How to Hold Others Accountable in the Salon

Sometimes, people make mistakes. Unfortunately, many either don’t recognize they’ve made a mistake or choose to pretend they didn’t make a mistake at all. (Presumably assuming that if they ignore their blunder, everyone else will ignore it too.) Regardless of your position—whether you’re a salon owner or a professional—you’ve likely been in a situation where you’ve had to hold someone accountable.

People aren’t mind readers. You can’t expect anyone to instinctively know anything.

It’s up to you to communicate clearly, leaving no room for interpretation. If you’re in any position of leadership (as a salon owner or manager), holding employees (and sometimes clients) accountable for their actions will be an important part of your job duties. This article will tell you how to do so directly, without compromising your professionalism or losing your temper.

Audio Version


Some discussions can be short and sweet—over and done in a minute or less. However, some circumstances require more time and consideration. It’s best to prepare for all accountability conversations to keep them from becoming confrontational.

These discussions are not confrontations and shouldn’t be approached from an emotional, accusatory position.

Think it through. List the facts, either mentally or on paper.

  • What happened?
  • What did the offending party do?
  • What negative consequence did their choice or behavior result in?
  • What choice or behavior do you expect in the future?
  • What actions will you take (or what negative consequence will they likely face) if they repeat their mistake?

By way of an example, let’s use a common situation nail technicians often face. In this scenario, a client arrived for a pedicure appointment, but upon inspection, the technician notices the toenails are discolored and slightly thickened. The state board regulations don’t allow her to perform services on any clients with toenail abnormalities of any kind, so she discreetly gives the client a physician referral and invites her to return after her evaluation.

As she and the client are saying their goodbyes at the front desk, the employer confronts the professional and attempts to coerce the technician into performing the service anyway while trying to direct the client back to the pedicure chair. Ultimately, the professional and the client stand their ground and decline, but the owner makes quite a scene and storms off in a huff. The professional has the impression her job may be in jeopardy, but after this instance, she’s not willing to work for someone who doesn’t operate ethically.

Here’s what this technician’s facts would look like:

Earlier today, a client with abnormal toenails arrived for an appointment. I gave her a referral to a podiatrist and welcomed her to return after the physician cleared her for services. You confronted me at the front desk in the presence of the client and attempted to coerce me to work outside my scope of practice by insisting that I treat her, which would have been in direct violation of our state board regulations. In addition to this behavior being unprofessional, you seemed willing to both of us at significant risk. I am not going to imperil my professional license in any way. In the future, I expect you to support me when I determine a client to be ineligible for services. I also expect you not to confront me in the presence of customers. Should this continue to be a problem, I will have no choice but to resign my position here.

Pay attention to the wording. Notice how every statement is factual and reasonable? The professional in this scenario isn’t calling the owner names, making judgment calls about her competence (or lack thereof), or letting the conversation deviate from the main point. She also isn’t making empty threats. She’s not happy and she’s ready to walk if this issue persists.

Arrange A Meeting

There’s no reason for any accountability discussion to be held in a public space, especially during operating hours. Instead, pull the person aside or arrange to speak with them privately at a mutually convenient time.

If you don’t want someone to react defensively, don’t put them in a position where they feel the need to defend themselves in front of others.

No matter what tone you use or how you approach it, having these discussions in front of other employees or clients isn’t professional. Besides that, putting someone on the spot may cause them to react explosively, so plan to have this talk in private, behind closed doors.

Communicate Clearly

Planning your talking points in advance is important because it keeps you focused during what is likely to be an uncomfortable, tense discussion.

Stick to the facts and to the point. Don’t deviate. This conversation is about one thing and one thing only. To keep the discussion productive and brief, your feelings should have little to no place in it. This isn’t an opportunity to cry about how butthurt you are by someone else’s actions or berate them for how they may have offended you. This also isn’t the time to bring up every grievance you’ve ever had with this person.

Don’t make it personal.

Don’t permit interruptions. Should the other person attempt to interrupt you before you’ve finished saying what you need to say, stop them. Those interruptions are intensely disrespectful. Tell the person you’re talking to that you will definitely hear them out, but they need to allow you to finish before they react. It’s not appropriate for them to defend or attempt to justify their behaviors before you’ve had an opportunity to finish communicating.

Walk away if necessary. If the other person becomes hostile or belligerent, end the conversation immediately. Don’t allow them to berate or disrespect you. Your position and the salon’s hierarchy are irrelevant. All people deserve to be treated with patience and decency.

It’s not unreasonable to expect other adults to treat you like a human being, especially in a professional setting.

Listen patiently, stay silent, and keep an open mind. Just as you deserve the opportunity to speak without interruptions and outbursts, so too does the person you’re conversing with. Once you’ve said what you need to say, let them have the floor and give them the same consideration and respect you expected from them (even if they didn’t necessarily give it to you—lead by example).

You might have made a mistake or two yourself, so do your best to see things from the other person’s position when they present your behavior from their perspective.

Stay objective and humbly own your mistakes the way you want them to own theirs.

Leave on a positive note. Even if the discussion ends in a permanent separation (such as a termination or resignation), you should try to end the meeting positively. Managers and salon owners can do this by expressing gratitude for the professional’s contributions to the business. Professionals can do this by showing appreciation or pointing out things the other person does right.

Since appreciation and gratitude tend to be foreign concepts in this industry, here’s an example of what that would look like, continuing our previous scenario:

I hope you understand why I felt it necessary to have this discussion and I don’t want you to think this is a personal attack. I appreciate how hard you work and everything you do for myself and the rest of the team. I’m always awed by your ingenuity, enthusiasm, and dedication. If I didn’t enjoy working here, instead of having this talk, I’d be turning in my resignation, but I respect you and would much prefer to come to a solution because you have done a great job creating an enjoyable workplace.

See how that works? We say nice things that are also true. These nice things make people feel good and cut the tension, diffusing any anger they may be feeling after being reprimanded. It resets the tone of the conversation, giving that person the ability to rethink any harsh comebacks they may have had sitting on the tip of their tongue.

You can’t control the behaviors of others. You can control how you react to them.

Maintain your composure. If you’re sticking to facts rooted in truth and logic, it’ll be difficult for anyone to object to the points you make. However, there’s a possibility the person you’re holding accountable may not respond positively, and that’s fine. The best you can do is model the behavior you expect, communicate your expectations clearly, and hold others accountable when they disappoint you.

Don’t take responsibility for things that aren’t your responsibility. Because you can’t control what others do, you shouldn’t allow yourself to feel guilty or responsible for any outburst they have.

People who aren’t receptive to criticism tend to shift blame elsewhere, make excuses, or lash out at the person criticizing them.

Expect that, but don’t tolerate it. Only take responsibility for your own failures and mistakes. Don’t allow anyone to place blame for their behavior where it doesn’t belong. The point of the discussion is to get them to take ownership of their mistake. If they’re unwilling or incapable of doing that, that’s their problem—not yours.

Save your apologies. While we’re on the topic of things that aren’t your problem—don’t feel obligated to apologize for speaking the truth simply because the person you called to task took offense to your honesty. Any apology you give in an attempt to calm their reaction will be insincere and will undermine your valid complaints. Only apologize when you’ve actually done something wrong.

Why Communication Matters

Open, honest, and respectful discourse keep resentment and discontent from festering until they become toxic to everyone in the salon. Commit to maintaining a work environment that supports constructive corrective dialogues. People can’t be expected to do better until they know better. Salons that stifle or ignore the voices of their workers will stagnate and likely lose talent.

Much employee overturn could be avoided if more professionals had the courage to speak up and more owners and managers had the patience to listen objectively.

Professionals should never be made to fear their superiors, and it can be hard for some of them to assert themselves, so give them an invitation. Managers should be scheduling one-on-one time with employees, not just to encourage open communication, but to solicit feedback (both positive and negative) from the people they’re tasked with leading.

No matter your position in the salon, you have the power to change the way everyone within it treats one another and influence how the business itself evolves. Be more than a passive observer. Instead of bottling your frustration, respect yourself and others enough to give them a chance to understand their mistakes and how they can improve in the future. Thank people who take the time to hold similar discussions with you. Encourage change and growth through meaningful conversation. Over time, you’ll create a better work environment and a stronger team of professionals.

Have you ever had to hold someone accountable at work? Have you been schooled yourself a time or two? If so, tell us about it in the comments!

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Tina Alberino
Tina Alberino
Beauty industry survivalist, salon crisis interventionist, tactical verb-weapon specialist, and the leader of at least a hundred workplace revolutions, Tina Alberino is known as much for her extensive knowledge as for her sarcastic wit and mercilessly straightforward style. She’s the author of The Beauty Industry Survival Guide and Salon Ownership and Management: A Definitive Guide to the Professional Beauty Business. When she’s not writing, educating, or consulting, she can be found overthinking everything, identifying problems people didn’t know existed, and stubbornly working to change the things she cannot accept.

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  1. Yes & yes The owner retired hired me to manage. The situation was difficult the stylist that I was holding accountable was not being accountable for there actions because the owner would not back me in any decisions for the longest time. Previous the salon I worked at stifled & ignored the voices of the workers. VERY DISGORGING!

  2. Tina… very well written article. Tell me, why do you think this industry is particularly susceptible to being ungrateful and unappreciative when having these types of accountability conversations? What makes our industry unique to the plethora of unprofessional conduct on both sides of the employer/employee dynamic? This is something I’ve admitted for years, but until we identify the “why”, it will continue. Seemingly, as generations go by, it is getting worse. Just wanted to know your thoughts.
    Again, great article. I always enjoy your perspective and often utilize your writings for reference when things arise.

    • Well, I have a theory and after seeing it play out for the last twenty years, I think it’s largely accurate.

      First, we have schools telling students lies to increase enrollment. So the students come out believing they’ll have all these freedoms they likely won’t have–that they’ll make an obscene amount of money calling all their own shots–which sounds just as dumb as those “you’ll make $10,000 a day working from home” scams when you think about it.

      They enter the workforce with unreasonable demands. Largely, they’re met with exploitative owners who rob them blind and work them like dogs, all while treating them like they’re replaceable. They show no loyalty because nobody they’ve worked for has yet earned it. As a result, when they come across a good owner, they are suspicious and resentful. They take out their bad experiences on owners who don’t deserve it.

      The ethical owners begin to grow weary of the professionals, so there’s distrust on both sides now, and anger.

      Meanwhile, the attrition rates stay high–so instead of professionals learning through experience and doing better (helping to keep the good owners from giving up entirely), they leave and new ones enter the industry.

      The cycle continues.


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