Being a Velvet Hammer

Changing minds with finesse, not force.

Diana Lillicrap 9.24.2015

I initially took offense to being called a velvet hammer. I thought it sounded overbearing and tough. But I’ve come to embrace it as a description of a female leader who gets things done with eloquence and grace.

Strength wins in the short term

True story. A few months ago while at a party, I was encouraged to arm wrestle (literally) a young man who was confident he could beat any woman in an arm-to-arm challenge. I tried to brush him off, but his pestering continued to a point that struck a nerve in my feminine inner being. We dueled. I won. The young man left the party and I haven’t seen him since. I wouldn’t doubt he’s been avoiding me and I’ve honestly been feeling guilty about damaging his pride.

This incident reminds me that changing someone’s opinion or perspective through force may feel like a win in the short term, but it never leaves anyone feeling good in the long term. There are better ways to get what you want.

Use finesse, not force

Effective leaders lead with finesse, not force. It’s true in social and work situations, with men and women alike. I’ve seen time and again that I always gain more trust and respect by being subtle, measured, and strategic, rather than strong-arming anyone into anything—even if the other person may benefit from my ideas, help, or knowledge. Good persuasion leaves the other person feeling in control about the choice that he or she has made.

Realize change happens slowly

Rushing anyone to make a decision is a great way to ensure the decision will be poor or regretted. When it comes to persuading someone to see something your way or to be open to a new approach, persistence and patience is a must. Big ideas take more time to understand, test, and embrace, especially if they go against previously held beliefs or require significant changes in behavior. If you can be calm and reassuring throughout the process, you’ll establish enduring credibility and confidence with the person who is making the decision.

Accept defeat with grace

Not every persuasive conversation is going to end with you getting what you want. Sometimes a person just isn’t ready for change for reasons that might be very valid. Whatever the outcome, it’s important to be respectful of opposing ideas and choices. In time, the person may change their views. But if you burn your bridges, your influence on them will be instantly over.

More velvet, less hammer

No one likes to be told what to do. We all want to feel in control of our decisions and our lives. Kind, respectful words spoken over time with encouraging, gentle nudges in the right direction are usually more than enough to persuade someone to do the right thing in his or her own time. And if they aren’t, a forceful act or aggressive response isn’t likely going to change the person’s mind either. Even if it gets you what you want in the short term, using force will likely damage relationships, create resentment, and potentially jeopardize your reputation as being fair, ethical, and trustworthy—traits that are extremely valuable to any good leader.

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