Drawing the Line

by Sree Roy | May 1, 2007

It’s only natural to want to make all of your clients, coworkers, and superiors happy, but sometimes you need to put your foot down on their (at times unreasonable) demands to preserve your own happiness. “The feeling of being walked over springs directly from not being true to the self, which usually reveals itself in the form of a ‘yes’ when one should have said ‘no,’” says Erin Rhines, marketing manager with Salon Training International. “By taking responsibility, it becomes easier to see who’s really in control here. Of course, it’s easier to blame clients, coworkers, or bosses for the trampling, but the truth about being taken advantage of rests on no other shoulders than our own.”

Bryan Durocher, president of beauty consulting firm Durocher Enterprises Inc., adds, “If you think your clients are your friends, you’ve forsaken the most important boundary you can have. You need a professional personable relationship, not a professional personal relationship.”

In addition to Rhines and Durocher, we’ve compiled the best advice from “Coach Kristi” Valenzuela, president of Crystal Focus Inc., and Nancy Friedman, president of customer training company The Telephone Doctor, on how to handle different scenarios with your pushy clients, coworkers, or boss.

Your Clients

Scenario #1: Your client wants you to stay late or come in on your day off.
How to handle it: Simply say, “I wish I could, but unfortunately that’s not going to work for me.” Offer to reschedule the client on a day you’re available or ask her if she’d like to see someone who’s open during the hours that are convenient for her.

If you have a family say, “I made a promise to my family that that would stay family time.” This makes it hard for the client to argue back without sounding selfish.

If you don’t mind coming in during your off-hours, tell your client you don’t normally make exceptions to your regular hours, but in this case it will work out. If you’re going to add a surcharge to the bill for the inconvenience, let your client know this before the appointment. (Note: Be careful about this. Once you start making concessions, it will be easier for clients to continue to take advantage of you.)


Scenario #2: Your client tells you more about her personal life than you’d care to know or is asking you for intimate details of your life.
How to handle it: Acknowledge and redirect. For example, if your client says, “I think my husband is cheating on me. What do you think?” You respond by saying, “I’m so sorry to hear that, but I don’t really know anything about that. But I did want to ask you: what did you think about that nail hardener I let you try out last week?”

If your client wants to know about your personal life, redirect the conversation toward the client. For example, if she says, “How’s your love life?” You respond by saying, “It’s fine. How was your weekend?” Or say, “I usually don’t share that information.”

A good rule of professionalism is the 90/10 rule — 90% of the conversation is about the client, and 10% about you. You can fit into the 90%: salon education about the service you’re doing for her, home-care instructions, and upcoming promotions. In general, the more a client gets to talk about her world, the more satisfied she’ll be after the appointment.


Scenario #3: Your client expects favors, like a free polish change.
How to handle it: When your client asks about a polish change, nip the problem in the bud by saying, “I’d be happy to change your polish today. Your investment would be $9.” If she protests you’ve done it for free in the past, say, “I’ve really made a commitment to charge for these services. I can’t afford to give services away anymore. I’m sure you can understand.”

Refer the client to the salon menu, and tell her about any promotions your salon occasionally runs that include complimentary polish changes. Tell her from now on, to be fair, you have to charge for your polish changes. If you’re willing to do your client the favor, let her know you’re doing it because she’s a good client and you appreciate her business.


Scenario #4: Your client is up in arms that you’re raising your prices.
How to handle it: Unapologetically tell the client why you’re raising prices. For example, say, “I’ve been reinvesting in my education to bring you better quality services and products.”

You’ve most likely been preparing your clients for the price increase for several months. Point out the notice you’ve given her and let her know you understand if she needs to find a new tech. You have to charge what you’re worth. There will always be a new client willing to pay the price and take the spot.


WORST-CASE: You lose a client for not giving in to her demands.
How to handle it: Feel good you made a space for an ideal client who will respect your time and services.


Your Coworkers

Scenario #1: A coworker keeps borrowing your personal supplies.
How to handle it: Use “I” language. For example, “I notice you’ve been borrowing my supplies, and I’ve been running short. So my request is you take care of your own supplies, so I have enough to take care of the clients I’m seeing this week.” (Not, “You’ve been taking my supplies. You should be getting your own supplies.”) Politely ask, “Where is your _______ ?” Offer to help her place an order.


Scenario #2: A coworker’s loud or obnoxious behavior is interfering with your client relationships.
How to handle it: Don’t be nitpicky, but address the problem as soon as you notice it. That way little problems don’t become big issues.

Use the phrase, “you may not be aware,” to take the sting out. For example, “You may not be aware but when your area is boisterous, it bothers my clients.”


Scenario #3: A coworker wants you to do her shift for her.
How to handle it: If you don’t want to do her shift, tell her directly and succinctly that it won’t be possible. If you want to give her your reason (or make one up) you can.

If you do agree to do her shift for her, make sure you get a commitment for her to exchange with you or do a specific favor for you in the future.


WORST-CASE: You’re shunned from your peer group because you said “no.”
How to handle it: Remember that life’s not a popularity contest. In the workplace, respect is more important.

As a last resort, start applying for jobs at other salons. You deserve to work someplace where there is mutual understanding and respect for others.


Your boss

Scenario #1: Your boss changes the commission structure.
How to handle it: Arrange to have a business conversation with your boss to understand why the commission structure was changed. There may be a good reason for it, and it may benefit you in the end.

Get the new commission structure in writing for a specific amount of time. If the commission structure keeps changing without a reasonable explanation, you may want to start looking for a consistent place to work.


Scenario #2: Your boss keeps asking you to work overtime or come in on your days off.
How to handle it: Let your boss know up front what hours you’re available, possibly specifying what obligations you have during your off-hours. Say, “I can see if I can accommodate it this time, but in general, I have obligations for Wednesday afternoons.”

If you’re continually working overtime, see if your boss can work out a win-win deal for you where you might get an extra perk for coming in.

Have a professional conversation with your boss and ask if you could review a schedule together that would work long-term. Maybe she needs you more Wednesday evenings and you can take some time off when it’s less busy, like Tuesday mornings.


Scenario #3: Your boss asks you to do personal favors, like pick up his dry cleaning.
How to handle it: If the favors are reasonable, like stopping at the dry cleaners that’s on the same block where you always eat your lunch, you can consider doing it a nice thing to do. But set limits for yourself about what is reasonable and what makes you feel like you’re being taken advantage of.

Do a self-analysis to see if it seems your boss is looking for ways to keep you “busy.” Focus on growing your book and bringing in new clients so you really won’t have time to do any more favors.

Say, “I’m noticing you’re asking me to do some things I didn’t think were part of my responsibilities. I’m wondering if I could get a written job description, so I know what’s expected of me and what to expect from you. I’m here as a professional to do this work, and I’m not comfortable with doing that function of it because it wasn’t what I signed up for.”


WORST-CASE: You’re fired from your job for standing up to your boss.
How to handle it: This really depends on the situation, but it could vary from being happy you were excused from a bad situation to contacting a lawyer or your local labor board to find out about your recourse options.


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