The  other day I stumbled upon a tweet mentioning a “velvet hammer”. Wondering what it was, I googled the reference and came upon an article discussing its meaning and use; Why the ‘velvet hammer’ is a better way to give constructive criticism by Stephanie Vozza.

Taking issue with the what she calls the “sandwich method” for delivering bad news in which someone starts off with something positive, then discusses the negative and then ends on a positive note, the author recommends the use of the “velvet hammer.” ( For more on the “sandwich method, see, The Power of a Positive No by William Ury (Bantam Books, New York , 2007).)

The formula is simple:

Start with, “Got a minute? Great. I need your help.”

“It should be said in a way friendly,” says Baldridge. “Nothing about this is scary. And ‘I need your help’ is an international surrender of agenda. It’s a disarming way to get attention sincerely and genuinely. And you do need their help because their behavior is becoming problematic.”

Next, say, “I noticed that [problem behavior goes here.] (Pause) I was wondering what’s causing this problem (pause), because it cannot continue. What do you suggest we do?”

“The word ‘because’ is one of the 30 most persuasive words,” says Baldridge. “Everyone wants to know what comes after it.”

Also, asking what the person suggests we do is powerful because people are persuaded most by their own words, says Baldridge. The approach is designed to be nonthreatening, compassionate, and open-minded. It finds positivity in the way you communicate, manage, and lead, especially when you need to correct a problematic behavior. (Id.)

The author claims that this velvet hammer works because it is “… actually a verbal contract you are creating with another person to better yourself….”. (Id.)

She does caution that one must be careful with the words used as words are powerful and using the wrong word can produce the wrong outcome. She also mentions to be careful about the tone; again, using the wrong tone can send the wrong message. (Id.)

Finally, the author points out the importance of separating the people from the problem. By asking the other what would she suggest be done, it frames the issue as “us against the problem” rather than “me against you.”(Id.)

I can envision using this approach during a mediation when I must be the bearer of bad news. Rather than using the good news/bad news approach, I can try using the velvet hammer in the hope that it will help the parties  separate the people from the problem and move the problem towards a resolution.

… Just something to think about.

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