Managing Political Discussions Behind the Chair


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It’s hard to believe we are on the eve of another Presidential election, with Democratic Party debates already happening. In this hyper-polarized, politically charged climate, it seems like talk of campaigns and politicians is a near constant buzz, especially in the Trump era.

Your salon is probably not immune to these topics of conversation, particularly when certain regulars come in and want to vent their political frustrations.

How should you and your fellow stylists handle these delicate matters in your salon?

It would be great if you could simply post a sign stating “Politics-free Space” and avoid the topic altogether, but alas clients often don’t read our posted signs. And some are so agitated by what they are witnessing they may simply ignore such refrains.

Allow me, a political animal through-and-through, to offer some advice how to field these political hot-potatoes without needlessly upsetting your clientele and fellow stylists.

First, and most importantly, you should begin by respecting the person who is voicing their opinion, even if you may vociferously disagree with their stated positions.

Our debased political discourse has all too often become a battle over motivations and intentions, where we challenge the messenger rather than the merits of the message. This approach immediately personalizes emotionally charged political disagreements.

This may be a proven money-maker for talk radio and nightly cable shows, but it most assuredly is not a prudent business approach for salons.

As a behind-the-chair professional, the last thing you want to do is upset your client, be that as a result of a bad color or cut or by offending the client’s sensibilities. Our’s is a profession that seeks to uplift our clientele, not just aesthetically but psychologically. We want our customers to leave feeling great about themselves, not frustrated or angered by their salon experience.

The most expert stylist can’t fundamentally change the physical appearance of a client, only accentuate their positive attributes and diminish their natural blemishes. The same goes for their deep-seeded political opinions.

You shouldn’t think you have the power to alter their philosophical ideas, particularly those they clearly hold dear and which you may think anathema to your own principles. But you can and should learn how to minimize the rough edges in your back-and-forth by seeking common beliefs to focus your conversation while treading lightly.

And you should be mindful not only of the client in your chair, but those receiving services nearby or waiting for an open chair, as well as your fellow salon stylists. So even if you totally concur with the voiced opinions of your client, be careful not to assume the rest of those in the salon do.

That observation reminds me of an infamous statement made by a prominent socialite who was mystified by Richard Nixon’s landslide reelection victory in 1972. She openly wondered how in the world Nixon won, given that nobody she knew voted for that horrible man.

In our personal lives, we often surround ourselves with those who share our values and often are in the same socioeconomic circumstances. We are friends because we have the same opinions that arise from similar life experiences. But unlike a fish who is oblivious to being wet, we should acknowledge our own biases and limited perspective when confronted by seemingly reasonable people holding diametrically opposing viewpoints.

I always get a chuckle from those who firmly state they have no guiding ideology and are beyond the left-right political spectrum. They are either mouth-breathing morons that have no greater insight than your average house-plant, or they are not being honest about their preconceived notions.

Any sentient being who has thought even five minutes about their surroundings has some reaction and likely some policy prescriptions for social ills, be it the homeless dude they saw on the street corner while driving to work or the most recent school shooting seen on the front pages. And just tell me there’s anyone in America who doesn’t have strong feelings about President Trump.

Most choose to keep their opinions to themselves, honoring the old adage to never discuss religion or politics in mixed company. But in today’s hyper-political culture, many simply lack the discipline to keep their mouths shut or purposely want to troll anyone with whom they come into contact.

As someone working in a professional environment, a stylist should never initiate political discussions with clientele. But if a client eagerly attempts to solicit responses, you should engage with respect and an open mind about the customer’s unique perspective. In that way, you’ll reduce your emotional investment in whatever political topic is broached, better seeing potential potholes before hitting them.

I recommend reserving one’s own opinions to the extent possible without sounding aloof or indifferent, but if pressed, voice more questions than statements. Surveys have shown if a person feels they are being heard and while doing most of the talking, they will walk away from a conversation thinking the listener was very intelligent. And there’s the added bonus that the listener is less likely to offend.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t stand up for your beliefs. But there’s a time and place for that; your salon isn’t the optimal place to stand on a soapbox. Go on Facebook or Instagram to voice those opinions, and leave your professional environment to pampering your paying customers.

But if you must, tread lightly, empathize with the client’s vantage point, ask questions more than opinion statements and be aware of those beyond your chair. Let’s come together as Americans to engage in civil discourse when appropriate, and avoid getting into the political gutter whenever possible. Your life will not only be improved, but so will our body politic, which right now is in seriously bad shape.