What are the Similarities Between Hostage Negotiators and Hairdressers?

by charlottegw / last updated July 24, 2018

Hostage Negotiators and Hairdressers Hairdressing Chair

Their daily lives may seem worlds apart but there are surprising similarities between hostage negotiators and hairdressers, as HJ found out at Wella Business Network Live 2018.

The guests of Wella’s Business Network Live were held spellbound by former hostage negotiator Richard Mullender. After spending 30 years in the UK police force and then five years working as a hostage negotiator in regions such as Afghanistan and the Middle East, Richard has prevented countless suicides, rescued hostages and been in numerous high pressure situations. But can hairdressers really learn from hostage negotiators? Below Richard reveals the similarities between the two careers and provides expert tips to deal with customers and confrontation.

The similarity: We both have to make people feel understood
RM: Hostage negotiators have customers too. It’s a slightly different situation but essentially it’s about understanding the people in front of us. We both need to use the same set of tools – we need to make who we are working with feel special and to feel like they are understood. A hostage negotiator has to make someone feel like life is better than death. We have to make them feel they are worthy. I genuinely believe hairdressers have a really important role to play in society. There is a magic in cutting someone’s hair, but you can only have that moment of magic if you truly understand the person in front of you.

 The similarity: Our jobs are unpredictable in their nature
RM: I never really know how a hostage situation is going to end and I imagine hairdressers never know who is going to walk through their door. Universities try to teach formulas for how events might play out, but the reality is humans are fickle. The most important thing is don’t let an unpredictable situation get to you. If you show your frustration you will make a customer or client feel unworthy.

The similarity: We have to get to the root of the problem quickly (no pun intended!)
RM: I think the biggest similarity in our industries is that we need to interpret the truth behind people’s words. We need to be good listeners, but not just by asking lots of questions by really listening to what people are saying. For example a client might say: “I’m going to my son’s wedding. The bride’s family are really posh and I want to look nice.” What she is saying is: “I want to look nice because they are really posh.” It sounds to me as if the client will feel uncomfortable at this wedding, maybe because the bride’s family looks down their nose at her. So perhaps giving her a chic and understated hair ‘do, rather than a big statement might be the best course of action.

The similarity: We have to be good communicators and get our point across
RM: I naturally speak fast because I get passionate about things. However, it’s a conscious decision I’ve made to speak slower and relatively quietly. (I’m also conscious that people can’t understand my Cockney accent!). We learnt in interrogation training to take deep breaths and lower your voice an octave when speaking. It’s a technique Margaret Thatcher adopted. If you listen to her before and after she came to power you’ll notice she has lowered her voice an octave. It naturally slows you down and you sound a lot calmer. Try it!

The similarity: We both have to deal with confrontation
RM: The mistake people often make when dealing with confrontation is that they try and calm the angered person down. In my experience this only worsens the situation. Don’t get angry, but do raise your energy. If someone is shouting at you don’t respond quietly. Say something like: “OK, it sounds to me as if you’re really upset about how your hair has turned out. Tell me exactly what it is that you don’t like and we can see if we can fix it.” If someone’s depressed you don’t just say “cheer up”, instead you start addressing how they’re feeling. Treat the problem with the same level of importance that they are. Remember don’t get angry, get energised.

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