7 Easy Steps For Handling A Hair Bully

We’ve all been there. You walk into a salon knowing what you want — or thinking you know what you want. Then, somewhere between that first sip of green tea and the buzz of the blow dryer, you barely recognize yourself. You came in asking to look like Kate Mara and left looking like Rooney, and at the end of the disorienting process, you’re actually expected to hand over your hard-earned cash.
Unfortunately, you’ve just encountered the hair bully. This person can be extremely charming and convincing. He (or she) may persuade you that they know better. But, in reality they’re steamrolling you into changing your mind in favor of a totally different look. Maybe you remind them of an ex-girlfriend who broke their heart and they’re looking for a bit of retribution. Or maybe they honestly feel like they know better, and their advice comes from a good place. Either way, there’s no reason to play Pygmalion when, as the client, you should be calling the shots.
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Here, we arm you with an arsenal of tools and tricks to face a hair bully head on: how to recognize one before you’re even sitting in their chair, what to say if you suddenly find yourself in a tug-of-war over a Japanese straightening treatment, and how to deal with the aftermath if you happen to fall victim to a particularly persuasive bully.
Read on for our tips, then tell us in the comments if you've had your own hair-bully drama.

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Illustrated by Laura Callaghan.
Warning Signs
The relationship between a stylist or colorist and a client is a collaborative one, and they should be interested in hearing what you have to say. If the person immediately dismisses your vision, be wary. “If a stylist doesn’t ask enough questions about what you want and how you want your hair styled, that’s a big warning sign,” says Cristina B. of Rita Hazan Salon in New York.” Rodney Cutler, founder/owner of Cutler Salons, adds that hair bullies can often be detected before they even mutter a word. “Body language is key. If the stylist is crossing their arms and/or shaking their head while you’re explaining what you want, you know they’re already not likely to listen to your opinion,” he says.

And, always know that, as the client, you have the power to change your mind, says Cutler, who adds that it’s important to look into the salon’s cancellation policies and go through a consultation before making an appointment to be certain it’s the right fit.
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Illustrated by Laura Callaghan.
Do Your Part
Regardless of whether you have a bully on your hands, it’s important to remember that the relationship between a stylist or colorist and a client is a two-way street. As much as you may think you have a handle on explaining the chin-length bob you’ve envisioned for the last few months, what you envision in your head and what you communicate in reality could be understood as something completely different. Avoid miscommunication by arming yourself with a few straightforward visuals that speak for themselves. “Bringing in pictures is a fantastic way to visually explain what your ultimate desire is,” says Cutler. “It’s also helpful to arrive for the consultation with your hair styled the way you usually wear it, so the stylist has a strong understanding of your capabilities and how much time you’re willing to invest each morning.”

But, while pictures can serve as a good starting point, be careful not to overwhelm the stylist with a Pinterest-worthy vision board. “Often, people bring in way too many pictures and stylists get thrown about what they want. Settle on two to three photos and work it out during the consultation,” says Shaun Surething, owner of Seagull Salon in New York. Once you’ve edited those photos, make sure your expectations are realistic. You want Jennifer Lawrence’s haircut? Fine. Just don’t expect to wake up the next day looking exactly like J. Law does on the red carpet.
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Illustrated by Laura Callaghan.
Be Patient (At First)
If you’ve armed yourself with photos, have talked through your wants and needs during the initial consultation and still feel as if you’re being bullied into something you don’t want, try to give the stylist or colorist the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he or she was distracted the first time around, or misinterpreted something you said. Try to take a deep breath and deal with the situation as calmly as possible, says Surething. “If your stylist is not trying to communicate with you or is talking at you, the best way to handle this is to go back to the visual and ask, ‘Do you know what I mean?’ and look for a positive and engaged response,” he says.

Correy Powell of Sally Hershberger Salon suggests a similar approach. “Try to be relaxed. Say, ‘I’m not sure this is working, what do you think?’ and go from there,” says Powell, who adds that often a situation can be rectified quickly and easily if the client is less than happy. “Most of the time, a little tweak with a gloss at the bowl of the head to bright or tone the color, adjusting the cut a little, or changing the blowdry is all you need and voila it’s amazing.”
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Illustrated by Laura Callaghan.
Stand Your Ground
If you’ve gone through the motions of clear communication, careful listening, and patience, and you still feel as if you’re being pushed in the wrong direction, don’t be afraid to move on in a swift and respectful manner, according to Cutler. “Ask them to put the scissors down as soon as you feel uncomfortable and explain to them that you don’t feel like you’re on the same page,” he says. Cristina B. agrees. “Honesty is the best policy. If you truly are uncomfortable with a decision, you should speak up.”

If you’re feeling sheepish about standing your ground, it’s important to keep in mind that a good stylist won’t react aggressively or take your decision personally. Sometimes, like with many relationships in life, it’s a matter of chemistry, and odds are you might be a better fit with someone else and vice versa. “If a client was unhappy, I would first apologize, explain that I must have misunderstood the consultation and suggest that we either go from there, or ask if they’re more comfortable working with another one of the great stylists or colorists that we have at the salon,” says Powell.
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Illustrated by Laura Callaghan.
Enlist Outside Help
Luckily, odds are you’re not alone in a locked room with your hair bully; you’re in a buzzing salon surrounded by a plethora of possible sympathizers. So, if you’re feeling backed into a corner, it could be high time to recruit a new friend to help get things rolling in the right direction. “If it ever becomes too contentious, don’t be afraid to include a third party such as a senior stylist or manager,” says Cutler, noting that hair bullies can benefit from a bit of mediation, as long as the situation is approached in the right way. “Make sure you use careful language in an effort to prevent the situation from escalating.”

For instance, instead of standing up in the middle of the salon and screaming, “I want to speak to a manager!” as tears stream down your face, Cutler suggests politely asking for a “second opinion.” When one of the bully’s colleagues comes around to see what’s up, avoid additional conflict by trying your best not to belittle the bully or make them feel threatened in any way. “You don’t want the stylist to feel as though you’re going over your head to trying to get them in trouble,” he says.
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Illustrated by Laura Callaghan.
Get Up and Leave
If your hair bully is opposed to working things out in a calm and open-minded manner, you might need to take more drastic measures to avoid spending the next four months hiding out in a baseball cap. Cristina B. says that sometimes it’s best for all involved parties to simply sever ties and move on. “Every stylist deserves a second chance, but that’s it,” she says. “If you’re not communicating well by that point, it’s probably time to find someone new.”

Keep in mind that an ornery bully might have a few tricks up their defensive sleeve, so don’t fall prey to their tactics. If the bully responds by demanding payment or trying to make you feel as if you’ve deliberately wasted their time, stay strong. Politely apologize for any inconvenience and physically remove yourself from the situation as fast as possible, says Cutler. “Understand it’s not a contract and it’s perfectly acceptable to stand up and say you don’t want to go through with the cut.”
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Illustrated by Laura Callaghan.
Use Your Imagination
Some of us just aren’t comfortable with any type of confrontation. It is what it is. But, if you’re too scared to voice your true feelings, that doesn’t mean you’re stuck with being bullied into a cut or color that leaves you feeling dissatisfied and disappointed. If all else fails, and you still feel like you’re not getting through to the bully, don’t be ashamed to stretch the truth a little.

“There’s nothing wrong with telling a white lie to get out of the situation,” says Cristina B. “You can say you have a family emergency and need to leave. It’s totally okay to do whatever you need to do to feel comfortable in that situation!” Surething agrees that you should do whatever it takes to escape the clutches of the bully. “Say you just got really scared to cut your hair or even that you feel like you’re going to throw up. No one, not even a bully, is going to argue if you say you’re going to throw up!”
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