Ask Abbie: The barbershop blues

Published 8:39 am Saturday, August 24, 2013

Question: I’ve been going to the same barber for 20 years. He was away one day several months ago and for the first time in many years, his shop partner cut my hair and he did a better job. I really want to switch barbers, but my current one is doing everything possible to keep that from happening. He gets very defensive and knows how to make me feel guilty every time I even mention the other guy cutting my hair. I am tired of paying for a haircut I don’t like, but I really don’t want to make him mad. What do you think I should do?

Hair affair

Answer: “Shave and a haircut, two bits.” These infamous seven beats of music not only deliver timeless enjoyment to the ear, but also profound insight into your barbershop predicament. Listen carefully and you will hear them resound, “A barber’s services are performed for monetary compensation.” If his services were meant to develop a friendly relationship rather than to conduct a business-like transaction, the words to this riff would have been written “Shave and a haircut, two hugs!” The following facts focus on the business rather than the friendship aspects surrounding your situation in order to help you determine how best to carry forth this piece of lyrical wisdom.

Fact 1. You would not take your car to a bad mechanic. Suppose Ed took his problematic car to Jim, the same mechanic he had been using for a long time. After Jim worked on it for a while and collected his payment the two men said their goodbyes. As Ed pulled into his driveway he heard the same awful sound of the original problem. He turned around, headed back to the shop, and broke down on the way. Once again Ed found himself waiting for a tow truck. This type of mechanical inconvenience seemed to be a pattern, but he didn’t want to make Jim mad so he kept employing his services.

Jim and your barber both provide below average service, produce dissatisfied customers, and are actually being paid to do so. Would you advise Ed to keep going back to Jim or to look for a new mechanic? You would tell him to take his business elsewhere unless he never had anywhere to go, enjoyed sitting by the side of the road watching traffic, or used waiting for a tow trucks as an entertaining pastime.

Fact 2. Your barber makes his living based upon the service he provides. More than likely there are others in addition to yourself who are not pleased with your barber’s service. As a result it is very possible he has already lost quite a few repeat or potential clients. If you refuse to no longer accept his poor service you will encourage him to improve his skills and practices and by doing so clearly support the well-being of his business. If you continue to accept his poor service you will discourage him to improve his skills and practices and by doing so clearly support the decline of his business. This factual basis is intended to eliminate and guard against the potential for emotional ambiguity to thwart your initiative.

Fact 3. Bullies shouldn’t be paid for their service. Imagine if a bully repetitively overpowered your son and took his lunch money as he walked to school. I doubt you would tell him, “That’s OK, son. I know the bully is getting paid to take advantage of you, but I want you to keep letting him so you don’t hurt his feelings. Understood?” Your barber is behaving in a way similar to that of your son’s bully; he is applying force rather than offering service worthy of compensation as a way to collect payment.

Now that the true nature of the situation with your barber has been clarified, it is time to determine if the identity of your future interactions with him will continue to resemble friendship or begin to reflect business. Choose the friendship option and be willing to endure short and long-term sacrifice with no guarantee of future gain. Choose the business option and be willing to endure short-term sacrifice for a guarantee of future gain. Whichever you choose remember, your attitude throughout the transition will determine his response. If you appear unconfident and unassertive he will respond with manipulation. If you appear confident and assertive he will respond with acceptance.

Two-bits? Two-hugs? I leave the ending up to you.

ABBIE LONG is a Franklin native and advice columnist for The Tidewater News. Submit your questions to