually older, semi-retired, and working in the salon for fun. They tend not to take their jobs very seriously, but aside from that are generally pleasant to work with.
Cultists. You’ll find Cultists in [Insert Specific Product Line Here]-exclusive salons. Their brand isn’t just a brand — it’s a lifestyle.
Some Cultists come without a brand (Powwow Cultists). Powwow Cultists can be found singing, dancing, and chanting affirmations in business seminars at beauty shows.
Cultist salons tend to be very well-managed, highly organized, and focused on education, motivation, and teamwork. The professionals within cultist salons adopt those values and that lifestyle. The brand names attract a loyal clientele, particularly if the line has a great reputation and highly promoted. These salons are definitely not a bad place to be, especially if you’re new to the industry — just don’t drink the Kool-Aid.
Fame Whores. Fame Whores tend to be very motivated, intensely passionate about their industry, and highly charismatic. Although I don’t quite understand the fascination some industry professionals have with “celebrity,” I don’t judge. Some professionals crave the heat of the stage lights. Their career goals generally include platform artistry, public speaking, competing, educating, or all of the above.
Artistes. You can spot an Artiste by their suffocating, ostentatious pretension and the way they stare down their nose at everyone. (“They’re not scissors, they’re shears, and I’m not a ‘hairdresser,’ I’m a hair sculptor. There is a difference, you know.”) Their arrogance borders on vulgarity.
Attitude aside, many Artistes have earned the right to be pompous. They tend to be damn good at what they do, they just can’t seem to shut up about it. It’s a frustrating quality, but often not entirely without justification.
Although annoying, this shameless self-promotion has its value. Artistes often command higher prices and more respect from their clients and employers. If they’re even half as skilled as they believe themselves to be, you might be able to learn something. Some are naturally gifted, but a good deal of them have worked incredibly hard to achieve technical mastery. Try to learn from them, just don’t let their massive ego suffocate you.
Compulsive Liars. Compulsive Liars seem to have no control over the crap that flows out of their mouth and don’t seem to realize how unbelievable their statements are. Ultimately, Compulsive Liars are incredibly insecure. They desire validation and approval so badly, they’re willing to lie their asses off and risk being exposed to obtain it. Mostly, they’re harmless. Pity them, try to be nice, and do what you can to build their confidence so they don’t have to pretend to be someone they aren’t.
Slobs. Sloppy behavior doesn’t just affect you — it affects the entire salon. Talking to a Slob in private should suffice. Never enable her by cleaning up after her. If she doesn’t improve, address it with management.
Borrowers. She “forgot” her shears, doesn’t have any clips, and always needs to borrow things from you — things that you need to do your job.
Tell the Borrower you’re happy to help her out when she’s in a pinch, but you purchased the tools for your use and many of them are quite expensive. Let her know that it’s time for her to invest in herself, then stop loaning things out.
Delusionals. Delusionals come in a staggering variety of subtypes. They can be unrealistically optimistic, naive, deranged, a toned-down version of a Drama Queen, a Compulsive Liar that truly believes their lies, or an Artiste without the skill to back up the arrogance. They generally aren’t malicious; they just aren’t living in reality. Try to bring them back to planet Earth.
Know-It-Alls. She knows everything about everything and she’s not afraid to tell you how wrong you are — even if clients are present.
In private, tell her that the clients don’t appreciate her interruptions and you’d prefer it if she would mind herself. Most Know-It-Alls just want to help and don’t realize their unsolicited “assistance” might insult the recipient.
If she persists, remind her of the prior conversation. Tell her that if she doesn’t stop, the next time you have the conversation, the manager or owner will be present. Advise her to bring her concerns about your performance to management.
If it continues, organize a meeting with the manager and require the Know-It-All to be present. Tell the manager that her behavior is insulting and disruptive and that you’ve made two attempts to speak with her privately to get her to cease, but she persists. The manager should handle it from there.
Flakes. Flakes can’t be counted on for anything other than their unreliability. Flaky coworkers are obnoxious, but flaky owners are a nightmare.
Don’t expect too much from Flakes and you won’t be disappointed. They can’t be relied upon, so don’t entrust them with anything important or time-sensitive.
Greedy Exploiters. Greedy Exploiters are found in salon ownership. They nickel-and-dime every staff member and are likely to commit wage theft. Greedy Exploiters are the scum of this industry.
Don’t accept jobs from them. Ethical salon owners profit off the clientele their business services, not the staff that work for them. Multiple chapters will teach you how to recognize a Greedy Exploiter, so we’re not going to get into this here.
Parasitic Adulators. “You’re so fantastic! I admire you! Is it cool if I latch onto you long enough to vault myself into some degree of relevancy so that I don’t have to do any work myself?”
Parasitic Adulators are Fame Whores who don’t want to work for the acclaim they desire. Instead, they find an industrious Fame Whore or someone with status, grip into them, and try to ride them into fame. Once a Parasitic Adulator sees a prime opportunity, they shove their chosen target under the nearest bus and use their mutilated corpse as a stepping-stone onto their own platform.
Fortunately, Parasitic Adulators are lazy and have no end-game. They have no idea what to do with relevancy once they achieve it and don’t have the drive or motivation to sustain it.
If someone suddenly wants to “collaborate” or “partner” with you, despite having nothing to bring to the collaboration or partnership, that person is likely a Parasitic Adulator. They’ll emulate you, claim your platform as their own, and give others the impression that they’re affiliated with you.
Be wary of worshipers seeking status. Drop them. Nobody has room in their life for parasites.
Users. Users see people as tools to be used and discarded. They’re good at pretending to be genuine and don’t disclose their motivations. People who have nothing to covet or offer and are unwilling to share what they do have are unlikely to be targeted by a User. Don’t loan or buy them anything and don’t offer career assistance.
Friendship is a give and receive relationship. If you’re being asked to give far more than you’re receiving, that person isn’t a friend — they’re a User. Get rid of them.
Drama Queens. Drama Queens are exhausting and unprofessional. Personally, I don’t tolerate them. I have no patience for them and no need for them in my life or in any business I manage. Avoid them. Never allow them to pull you into their personal soap opera.
“Managers.” She tells you what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. She reprimands you as well. Who does she think she is? She thinks she’s your boss. She’s wrong.
Handle this firmly in private. Be very clear and leave no room for misinterpretation. Use constant eye contact and enunciate precisely. A lot of “senior” employees think they have leverage over newbies. They don’t. Tell her, “You aren’t my superior and have no right to dictate to me. Don’t do it again.”
If this handles the problem, great. If not, don’t bother with a second warning. Arrange a meeting between you, the Manager, and the actual owner or manager. Chances are that they won’t appreciate her behavior either.
Thieves. Unlike a Borrower, Thieves “forget” to ask permission to borrow things and “forget” to return them.
Permanently mark your tools to identify them. Don’t confront Thieves yourself or make unfounded accusations. Have proof and go straight to management.
Employers take theft seriously. In most salons, theft of any kind is grounds for immediate termination.
Poachers. While there are many tactics client thieves use, ultimately you’re responsible for protecting your clientele. Ensure that your quality of work is such that clients wouldn’t consider leaving to begin with.
Poachers know exactly what they’re doing, so go straight to management. Detail instances where the coworker has blatantly attempted to lure business. If clients have complained about it, mention that also. Most owners put a stop to this immediately.
Sh*t Disturbers. Sh*t Disturbers thrive on drama, especially when they’re responsible for spawning it. They often don’t care if they get caught.
Teams of professional psychiatrists would have difficulty managing a Sh*t Disturber. Don’t even attempt it. They’re good at playing innocent (or worse, playing the victim). Fortunately, experienced owners see through that.
Approach management in private and tell them the beast is manipulative, malicious, and causing a host of issues between employees for her own amusement. If her behavior affects others, bring them into the meeting.
The boss will need to address this immediately. Sh*t Disturbers are most likely to stir up a mutiny or drive good staff away.
If she doesn’t get terminated, avoid her until she does. Believe me, Sh*t Disturbers never last long.
Backstabbers. Backstabbers are unlikely to stop no matter what you or your employer do. Kill her with kindness and don’t disclose anything that can be twisted into gossip. Ignore it, avoid her, and focus on the clients.
Incompetents. Incompetents are harmless to you — unless they come in the form of a salon owner or receptionist. There are two types of Incompetent: the Idealistic Incompetent and the Arrogant Incompetent.
The Idealistic Incompetents are characterized by their naivety and absurd optimism. Many inexperienced, first-time salon owners are Idealistic Incompetents. She doesn’t have time for business plans, financial projections, or budget-setting! Everything will work itself out! She doesn’t need business classes or a consultant or even any practical experience because she has passion! Her salon will be a huge success if she stays positive!
They can be frustrating at times, but Idealistic Incompetents are also amusing, fun, and inspiring. Their passion and optimism are infectious. Once all that incompetence burns away, they make great product educators, platform artists, and public speakers. Some even make fantastic owners.
Unfortunately, Idealistic Incompetent owners are very likely to fail. They neglect critical aspects of their businesses and often don’t familiarize themselves with tax and employment laws. (They’re too busy picking out window treatments and wallpaper to be bothered with actually running a business.)
Idealistic Incompetents soak up information and suggestions like sponges. They’re eager-to-please (often to a fault). Getting and keeping them focused tends to be the greatest challenge. Private meetings are highly recommended. These owners need strong management to handle the “boring business stuff” so they can put their abundant energy into “fun” stuff.
Be warned! Arrogant Incompetents exist in vast quantities. Avoid these owners and coworkers entirely. They strongly hold the false belief that they’re the ultimate authority on everything and consider themselves beyond reproach. Arrogant Incompetent coworkers will botch services, distribute bad technical advice, and never accept responsibility for anything or admit wrongdoing. Avoid them and let them destroy themselves.
Arrogant Incompetent owners don’t just fail to inform themselves about federal tax and labor laws, they go a step further, making up their own and insisting their version is the law. I suspect Arrogant Incompetents bleed into the Delusional breed since seem to genuinely believe they’re correct, even when confronted with irrefutable proof to the contrary.
These owners are impossible to work with and destined to fail. They’re aggressive and rule through intimidation. Like the Idealistic Incompetents, they have absolutely no clue what they’re doing, but unlike the Idealist Incompetents they’ll never admit it. These owners are usually contemptuous of our industry and the professionals they employ.
Husband/wife ownership teams are often comprised of an Idealistic Incompetent (usually the wife) and an Arrogant Incompetent (almost always the husband) who acts as her “enforcer.” Stay far away.
Psychos. One day she’s your best friend — the next, she interprets every word out of your mouth as a personal attack against her and will key your car and slash your tires by the end of the shift.
Psychos are overly emotional and don’t have the self-control necessary for calculated destruction. They’re more likely to lash out and make a scene, but aren’t capable of long-term strategy like Manipulators (our next group of crazies). They’re highly sensitive people with little or no impulse control. They don’t last long in the salon before being terminated, so they’re more often found in booth/studio rental scenarios, which is worse because tenants have no recourse against them other than to find a new place to rent since booth renters can’t be fired.
Psychos do exist outside of reality TV shows. I’ve personally witnessed a Psycho threaten an employee with a pair of shears before locking herself in the salon bathroom, sobbing hysterically and threatening suicide. I managed for an owner who was a Druggie Psycho. She’d down half a bottle of Xanax with a bottle of wine before 10 a.m. and spend the day alternating between being half-comatose and raging at anything that moved. One Psycho stylist pushed another down the stairs, breaking the girl’s collarbone.
Psychos don’t last much longer than their first outburst, so take a self-defense class, keep Mace in your station, watch your back, and wait for her to get fired.
Manipulators. Calculating, patient, ruthlessly ambitious. They’re every manager’s worst nightmare because they’re damn near impossible to catch in the act. Good luck tracking their end game before they’ve accomplished it.
Fortunately, these sociopaths are rare and there aren’t many of them in our industry. (We attract far more Artistes, Drama Queens, and Flakes than anything else.) You’re unlikely to ever get the chance to deal with a Manipulator since the damage will be done long before you identify them for what they are. If you’ve been had by a Manipulator, try not to beat yourself up too much. It happens to the best of us.
I’m sure that you could identify a few people from your life outside of the beauty industry that fit into these rough personality groups. Crazies certainly aren’t industry-specific. Hopefully, this random little chapter gave you a laugh and some insight into the various whack-a-doodles you may come into contact with throughout your career.
Licensed cosmetologist and beauty industry advocate Tina Alberino is a trusted resource, providing a wealth of information and personalized advice. Alberino’s extensive consulting experience informs her writing, available on her blog, This Ugly Beauty Business and in her book, The Beauty Industry Survival Guide.