by Steve Bavister

“Only Your Hairdresser Knows For Sure,” is a popular phrase in the United States – it is widely accepted that a lot of the time we hear the “truth of the problem.” In any one week working as a Hairstylist in the west end of London, I have to be a style guru, confidant and armchair psychologist as well as on occasions adviser on health and DIY. I first came across NLP in 1994 when I returned to England from the USA. It seemed like it would be a good tool for the hairdressing industry, and so it went on the goal list to “become an NLP practitioner.” There it remained until the millennium. I had achieved a modicum of success in my career as well as looking after two elderly parents one of whom, my mother, had Alzheimer ‘s disease. In early 2000 my mother died and so I came to be reviewing my list of goals.

When I came to the bit that said ‘NLP Practitioner’ the postman arrived and lo and behold there was a leaflet for a practitioner course in London in February 2001. Not being one to ignore those so called coincidences, I picked up the phone and paid my deposit.On the first day of the course I was a little nervous as I was not sure what to expect. My fears were soon laid to rest and by the end of the first day I was buzzing and by the end of the course I was in excitement overload. I have to admit that some of the therapy applications were tempting, as I came out -as did most of us -with the intention of changing everyone, including the cat. Of course, thank God, I soon realized it was not appropriate to practice change techniques in the salon, although they helped me personally to change myself. How was I going to apply my new knowledge in the work place? Rapport skills are invaluable as they enable me to get to a decision point in the consultation. Even though I have always been very good at putting my clients at ease, I find that I am picking up on small cues that I used to miss before. Of course, once you know this it seems incredible that you ever missed these things in the first place. For instance, I had a client the other day who asked me, “How much do you think I should have cut off?”-and then tagged on the end of that “about an inch.” I replied, “I think about an inch” and she said, “You must have read my mind.” She wasn’t aware that she had told me the length she wanted cut off, and a few years ago I probably would not have been aware either. The result of this is that my salon takings have increased and my working week has decreased -which is an added bonus. I have been able to apply NLP in other ways when doing my consultations. It has been fairly standard hairdressing practice to ask a client, “How do you feel about your hair .”

Of course, I now realize that this is like talking a foreign language to some customers. These days I might start a typical consultation with, “Are you happy with your current hairstyle?.” If the answer is yes, and the client seems congruent, then fine -and I concentrate on building more rapport and selling the next appointment. If the answer is yes and the client is not so congruent I will ask more questions, such as, “What do you like about this hairstyle, and what don’t you like about it?” This might seem a bit simplistic but it ‘s very effective for me. Some of the more advanced techniques of NLP are fantastic, and some of the stuff around metaprograms is applicable when it comes to convincers and I am sure I could use it if I wanted to. The things that have been of most use to me have been language patterns ,rapport skills and sensory acuity. When I first finished my practitioner I thought I had to change everything, my job included, and that I would be the next NLP guru. I ‘m thankful that I waited 18 months before doing my Master Practitioner because it gave me time to integrate NLP into what I was already doing. I went through the “NLP Wally syndrome , ” as my trainer refers to it, when I used to bore people silly with this new technology that I had learnt.

For me, NLP has been most effective as a tool to improve something that I was already pretty good at. Just the other day I had a customer in the salon and she said, “I want a trim -I would like a change, and feel I should have one, but perhaps I had better have a trim “. I might add at this point that this type of comment is fairly common, and in fact a lot of the time we do not even get a verbal description, just a lot of arm and hand movements when trying to describe a hairstyle. The interesting thing is that you begin to understand the non-verbal descriptions fairly well, which adds credence to the theory that only 7%of our communication is verbal.

Back to my customer. If I do just a trim, technically I have done what she asked and she will be satisfied with the service. But one thing I have found out is that there is a big difference between satisfied and delighted. Take into account that I think the customer feels under some pressure because she has said ‘should have a change ‘ however she is not willing to commit at this point. So I take the pressure element away by saying, “I know you are not having a change of style today, however if you were this is what I would do “. I then go on to describe in detail what I would do using visual, auditory and kinesthetic descriptions, finished by, “So how much do you want trimmed “. So far not one customer has had a trim, so something must be working. Also, now when customers say, “I don ‘t know what I want “I sometimes reply, “If you did know what would it be “-and I usually get a positive response. Now I know all this good stuff I sometimes have to keep from smiling at some of the comments I hear and I have a couple of favorites. “I want my hair cut badly” and “Nobody has hair as bad as me.” I could Meta model my clients to death but I think for me I will try to keep it simple. “One thing I have found out is that there’s a big difference between being satisfied and being delighted”

Reprinted with permission – VOICE OF NLP – MAY 2003