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Massage Today
July, 2002, Vol. 02, Issue 07

Spa Letters

By Steve Capellini, LMT

Author's Note: The Spa Letters column features news, personality profiles, trends, and plenty of professional possibilities for LMTs in the spa industry. The style is epistolary, meaning the articles are letters to a fictional massage therapist friend of the author.

Dear Lou,

So, everything's running smoothly at the spa for a change, eh? You're firmly in charge as the supervisor of treatments; your staff appreciates the efforts you've made to create a better work environment for them; and management is pleased by your ability to cut costs and still offer superior service.

Plus, you still get to do 20 hours of your own hands-on work each week. What could be finer?

Of course, there always has to be at least one fly in the ointment, and in this case that fly's name is Ms. X, the spa director. Like many spa directors, she's landed in the position via the management route rather than moving up through the ranks of spa line staff, and so in your opinion she doesn't have the skills needed to communicate with authority to your fellow therapists. Yet communicate she must, even though she's put her foot in her mouth on a number of occasions. So, how can you, a massage supervisor, educate a spa director?

Step One: Put Yourself in Your Place

First, make sure that your head is securely attached to your shoulders and hasn't inflated to five times its normal size after your recent promotion and pay raise. The last thing you want to get involved with is some political maneuvering in which you'll likely be perceived as angling for yet another promotion, perhaps even taking over the spa director position, much too quickly. You have to let things take their natural course, and right now that course includes Ms. X.

Once your ego is firmly in check and there is no danger of doing something you'll later regret, you can then proceed to step two.

Step Two: Put Yourself in Her Place

Next, think about Ms. X's position. Like many people who are not completely familiar with every aspect of the work their staff does, she may feel somewhat insecure, although according to your description she acts exactly the opposite. That's what insecurity does. Rather than confronting her head-on, though, take the diplomatic route and put yourself in her place first.

She knows she needs to become better acquainted with what you and your team do behind closed doors in the therapy rooms, and she'd feel much more comfortable if she could speak your language, but how can she go about saying that without looking incompetent in this one particular area? Some people are comfortable admitting to what they don't know, but your spa director doesn't seem to be such a person. So what can you do? How about trying a little education?

Step Three: The Education of a Spa Director

I propose that you approach your spa director privately, either through a letter or in person, without anybody else knowing, and tell her about the educational opportunities that exist for people in her position. She may be surprised to learn, for example, that massage schools are starting to perceive the need for spa directors to learn more about what their staffs do, and at least one has already planned a workshop tailored specifically to this audience. The Utah School of Massage received an encouraging response to their initial idea for a special spa director's training class. The folks there imagine, correctly, that there are a large number of directors who would benefit by learning the basics of what their therapists are doing. Imagine it: Ms. X with a fellow spa director's glutes in her hands, learning petrissage. This is the type of thing that will both inform and humble her. Try calling the school to see when they're next going to offer the course. I think they're planning on one sometime next year.

As an alternative, you might let one of the vendors who supply you with products and training do a little side-training for the director. Sure, Ms. X can sit in on trainings with the rest of the staff, but in that environment she can't receive the individualized attention a non-therapist needs. It probably won't be too difficult to convince a vendor that it's worthwhile to invest private time with a spa director. After all, the director is key in making decisions about which products to use, so it's in the vendors' best interest to stay on her good side.

If you can't find someone else who is willing to educate Ms. X, consider doing the job yourself. But you have to be politically correct and couch the suggestion in amenable terms. How about something like this? "Ms. X, I know you've been working extremely hard to make sure the spa is running in tip top form, and that probably hasn't left you time to keep up with the latest advances in spa therapy being performed here. I'd like to suggest that I give you a one-on-one presentation of some techniques we're using now, telling you how we do what we do, and why, and maybe you can try your hand at it yourself a little."

Step Four: Surrender to the Outcome

Of course, your spa director may not be open to such suggestions, in which case you can forget all about these ideas. Instead of trying to force unwanted information on her, it's better to drop the idea. You're still going to have to deal on a day-to-day basis with someone who is not fully versed in the language of what you're doing, however, so in this case I would suggest the following: get over it.

That's right. Just surrender to the idea that this particular spa director is not the ideal person you would like to be working with in an ideal world. But then again, you're always going to find that something is not perfect, no matter where you're working or what your circumstances are. What is there in your relationship with Ms. X that is instructive? What positives can you create from the situation? How can you make her job easier, now that you know her limitations?

Perhaps most importantly, refer back to step number one. Take a look at yourself as you ponder trying to change the behavior of somebody else. What could you do to be more humble, more highly educated, more helpful to the entire operation you're involved with at the spa? Perhaps there's a training course or two you could take yourself that would help you better understand Ms. X's position and her point of view. If you can find one, take it, and expand your mind. You'll be glad you did.

Talk to you later,

Steve Capellini, LMT

Click here for previous articles by Steve Capellini, LMT.


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