Part of being an effective businessperson is being an effective communicator, and part of being an effective communicator is understanding not only what your client sys, but what she doesn’t say. Nonverbal communication often reveals as much – and sometimes more – about a person’s true feelings as the actual words she says.

Most of us have heard the interpretations of body language that have by now become clichés: crossed arms indicate obstinacy, biting one’s lip reveals nervousness, raised eyebrows signify doubt. Of course, no single gesture or expression is necessarily indicative of anything. You must take body language in context. You may think a client’s rapid blinking indicates nervousness or trepidation, when actually she is just having trouble getting used to her new contact lenses.

Sometimes, you may need to look to a client’s body language for clues to what she is actually trying to tell you. This is especially true with new clients. If they’re new to professional nail care or are using artificial extensions for the first time, they may be nervous and afraid to admit it. New referral clients or clients who are changing salons may be wary during their first visits. You’ll need to overcome their doubts. You will also have shy clients, those wall-flowers who are just too bashful to tell you what they really want. They may let you do whatever you want with their nails, express satisfactions with the job, but never return to your salon. You need to draw those clients out of their shells to discover what they want and when they’re dissatisfied. Don’t neglect the established client either: she may be unconsciously cuing you that that she isn’t happy with something or that she is ready to try something bolder than her usual style.

Besides determining the client’s satisfaction with her nails, you also want to make sure the client is comfortable with you and the service you’re providing. Sensitive people may endure some pain during a manicure and you must look for clues of discomfort.

During a manicure, watch the client for obvious signs of discomfort. Does she flinch or wince? Is she frowning during the process or furrowing her forehead? These movements may indicate mild or major discomfort. Timid clients may feel they are insulting you if they admit they’re in pain. A client may also not realize that a manicure isn’t supposed to hurt. Ask her if she is comfortable. If you’re applying an acrylic primer, ask her to let you know if she feels a burning sensation. While you’re busy looking for physical clues to what the client is feeling, don’t neglect the obvious method: Ask her.

A client may not be fully aware of what to expect from the service. If your salon does not provide printed information describing the procedure, talk her through it the first time. Tell her when to expect certain sensations: “This may sting a little bit; let me know if it does” or “Does that bother you?”


Our bodies sometimes reveal more about ourselves than we would ever tell people aloud. Body language theorists look at sections of the body, each of which indicates something different. There are a variety of movements, gestures, expressions, touches, postures, and voices that are telling.

Face: Facial expression is probably the most useful indicator of a client’s non verbalized feelings. It is not always safe to assume that a smile measures happiness and a frown sadness. Many people put on a happy face even when they feel down. A client may wanly smile in an effort not to insult you when you’ve finished her new nails, but the forced smile or the look in her eyes reveals she is masking her real feelings. If she smiles with a curl in her lip (like Elvis’ famous smile) she may be hiding her displeasure as well.

Lips: They may be pursed (indicating pensiveness, concern, patience); bitten (nervousness, doubt); licked (worry, anticipation); pouting (displeasure, petulance); or smirking or sneering (deviousness, mischief).

Eyes: The eyes are sometimes called the windows to the soul. Look at your client’s eyes when she speaks for indicators and contrary signals: shifting eyes (mistrust, nervousness, impatience); rolling eyes (boredom, displeasure, impatience); winking (pleasure openness); squinting (doubt). Don’t miss signals sent by the eyebrows as well: raised (skepticism surprise); furrowed (discomfort, displeasure), knitted (worry, introspection). Does the client make eye contact with you or avoid your gaze? If she avoids eye contact she may be afraid to reveal her true feelings or she may feel intimidated. Eyes that suddenly open wide reveal surprise. If you notice a client doing this after the first brush stroke of Ferrari red on her nails, you might gently ask “Is that too bright?”

Body posture: Some common body stances reveal not only what the client feels about her nails, but how she feels about herself. Women who slump or keep their shoulders stooped generally convey a lack of self-confidence or poor self-image. Sometimes tall women stand stooped so they don’t appear so tall (many tall women grow up feeling self-conscious about their height). A client who stands upright with her shoulders even and back and her chin out will probably come across as self confident and assertive, maybe even aggressive. People who slump while sitting are less easy to read. Slumping is bad posture and may indeed reveal one’s self-image, but it also may be just a more comfortable way to sit.

Voice: How many times have you heard the phrase “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”? If a client constantly sighs, smiles weakly, rolls her eyes, or glances at her watch while she answers your questions, you’ll quickly get the message that she’s disinterested or impatient. Be aware of the tone of her voice: When she says she’s pleased with her nails is her voice steady? Does she speak loudly or softly? Does she sigh or “tsk”?

Gestures and speed of movement: Interpreting gestures can get you into big trouble sometimes and can help you gain insight into a client at other times. If you interpret the movement in context and look for other clues you may feel safer guessing what the client is “saying.” If you have a client in the waiting area jiggling her keys or tapping her feet she may be impatient about getting to her appointment. However, if she’s tapping her feet while you’re airbrushing her nails, she may simply be excited about the way they’re turning out.

Personal appearance: A client’s appearance is the most obvious statement she makes about herself. She is coming to have her nails done, so it’s a given that she’s concerned with her looks and she knows the benefits of seeing a professional, but what else is she saying? Is she in a coordinated outfit from hair accessories down to shoe color? She is likely fastidious in all aspects of her life. She may well want to keep up this picture-perfect appearance in between salon visits and may be an easy sell for at-home products. Is the client wearing the latest outrageous fashion? She might be your best subject to try out a new nail art design or a new trick you picked up at the last trade show.


Sometimes you will have a client who is reluctant to talk and who is sending few, if any, physical signals. Simply asking a client what she wants may not always work. The following exchanges show a few techniques you could use as well as some helpful interpretations to understand what your client is trying to say.

A client comes for a quick repair. She’s broken two nails since her fill a week ago. She sits down heavily and says tersely, “I need a fill.” She manages a weak smile but doesn’t make eye contact with you. Her avoidance of eye contact and her reluctance to engage in conversation indicate her unhappiness.

Ask her how she broke the nails. “I don’t know how this one broke, and this one came off in the rubber glove when I was washing the dishes,” she says. Her choice of words is revealing: She doesn’t say “how I broke the nail”: she says “the nail broke,” as though it had nothing to do with her. She may believe the breaks are due to faulty workmanship. While you certainly don’t need to discern who is at fault, you also don’t want her thinking you aren’t doing your best with her.

Talk to her about the breakage problem “You know,” you say, as though the idea is just coming to you, “we may need to try a different preparation on your nails this time. Sometimes the adhesive will fall on a tip and you could lose the nail, but I’ve got an idea how we could solve that.” Your self-assuredness should assuage some of her bad feelings. “I’ve also got a little guide that has some great tips on how to prevent breaking,” you tell her.

Notice if your helpfulness loosens her posture a bit. Or does she let out a little gasp of air that indicates she doesn’t see what she can do about breakage? Does she roll her eyes? If so, you know you haven’t gotten to her. She is still unhappy.

Finish up the polish and hold up your hand (as if to stop her from getting her purse) and say, “The fill is on the house today. Let’s talk next week at your next appointment and see how that preparation held up. Also, take this at home care guide.

If she smiles gratefully, you’ve probably won her over. If she tilts her head and looks contrite, she may feel bad about her behavior. You certainly do not need to give her a freebie just because she is acting unpleasant, but you do need to convey to her your genuine concern for her and your desire for her continued patronage.

Say you’ve got an established customer who comes in weekly to have her French manicure touched up. You greet her warmly in the reception area, get her a glass of juice, and sit her down at the table to start on the French tips, just like you’ve done once a week for the past several years with her.

However, today you notice something in her demeanor that tells you all is not right with her. You can’t put your finger on it but she seems reticent: She looks like she’s about to say something, then stops herself. She bites the inside of her lip, a nervous gesture you never noticed before. And while the two of you are talking, you observe that she seems a bit scattered, she doesn’t finish her sentences, trailing off like something else is on her mind.

Something gives you the feeling that she may be itchy for a change. Be bold: Ask her.

“Ever think of trying something besides the French manicure?” you ask hopefully. Watch carefully now for signs that you’re on the right track. Her eyes widen and a coy smile creeps across her fact. You’ve figured it out.

“Sure but what else do you think would be good for me?’ she asks, for she wants change but she doesn’t know where to begin.

You keep in mind that she is a basically shy and conservative woman, and that the change shouldn’t be radical. “Well,” you begin, “we could airbrush a soft design, maybe with just two colors. If you want to go a little longer on the length we could see how you like acrylics; that way you could choose whatever polish suits your whim.”

When you mention airbrush she bites her lips again and casts her eyes downward. She would obviously to try it, but you may think it’s too bold for her. Show her some examples of subtle air brush designs.

While you’re working on her nails, talk about other nail procedures she might be interested in for the future. Tell her also about the limitless potential of nail art (suggest she bring in something she’s wearing for a special occasion that you could match on her nails). Suggest a simple design on one nail only, just to see how she likes it.

As the client leaves, you notice she is suppressing a grin and constantly holding her hands out in front of her to look at her nails. By reading the small clues she was sending nonverbally, you were able to provide a service that’s got her more excited about her nails and has given her a different perspective on her appearance.


When you’re dealing with recalcitrant clients, look at what messages your own body language is sending. Is your pose comfortable and relaxed? Is the tone of your voice low and soothing? It should be calm and nonthreatening, never accusatory. “Thank you” is a courteous phrase, but not when it’s spoken through clenched teeth or growled sarcastically. Do you smile when you speak and pause long enough to listen? To get a client to talk, try little gestures like putting your hand on your chin or leaning forward to hear what she has to say. When you ask a question, open your eyes wider and raise your eyebrows a bit to invite a response. Tilting your head also indicates a ready and listening state. These little movements may put her at ease and help her open up to you.

Start paying closer attention to the body language of your clients. Look for hints of hidden meanings or contradictory emotions. Understanding these clues can help you establish a richer relationship with your clients and help you better serve them.




For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.

Read more about