How to Tactfully Express Dissatisfaction

“I’m a salon manager with a staff of eight. One of my new stylists can’t seem to get anything right. She’s slow, she’s not upselling, she doesn’t know the products so everyone else has to do her formulas, she messes up the book whenever she touches it and she’s screwed up on the register so many times that I revoked her login this morning.

She’s talented and the clients love her attitude, so I don’t want to fire her. Quarterly performance reviews are coming up and I’m not sure how to explain that she needs a lot of training without sounding like a total bitch.

I’m not good at these types of conversations. I don’t want the employees to hate me and I don’t want to cause drama. I like to keep my interactions with them positive because I know keeping them happy is really important. Plus, she’s pretty new to the business and I don’t want to discourage her. What do I do?”


You’ve held your position for what? Four months? Maybe less? I’m willing to bet my left arm that this will be your first time conducting quarterly reviews. I can smell inexperienced management from miles away. You know how? It’s your soul—specifically, the fact that yours is still intact. (Enjoy your conscience while you have one. Eventually, it’ll start to deteriorate and you’ll be left a cold, hollow shell who lives and dies by the salon’s performance metrics.)

Effective communication skills are a manager’s most critical asset.

You’ll have to learn how to use language extremely well so you can have difficult conversations without flinching or destroying the morale of the employee you’re evaluating. Those conversations require confidence, tact, and a complete disregard for the employee’s personal opinion of you. You’re not at work to make friends, Madam Manager.

When conducting performance evaluations, a lot of managers use the “sandwich” method. They give good feedback, then bad, and then good, so the meeting ends on a positive note. I’ve never found the sandwich method very effective, mostly because it seems to trigger a condition I call “selective deafness.”

People tend to hear what they want to hear and not what they need to hear.

What this employee needs to hear is this: “We’re going to spend some more time refining your technique and helping you master the point-of-sale system.”

Notice the plural pronoun: We.
Not you.

What you need to hear is this: Your team’s shortcomings are an extension of your own.

As the manager, you are responsible for ensuring your team members are adequately trained. It’s your job to ensure they’re staying on task and that they’re confident in their product and service knowledge so they know how to upsell and retail.

In a perfect world, all of our graduates would come to us with these skills built-in, but the responsibility for providing critical job training often falls to us.

These issues sound as if they’ve been going on for a while, and you’ve been waiting until quarterly reviews to address them. That stops now.

To efficiently eliminate bad habits, address and correct them immediately.

From now on, you’re going to keep a clipboard. Clip some notebook paper on that bad boy—the college ruled stuff.

Do you have a daily agenda?

If not, you make one. If you’d like, you can download mine and adapt it to suit your needs.

Put that on top of your crisp notebook paper, then print out a fancy cover sheet like this one. Print it on decent card stock, though. (If you can see through it, that defeats the purpose.) Stick that cover sheet right on top of everything.

Now that your clipboard has been situated, grab a pen. Never again will you be seen at work without these two items in your hands.

Why do you need a clipboard as a constant companion?

Because you need to be writing things down when you see them—and walking around, typing notes on a phone or tablet looks unprofessional. Plus, it’s easy to forget the notes you’ve made on a device if they’re not physically where you can see them.

What kind of notes should you take?

All kinds. You will notate maintenance tasks (like paint chips and malfunctioning equipment), client and employee suggestions, and—most importantly—lapses in professionalism and performance that you will need to address before closing time.

Stop waiting until performance review periods.

If someone’s lagging behind, overusing product, not cleaning up after themselves, inciting riots, or otherwise stepping out of line, you’re going to be having a one-on-one with them that day.

Why is immediate correction so important?

  • You want the behavior to stop before it becomes a habit. Bad habits are expensive.
  • Negative behaviors poorly reflect on the business, equating to a loss in clients (and consequently, revenue).
  • Product overuse can cost the salon a ton of money over time.
  • Low productivity adversely affects profit margins.

If you don’t correct them fast, bad behaviors can infect the other employees like a virus.

You know the saying, “Not my circus; not my monkeys?” As the salon manager, you’re the ringleader. This absolutely is your circus, and those absolutely are your monkeys.

How does that other saying go? “Monkey see; monkey do.” If you think that doesn’t apply to grown adults, you’re wrong. Never let employees set precedents. Employees need to be told what your expectations of them are, and sometimes they need to be reminded.

The salon can’t afford for you to neglect your duties. Your job is to actively manage the employees. That’s what you’re getting paid for. Besides, by not addressing these issues in a timely manner, you’re only making your job more difficult. Don’t let undesirable behaviors slide. Always be swift and consistent with your discipline.

How do I address the problems with the employees?

You don’t get to go home until you’ve dealt with employee-related problems. Serious infractions (outbursts on the salon floor, for example) require emergency meetings on-the-spot, but if you’re routinely addressing problem behaviors on a same-day basis, those emergency situations will be few and far between.

When you have disciplinary discussions, place blame where it belongs.

A slow employee who fumbles through services and can’t work the POS has likely not been properly trained—and who’s in charge of training? You are. By not training this employee up to the salon’s standards, you’ve not only cost the salon money, you’ve tossed an inexperienced professional into the ocean without a life raft.

If you have set an employee up for failure, you owe them an apology.

Sometimes the most difficult conversations to have are the ones in which you have to admit fault. To learn how to apologize the right way, I recommend reading my article, “How to Admit Fault and Apologize.” You would think apologizing would be pretty simple and straightforward, but too few salon managers and owners know how to do so effectively. Communication isn’t always as easy as we’d like it to be, so do yourself the favor of developing the skills necessary to successfully navigate your relationships with everyone you interact with at work. Both the continued success of the salon and your management career very much depend on your commitment to continual improvement.

Should this be a recurring problem, evaluate the corrective measures you’ve taken.

  • Why were they ineffective?
  • Could you have done something differently?
  • Could this problem have been avoided with better communication or more training?

If the answer to all of those questions is no, then you’ll have to straighten your spine, face the employee, and hold an accountability discussion. (If you feel like it might be time to have that discussion, my article, “How to Hold Others Accountable” will tell you exactly how to prepare for and conduct that meeting.)

You’re a manager, now. Tough discussions are going to be part of your weekly routine, so get used to them.


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