Today we are talking about how to hold and make conversation. It is a good idea to be prepared on how to start and maintain a pleasant conversation with with your guests. I detail a number of different techniques on how to do this with tact and ease.
When I started in this industry I was young and naive, and introverted. For some people it isn’t a stretch, but I had to take the time to learn how to speak to people properly. This is a broad topic, people have written books about it, but I will attempt to keep it brief.
The Naive Introvert
Craft YourselfI’ve already talked about how to greet someone into a barbershop, this is more of a general way to speak around people. This is a guideline, you’re not going to be able to communicate perfectly all the time, but if you are going to craft yourself into someone that is enigmatic, and someone that attracts goodness to themselves, communication is key.
You Are In ChargeOne of things that I’ve learned as a barber is that you are in charge of the conversation. I’ve talked to classic barbers that have told me that you should let the person in the chair dictate what is said, but I tend to disagree with this. Depending on where you work, a barbershop can be intimidating to those coming through. Being that sense of comfort for someone is part of your job as a barber.
Comfortable?I believe the very least that you can do is help someone achieve a level of comfort while they sit in your chair. During the consultation, you can also throw in some light conversation about how you style your hair, or one or two hair options that you think would help their haircut look best. Feel your guest out, gauge their comfort level before you start cutting their hair. If they are fluid in conversation from the beginning, you’re in for an easy time conversationally, if not, well, here are a few tactics on how to pull them out to their shell.
Reflective ListeningI find something called reflective listening very helpful. If someone tells you something, reword the phrase and repeat it back to them. Oftentimes this will set the guest onto a path of talking about themselves or a topic of their choosing and if there is one thing that you can be assured of, it is that people love to talk about themselves. To actively participate in the conversation, continue reflective listening throughout your conversation. You would be surprised how great of a conversation that you can have this way.
Personalize Your ResponseOne small add-on to reflective listening is taking the information you are given and personalizing it, and adding that into the conversation. So, if someone were to tell you about that time they went to Cancun, and you had been there before and had an interesting Cancun tale, you could slip that into the conversation before passing it back off to your guest and allowing them to elaborate. This includes both of you into the conversation and adds points on which your guest can build his conversation off of.
L-I-S-T-E-NWhich brings up a great point. You do not have to slip that tidbit of conversation in, interrupting your customer and the flow of his conversation doing so. If someone is talking, let them talk, LISTEN. As a conversationalist, listening to someone and absorbing the information is one of your greatest assets. If you can remember details about someone’s life and the stories that they tell you, you will be able to impress upon them that you care about them, and you will have a customer for life.
Say Their Name 3-5 TimesSay the customer’s name three to five times during the cut. People love to hear their names out loud. They love to hear that you know their names, it provides them with a sense of security and comfort, and a comfortable customer is what you are aiming for.
Compliment Your GuestIf you can, compliment your customer on something, “Dope shoes”, or “That is a great car that you drove up in”, can start an entire conversation. If you’ve ever had someone compliment you, you know how good it makes you feel. Something as simple as this can make someone’s day, and ingratiate them to you.
Be GenuineAs much as possible make sure that you are genuine in your conversation. If you are flattering people just for results, there are going to be people that call that as bullshit. So, while being complimentary is great, don’t load it up like cheap perfume.
Have PersonalityIf you’re flat, people are going to have a flat response to you. If you’re in this industry because you just want to cut hair, well, good luck. Laugh, smile, be light, this is something that people notice and want to be around. If you are a personality, you will attract people to you.
Have A Story For EverythingLive a full life outside of work. Have hobbies and interests. Take trips to places. Go out and meet interesting people. Make some stories so that you have some stories to tell. Hone those stories by telling them to your friends and family, and then take them into the barbershop. If you are younger, and are still collecting stories, index the interesting or quirky things in your life and feel free to use those are story points. You would be surprised at how many people share the same quirks and interests that you do.
Don’t Be Afraid Of Personal RemarksYou’ll know where or when to say these comments based on the conversation that you’re in. We all know what heartache is, we all know how much it hurts to deal with sickness and death. I don’t shy away from the tough stuff if it crops up, and it has made me closer to some of my long term customers as our relationships have progressed. Heck, I went through a devastating divorce while behind a chair, and my emotions wouldn’t let me keep it to myself. I had so many interesting and deep conversations with perfect strangers about life, love and everything involved with it. Intimacy, even among men, is not a horrible thing. Once again, you’ll know if the conversation is awkward or not very quickly, and these conversations may happen more with repeat customers than new ones, but try not to be afraid of this if it comes up. Sometimes you don’t even have to talk when it comes to this, listening is all that your customer needs.
NewsFor those slow personal story weeks, we have a wonderful thing called the news media that makes stories for us to share. Every morning make it a habit to look up local news stories and bigger news stories for the day. Those strange but happy fifth page news stories about the rescued bears are happily welcomed into the mix as well.
Look For CommonalitiesIf there is something your guest says that they have in common with you, make sure that you steer the conversation in the direction of what you have in common with one another. This works with the most difficult of customers. If you are a Democrat and your customer is a Republican, and you don’t agree on almost everything and they start talking about a ‘57 Chevy and that is something that you are knowledgeable about, that can make both of your experiences that much better.
The FORD ModelFor those of you that have a tough time with conversation, here is something I read a while back that can help you get things rolling, that will help you formulate questions in conversation. FORD stands for “family”, “occupation”, “recreation”, and “dreams”.
If you are having a difficult time starting a conversation with someone you can start by asking them about their family. How big is it? Are you the youngest? You can use the same structure when talking about their jobs, what they like to do, and what they would like to do. “What do you do for work?”, “What are your hobbies?”, and “What is one thing you would do if you won the lottery?”, are all good conversation starters. If you can remember the acronym FORD you will have a lot to talk to someone about. Also...in this space, you can talk about your FORD. Your family, occupation, recreation and dreams are all conversation starters as well.
Don’t Barrage Them With QuestionsThere is such a thing as a one-sided conversation. If someone is not into talking, don’t just blast them with one question after another. If they haven’t started talking back after three questions, or are answering with one word answers, and haven’t picked up some thread of discussion even after some reflective listening with those one word answers...give up and...
Be Okay With SilenceIf someone doesn’t want to talk...great...more time to concentrate on that fade. Don’t take this personally, just relax into it and enjoy the silence.
How To Deal With Hard TopicsI have some topics that I don’t want to talk about, because they are personal and emotional topics for me, or they might not be topics that should be brought up in public, or around small children that might be in the barbershop. If they come up in conversation, I will steer the conversation back to what we were just talking about and keep on talking about that. If the person persists on talking about the topic, then I will do it again, and usually they will catch on. If this doesn’t happen I will politely say that I would rather not talk about it. If someone gets angry about this...listen to their grievances, ask them what you would like yourself to do about it, and attempt to address what they have asked for.
If you have to, find someone else to cut their hair for them, and don’t feed into the emotion of it all. As long as you listen to what they want, you will have a better time of helping them. If things go horribly wrong, get the owner, or someone your senior to come and address the situation. If you are the owner, assess the situation, and deal with it how you see fit. These instances will be very few and very far between, but it is a good idea to know how to deal with trouble if it occurs.
In ConclusionWith the help of such techniques as reflective listening, the FORD model, story collecting, complimenting your guests and even more, you will have a head start in how to get a conversation started and how to keep it going in a positive manner. Even in the rare case of difficult conversation, you should be able to push through and give a guest a great experience socially.
If you have any questions or concerns, you can leave comments below.
Thanks again for showing up this week, this was a hard one because I was sick earlier this week and am still getting over it, but here is to health and cutting more hair,
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