Editor’s note: Sometimes we get questions from readers in need that aren’t exactly technical questions, but they’re not exactly business questions, either. For those nail techs dealing with difficult issues involving self-esteem, office politics, work relationships, and the like, we aim to offer guidance and perspective.

This month, we turn to industry consultant Arlene Alpert for advice. Alpert, who has advanced degrees in psychology and counseling, has been offering programs geared to the beauty industry for the past eight years. Her consulting practice focuses on personal and professional development to clear up “trouble spots” that prevent individuals from being as successful as they want to be.

No Playing Doctor

I don’t know what to do about clients who expect me to diagnose and treat their nail disorders as if I’m a doctor. I tell them that the only way to get an accurate diagnosis is to visit a dermatologist and get a culture done, but they don’t listen. Instead, they continue to look to me for treatment or simply ignore the problem. I get mad at them, and they get mad at me when I won’t work on their infected nails. Where do I draw the line?

Dear Line Drawer: Whether you realize it or not you already have drawn the line by telling your clients what you can and cannot do. You know where your job description starts and ends. Your problem is not that you need to know where the line is drawn, but how to tell your clients tactfully what you can and cannot do. That is called boundaries. We all have them and need to use them appropriately.

I suspect, however, that one of the reasons you are losing clients is because you have a great deal of anger about their unrealistic demands on you. It sounds like they don’t respect your integrity and ethics and that may be making you feel resentful. My suggestion is that you start by respecting your professionalism. It sounds to me like you are doing a fine job not wanting to “treat” your clients when your license doesn’t cover that type of service. Once you accept that you are right, take a look at your communication style. Sometimes clients act like demanding children and the professional gets into the role of a critical parent. Perhaps you could work on sticking to your guns, but smile, be cordial—and be happy to see them.

Salon Culture Shock

I am newly licensed and the only nail tech in a beauty salon. Before I began working here, I made a list of supplies I would need. I also explained that each client would need her own implements and that orangewood sticks couldn’t be reused on different clients.

Proper sanitation is very important to me, but I feel like this new salon has a different philosophy on the subject: When a hair person has a chip in her nail she comes over, grabs a file, and puts it back when she’s done with it. Orangewood sticks go back into use with each new person.

I have not received the supplies and implements I requested and can’t afford to bring my own. I don’t know how to approach the owner on these issues since I brought all this up before I began working there. Help!

Dear Help: It must be disappointing to know that you were clear about your professional needs before you started in the salon. Since you just began your professional career you haven’t experienced up to you to decide if the salon you work in has the same ideals and ethics as you do. Culture is ingrained, and wrong or right, it’s unlikely to change much.

You can certainly speak your mind about your discomfort with their disregard of the cleanliness you desire, but if you feel uncomfortable about doing that or you don’t think it would do any good, then start looking for another position. There is a shortage of GOOD help in this industry, so stick to your standards and find a place that measures up to yours.

Stop Tech Abuse

I have a client I dread. First of all, she’s always 15 to 30 minutes late. At the table, she knows more than me. She brings her own product from home and it’s never the same. In the middle of a fill, she will pull her hand away and by the time I get it back the product is already set. She likes to tell me what to do, so a fill ends up taking an hour and filing takes two hours. At polish time, she has to have five coats of base coat, three coats of polish, and five coats of top coat. I get all through and she doesn’t like the color and we go through this again. I buckle her in her car and as I watch her drive off I use words I would never use. She has been turned away by every nail tech in town. I’m soft-hearted and let her waste my time (I make her the last appointment of the day). All this for $27 and $1 tip every two weeks.

Dear Soft-hearted: When I read your question I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It is a shame that you are allowing a client to take advantage of you. Actually, from my psychotherapist point of view she is being abusive and I wonder why you are letting her get away with her shenanigans? You should be asking, “How do I stop giving in to this client?” The fact that all the other techs in town refuse to do her nails should tell you something. There is a huge difference between being soft-hearted and giving someone the power to take advantage of you. Do you know how many people it takes to make a doormat? Two—one to lie down and the other to step on her. So here is a new way of looking at your situation: You can be firm and be kind at the same time—firm in saying no and kind in the way that you say it. My other suggestion is that you take you a course in assertiveness training. You will learn the language of setting boundaries and not feeling guilty doing it. Good luck!

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