How to Talk to Your Hairstylist and Get the Look You Want

Go home with the hair you envisioned.

What's worse than experiencing a hair job gone wrong? Having to pay for it. Unfortunately, hairstylists are not mind readers and, despite your efforts to communicate to your stylist what you want, sometimes it gets lost in translation. And if you're the non-confrontational type (like me), you tell the stylist you love it, dish out a couple hundred, and walk out the door.

So where does it go so wrong, and how can you avoid it? We asked the pros how to negotiate with your hairdresser and avoid future meltdown moments at the salon.

01 of 07

Bring Visual References

The phrase "a picture speaks a thousand words" rings even truer when you're at the salon. "Photos are the best language!" says Sunnie Brook, celebrity hairstylist and Biolage global ambassador. "They are the bridge for creating a look that both the hairdresser and client are happy with. I always ask my clients to show me photos of a time when they loved their hair the most, or a time that they liked it the least."

02 of 07

Use the Right Lingo

First, a disclaimer: "I believe it's the hairdresser's job, as a professional, to do a thorough consultation with the client to make sure their needs and expectations are met," says Brook. "The client shouldn't have to worry about saying or asking for the right thing,"

That said, there are certain adjectives to avoid, especially when you get into tricky territory like bangs. Instead of using vague words like "shorter" and "longer" (your version of shorter may be entirely different from your hairdresser's), be more descriptive. For example, say how many inches you'd like off, or if you want a hard or soft cut. If you want layers, don't just say you want short layers or long layers—let your hairstylist know you'd like short layers in one place and longer layers in another.

03 of 07

Speak in Terms of Problems and Solutions

In addition to saying what you want, specify what you don't want. For example, don't just say you'd like more layers, add that you don't want your hair to look flat. "Both are equally important," says Brook. "I like to ask lots of questions in my consultation, and at the end, I repeat back to the client what we have decided on and communicate the steps we are going to take to achieve the look."

04 of 07

Know What You Want Before Going

Brook's biggest client pet peeve? Indecision. "If a client is unsure of what they want, even after the consultation, I never move forward with a cut or color. No one is happy if the targeted look was not clearly identified, and in turn, the results are neither satisfying to the client nor the hairdresser," she says. "If someone is on the fence about a change or look, I politely tell them to come back another day when they are ready." Bottom line: To get a look you love, arrive at the salon with clearly defined objectives.

Another tip? Schedule your appointment for early in the day, says Sarah Potempa, celebrity hairstylist and founder of Beachwaver. Your stylist is less likely to be running behind and more likely to have time to dive into details with you.

05 of 07

Keep an Eye on Your Stylist

We instinctively relax at the salon while the stylist is at work, but it's not a good idea to check out completely or stay head-down with your phone. Watch what your stylist is doing so you can catch errors sooner rather than later.

06 of 07

Speak Up

Nobody wants to be "that client," but newsflash: Hairstylists would rather you say something than nothing. "If you are uncomfortable at any point, you should definitely communicate as soon as possible," says Brook. "A good hairdresser will listen and make you feel taken care of."

Be honest but tactful—try leading with something like, "I'm sorry if I didn't make myself clear," or "I wanted something more like this—let me explain it better." You and your stylist need to be on the same wavelength, and if that offends them, maybe they're not the right stylist for you.

"If you don't have the stomach to let the stylist know when he's done cutting, call them after you're home," suggests Chris McMillan, stylist and owner of Chris McMillan, a salon in Beverly Hills, California. "The stylist will do anything to fix it, because at the end of the day, they want you to be happy and don't want to lose clients. They should fix it for free within a week."

07 of 07

Do Your Research

According to Brook, the key to finding a great hairdresser happens before you sit in the chair. Look at reviews, dive into their social media, and check out the salon in person (if allowed). "You can learn a lot about a hairdresser just by watching how they interact with others and their clients," says Brook.

"Before booking an appointment, I suggest going to the salon to sit and watch the hairdressers from the waiting area. You can browse their products while doing research (think secret shopper status), watch the hairdressers as they work, and really get a feel for who listens to their clients by seeing them work in real-time." You can also call ahead and ask if a stylist is available for a consultation; that way, you can confirm your compatibility before you rush into a commitment.

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