November 21, 2017 Articles

Steel Magnolias and Velvet Hammers: The Power of Quiet Persuasion

By Peggy Smith Bush

Law is not my first career—or even my second. Having been what some refer to as a nontraditionally aged law student, by the time I headed out to court to cover my first hearing, I was in my late (late!) thirties. I had been “out in the real world” for about 17 years and had worked almost exclusively in historically male-dominated industries. Raised in the South, I was used to being called a “steel magnolia” and picked up the nickname “velvet hammer” in law school. In other words, I was comfortable that it was obvious I am a strong woman with a soft style. I was, therefore, reasonably taken aback by the apparent expectation that I had zero experience, let alone ability, to navigate difficult situations and negotiations. At first, I thought it was because I was new to the practice of law—after all, I was considered (albeit briefly) a “young” lawyer. And I don’t discount that was part of it. But I soon realized that it was also, and perhaps mainly, because I often was the only woman in a room full of male attorneys and, physically, I almost always was the smallest. I am naturally soft spoken, and being raised in Alabama, I have an easily recognizable and often commented upon “southern belle-ish” accent. Putting all of that together could have been a recipe for being crushed in an industry where people argue for a living. But in my experience, loud does not mean stronger, and you don’t have to be argumentative to argue your position. There is power in quiet persuasion.

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