Hairdressing: Listening with your eyes: Part 1


Hairdressing: Listen with your eyes

My article, kindly reprinted with the permission of The Haircologist International. October 2015

A career in hairdressing requires more than being able to cut or colour hair: Success depends on repeat business. Repeat business is a consequence of a delighted Client. However, in order to delight Clients, a hairdresser must sometimes adapt their behaviour according to the needs of that Client.

But hairdressers are not mind readers and some Clients do not always find it easy to speak their mind. So how do we read Clients’ needs and manage their expectations?

Well how people speak and what they say accounts for only 45% of how we communicate with other people. The other 55% is body language.

Both you and your Clients’ body language can speak volumes and its quite often bypassed and goes unnoticed because we don’t understand or realise how powerful it can be.

At no time as a trainee myself was I (nor the Apprentices I’ve worked with over the years) taught best practice in using non verbal communications in order to assess a Client’s mental state and use it to help.

I had many of occasions in my early career where a Client has just wanted to come into the salon and get their hair done. They were not interested in talking, they simply wanted to relax and enjoy the experience. This wasn’t a negative or a ‘fussy’ Client, but quite often I treated the not talking as such, which was a mistake. I just didn’t get the ‘signals’. I tried to talk them into talking, and they left undelighted.

Now with more than 20 years behind me I’ve picked up some techniques I’d like to share. They’re not comprehensive by any means, but young hairdressers might find them useful. Over the next few months I’ll cover the Client journey from start to finish, but in this first part I’m going to review ‘first impressions’.

Hairdressing: It starts with a smile

A Client journey begins as they enter the salon, so it’s important at this stage to observe and listen from this point. You may want to consider the following: Did they walk into the salon with confidence or appear anxious?

When a Client is greeted with a smile the normal response should be to smile back. If the Client doesn’t smile back, or smiles ‘weakly’, it says their mindset is in question. They may have a million things on their mind or they may be nervous. Anxiety is especially common in a new Client, so the response should be to behave in a way that assures the Client you are going to relieve that anxiety. So the first thing to do is slow down. Being rushed into a chair, even too quickly being offered a drink, can exacerbate the anxiety. But beware, pointless chat or delay can work to increase the situation too. Just relax, be courteous and unhurried.

Hairdressing: Consultation is communication

Often we do not greet and seat our Client, and the first time we meet them is when they are already in our chair. The Consultation is your time to use your skills in gathering information in order to manage your client’s expectations. It is therefore a critical time to listen with your ears and eyes to find a way to inspire relaxation and confidence with your Client.

Try sitting on your cutting stool, because being at the same height as a Client makes it more of a transactional communication. Eye contact on the same level is the first psychological trick to disarm any reticence. You are about to invade their personal space, so the intimacy of eye contact is incredibly important in establishing a connection.

I also wait until after the Consultation with a new Client before putting their gown on. This way I can see their posture, their arm and leg position and they can feel free to use gesture to relax themselves or give away nervousness: Tight shoulders and an upright posture signal tension, crossed arms signal defensiveness, and touching the face or neck a lot signals nervousness.

Keep your posture relaxed, do not cross your arms in a mirror response, lean forwards slightly, keep eye contact almost constant and wait for them to begin to mirror your actions.

Even with a gown on some of that is noticeable, but some facial expressions can be read, so listen with your eyes there too.

Hairdressing: Eyes are the windows

Lack of eye contact is a bad signal, constantly looking down at the floor also: Looking away means there is an internal dialogue that is more interesting than you, looking down means the person is not comfortable in your presence or feeling guilty, either is negative.

When most people look up and left it means they are ‘imagining’, it could be constructing a way to articulate. They are trying to visualise. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are lying as sometimes thought. Looking up and right usually means they are remembering something or assessing it what they’re hearing sounds logical. This is a good sign. You’ve got their attention and they’re listening to you.

Understanding body language will help you read your clients and make your job much easier. The ability to think quickly in order to process and evaluate your client wishes is paramount to your success as a hairdresser.

Next time I’ll give some tips on ‘using the mirror’ and ‘touch’ during service to establish rapport.

Jane Davies is an award-winning UK hairdresser, Trichotherapist and former salon owner working in Perth, WA. More details on

Next: Reading micro movements in facial expression to communicate.