The work of hairdressers and lawyers is seen as worlds apart, but the skills displayed every day by hairdresser are ones that lawyers should also master.
In styling a person’s hair hairdressers are equipped with something termed by the psychologist Mike Rose as ‘practical wisdom’, the ability to balance technical knowledge with an interpretation of what a person actually wants from their stylist.
When a customer sits in a stylist’s chair an expert assessment must be made by the stylist as to what will work, taking into account the density, texture, porosity and elasticity of a person’s hair. A stylist will also ask the customer questions to better understand what haircut they are after. Often, a customer will wave their hands to indicate the movement or shape they want and use ambiguous words, saying they want their hair to be more ‘chic’ and ‘stylish’. From this, a hairdresser must decide what to do.
This is not an easy task, a client does not simply have straight hair; it is more likely that they will have straight hair in some parts and relatively wavy in others. Furthermore, says Rose: the variables interact: “both texture and porosity for example affect the way a colouring agent takes in the hair, and the colour of the hair will combine with the texture and the shape of the cut to affect the final appearance of the hair, the way light plays off it, its sheen and movement.”
It should not be assumed that pictures make things any simpler. Being able to see the style a customer wants does not mean it is achievable, you could give someone the same cut but the difference in the type of hair and features of the model will mean that, ultimately it is going to look different and the customer is likely to be disappointed.
Additionally, what the client is really saying with the picture is that they want the ‘feel’ of what they see in the picture. A stylist will need to use their technical knowledge and translate this to create the feel. They will also needs the practical wisdom to help the client figure out what this feel is. This will be an interpretation of the words used and the hands waved and, essentially knowing the client as well as the technique. This requires an on-going conversation, says Rose, to create an understanding of the client’s life, which contributes to the stylist’s ability to interpret and enact the client’s request. As one stylist puts it: to “discern what the client is truly asking me to do.”
Stylists can describe their work as having to do two things at once, utilise their specialist technical knowledge as well as understand what a customer wants. It is this that good lawyers should also try and do, understand a client’s problem and what course of action they want you to take whilst balancing this with the expert knowledge of what would work best according to the individual case.
Just as when a hairdresser is fresh out of training, looking at everyone and thinking about what you want to do to them, lawyers, indeed many other professionals, can trust so much in what they have learnt that they can forget to give the client what they want. Just as hairdressers respect client autonomy, lawyers have to do the same.
Ruth Costello, writing on behalf of Pannone LLP.