The Elegant Negotiation of Taylor Swift



By GabboT (Taylor Swift 125), via Wikimedia Commons

First of all, let’s discard the notion that she was successful in getting Apple’s attention simply because she’s in a position of influence in her industry. Apple’s not scared of anyone. As a matter of fact, they may well prefer chopping someone down because they are big.

Taylor Swift was effective because she took an elegant approach. She didn’t make jabs at them. She used empathy and it put her in the position to tell an indisputable truth. She also used the “F” word – “Fair”. She criticized their decision while respecting them – “….we admire and respect Apple so much. We simply do not respect this particular call.”

Taylor started her letter elegantly, respectfully, and even affectionately - “To Apple, Love Taylor”. You could even argue that this was deferential. There is great power in deference. She started by signaling that this was not an attack. As should be accomplished by a great opening, the purpose is to get the intended recipient to wonder what’s coming next without having to put their guard up. If what follows betrays this trust that has been briefly earned and truly is an attack, then it’s impact is nothing.

She didn’t betray that earned trust. She continued with respect and appreciation. All the things she says Apple would say are simple statements of truth, indisputable truth, if you will. Empathy.

The key to everything in her message is really the avoidance of the word “you” throughout. “You” is always a jab. It’s often accusatory and judgmental.

Instead, she uses a form of an “I” message.

“I find it to be shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company.”

With the use of an “I” message, you take responsibility for an observation and invite the counterpart to correct you. Please note my use of the word “counterpart” as opposed to “adversary”. One of The Black Swan Group’s philosophies is “The adversary is the situation”. Effective negotiation is great collaboration. Both sides have to feel they were left better off and that their negotiation counterpart didn’t beat them. Leaving a counterpart feeling beaten is a bad idea as it sows the seeds for a future failure.

The real key to empathy is the counterpart’s perspective, not yours. Taylor does just this with the word “generous”, when others might rather use the word “stingy”. What Apple clearly remembers here is even though there’s no shortage of artists who grumble about the size of the piece that Apple takes, before Apple, Napster and Limewire were distributing music all over the planet for nothing. Apple convinced music lovers across the world to pay 99¢ for something they were getting for free. Apple’s perspective is that they not only began to collect payment where none was being given before, they created a world-wide system to collect it. They would say they are generous indeed. That is the use of empathy in its purest and most elegant form. How would your counterpart see it?

She works her way to the indisputable truth: “it is unfair to ask anyone to work for nothing”. This is the key to everything she said and she couldn’t go straight there. A great negotiator realizes they have to earn their way there to be able to say it. Again, note the word “you” doesn’t’ appear anywhere here. This isn’t an accusation – it’s only the truth. No spin. This sort of indisputable truth is hard for anyone on any side of this issue to argue with.

The brilliance and elegance in Taylor Swift’s letter to Apple are worth looking over and emulating. Well done Ms. Swift! Make it rain!

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About The Author

Christopher Voss is the CEO of The Black Swan Group, a firm that solves business negotiation problems with hostage negotiation strategies. Chris founded the Black Swan Group, in 2008 upon his retirement from the FBI where he was the FBI’s lead international kidnapping negotiator. Chris is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Southern California (USC) Marshall School of Business and Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business where he teaches business negotiation in both M.B.A. programs.