Customer Service

How to Resolve Staff Conflicts

For a salon to prosper, every member of the team must share a commitment to resolve potential conflicts quickly, before problems escalate and resentments grow.

Even though I am a nail tech, educator, and salon owner Monday through Saturday, on Sunday mornings I put on a pair of steel-toes boots and strap on a fanny pack that contains everything from medical supplies to survival gear. I call for my partner, a 4-year-old golden retriever named Darlin. My Chevy Blazer is packed with everything you could possibly imagine you would need for a search-and-rescue mission.

Teams like mine train for the worst and hope for the best.

At one training class, as I was being geared up with a harness to learn how to rappel down a cliff, I told a seasoned team member who was assigned to help me that I would do almost anything, but I wasn’t going to scale down the side of that cliff. He laughed and said, “Yes you are,” and I said, “Ahhh, no I am not.” I explained that I wouldn’t go anywhere my dog can’t go, at which point he reached into his gear bag and pulled out a harness for my dog. Then he said, “Shari, you should never be part of the problem, you always have to be part of the solution.” I had no idea at the time that the statement was so profound.

Over the years I have applied a lot of what I have learned as a member of an emergency response unit to my everyday salon management. Like my search team, I consider my salon staff a team also. By working together, we are much stronger that we would be as individual techs. And by using the same advice I received that morning of my rappelling class, you can save yourself from a lot of sleepless nights.

We have all encountered conflict. You never get used to that sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach when a problem surface in the workplace that’s beyond your control. And the outcome can affect you financially, emotionally, and even physically. Often problems start out simple, and snowball into situations that could forever scar your relationships with your associates or could cause irreparable damage that results in loss of employment.

Handle Conflict Head-On

When emotions are running high, it’s hard to stay focused on the problem. For example, you have a customer who always arrives with at least three broken nails and she blames your workmanship. You can tell she is hard on her nails by the way her polish is worn and by the fact that the nails you had shaped square ate the last appointment are now oval. You could handle it by fixing the broken nails, not charging her, and getting mad. Then, as soon as she walks out of the salon she becomes the victim of gossip. You will dread servicing her every time she comes in, and she will pick up on that tension and feel uncomfortable. Other nail techs may start to question the quality of your workmanship. The aftermath will be the loss of income and reputation.

Approaching this conflict with the attitude that you need to be part of the solution will allow you to resolve it quickly with little to no concern. It simply requires a little honesty with the customer. Acknowledge that you see her nails are being worn from square to oval. Teach the customer proper use of her hands and explain to her that you are willing to work with her to solve this problem. And at the end of the service ask the customer to check your work to make sure she is 100% satisfied. By being part of the solution, the outcome will be positive, and that winning customer could become your number-one fan.

Another common anxiety builder in salons is what I call the “fair-weather-friend syndrome.” You find this with nail techs who complain or even threaten to quit when business is slow, or new techs who are not willing to sit when they don’t have customers. This attitude can drive a wedge between an employee and management, and it can ruin what could be a beautiful thing. Being part of the solution has to be a two-way street in this conflict. First, you have to focus on the cause. Is it the economy, the effect of local competition, the individual tech’s workmanship, or maybe that the tech is not working at a high-traffic speed? Once you establish possible reasons, both management and employee need to put together a plan to fix the problem. Without both parties’ commitment, it will fail.

While some problems are extremely obvious to all involved, beware of the silent killer. It breeds like a germ, too small to see until the illness has set in. And like a germ, it’s easily spread from one employee to another. Let’s say a staff member sells a customer a bottle of cuticle oil, but when she goes to get it from the shelf she finds it is out of stock. Later in the day she needs #5 tips. When she rummages through the supply cabinet and finds only a few, she takes them all. She then notices another staff member explaining to a customer that the cuticle oil she was looking for is out of stock. When the customer walks away the two staff members now start talking about how they both had to turn customers away. This conversation quickly turns into a gripe session with each tech giving a mental inventory of everything that is gone or soon to be gone.

Have these techs even thought about telling the person who places the orders that they need cuticle oil? Instead they seem to prefer waiting until the next person needs #5 tips or a dappen dish of monomer so they can talk more about the poor management and purchasing policies. It’s bad enough the salon is out of product, but what makes this the silent killer is that it’s ruining the trust among the team. Part of the team now believes the other part of the team can’t do its job. This salon has a conflict, but it’s being a kept secret from the people who could effect a solution.

Each one of these conflicts could have been quickly solved if everyone actively close to be a part of the problem. Retaining that team balance and trust is difficult at times. In my salon I never want my actions to result in failure of anyone on my team. By everyone having this attitude, conflict can be resolved.

Conflicts can often turn into one side against the other, and can divide a staff. Address the problem, quickly and don’t let it turn into a monster. Be sensitive to problems that may not seem so big to you, but may be huge to someone else. Conflict resolution is a complex practice, but it’s essential to success.

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