How Do You Work When You’ve Lost Your Voice?

I am ever fascinated by the resilience of nail professionals. Stories of how they overcome obstacles to continue offering nail services to their clients are inspiring. If you would like to send me a guest blog post with your story, please email it to [email protected]. Here is a story from Iowa nail professional Melissa Finch, who managed to work in the salon without a voice!

<p>Melissa Finch</p>

Have you ever given much thought to how you communicate in the salon? We talk, we use facial expressions, and we listen, but there are not many hand gestures — our hands are usually too busy for that! It all comes naturally to you when you are used to working in a salon environment.  

How would you communicate if you couldn’t talk? I don’t mean, “Shhhh, you need to be quiet” can’t talk, I mean, your voice just isn’t there, can’t talk. How do I find out what my client wants today? What color does she want? How is her family? What if she is new? How do I get to know her and make her feel comfortable? Do I have to get a piece of paper and write it all down?

I recently found out how to communicate without a voice. For six weeks, due to a vocal chord injury, I had no voice. The medical advice was not to talk at all, which is darn near impossible, but I had to figure out something. I did not feel bad enough to need a sick leave, but it did take a lot of effort to force out a loud whisper, so I was exhausted by the end of each day.

Thankfully most of my clientele are regulars so they understood as my voice went from just being hoarse to nothing, and I am familiar with their services and styles, which made some things easier. I did use a notepad to help this process, but that could take up appointment time. I had to learn other ways. I started making a point of using exaggerated facial expressions and hand signals (when my hands weren’t busy). My facial expressions became the easiest way to let someone know I had a question, or to indicate emotions.

During this time of limited communication, I made some interesting observations. When some people hear you whisper, they whisper too, even though you can hear just fine. Some clients would try talk through the entire service to fill any silence. Some clients wouldn’t initiate any conversation; they felt that way I wouldn’t feel the need to try and talk. When it came to co-workers, or even family, I found that when I couldn’t really contribute to a conversation, I was left out. This wasn’t done in any way to be rude or exclude me; I don’t think they even realized that they were doing it.

There were times in our pedicure room when multiple pedis were going on and several people were engaged in conversations or story-telling, which happens a lot, I couldn’t chime in my own stories or comments. There was evening when I was out to dinner with my husband and the restaurant was so noisy he couldn’t hear my whisper, so I had to text him from across the table! During this time, I had an education event scheduled. The class was sold out and I didn’t want to cancel it, so another educator helped me with the class.

Not being able to express my feelings and thoughts aloud, whether at work or at home, can be isolating. You can be in a room full of people or at a party, yet feel alone. Fortunately, I have been able to maintain my sense of humor through the process. I started using a whole bevy of hand signals — including some ASL although some were inappropriate for a professional setting — to get my point across to family and friends. I had a younger coworker tell me she was impressed that I could still use the “mom voice” without even having a voice. There were lots of comments about how “nice and quiet” the nails area was since I couldn’t talk. I would just smile and nod.

The entire experience has given me a new level of empathy for others who have difficulties communicating. Fortunately, through treatment and vocal therapy, my voice is coming back, but it has been a slow process. I am thankful I can speak again, I am thankful I was able to see this as a learning experience, and I am looking forward to being able to sing to my grandchildren again!

— Melissa Finch

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