How Taylor Swift won over Apple

Published 4:07 PM EDT, Mon June 22, 2015

Story highlights

Taylor Swift wrote successful appeal to Apple asking it to pay artists for streaming service

Mel Robbins: Swift's respect for the company and its values was key

Editor’s Note: Mel Robbins is a CNN commentator, legal analyst, best-selling author and keynote speaker. In 2014, she was named outstanding news talk-radio host by the Gracie Awards. Learn more at The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

CNN —  

Taylor Swift has not only figured out the formula for writing mega hits, but she has also nailed the formula for changing behavior.

Yes, she’s a titan in the music industry, and Apple was staring at a potential publicity nightmare. But underneath that more cynical take, there’s a powerful takeaway you can follow in your life and career.

Mel Robbins
Mel Robbins

What Swift just did is an example of a well-established strategy for handling difficult conversations.

If you want to change someone’s mind – whether it’s a tough client, stubborn child, upset customer or annoyed spouse – follow the same formula Swift used, and you’ll be surprised by how well it works.

1. Lay on the acknowledgment thick

Did you notice how Swift found more good stuff to say about Apple than bad? It read more like a love letter than a rant. The last thing you want to do if you want someone to change his or her mind is to start on the attack.

Most of us dread difficult conversations because we fear the tension. If you wrap the critical feedback with lots of good stuff, it’ll go easy. Acknowledging the positive de-escalates the tension and makes the other party open to the negative feedback sandwiched in between praise.

That’s why her opening paragraph is brilliant:

“I write this to explain why I’ll be holding back my album, ‘1989,’ from the new streaming service, Apple Music. I feel this deserves an explanation because Apple has been and will continue to be one of my best partners in selling music and creating ways for me to connect with my fans. I respect the company and the truly ingenious minds that have created a legacy based on innovation and pushing the right boundaries.”

Acknowledge the good before you deliver the bad, and you’ll shift the tone to a thoughtful appeal the other party will consider.

2. Communicate with respect

Swift uses the word “respect” four times in her letter. It’s clear from the tone of the appeal that this is “not the complaints of a spoiled, petulant child.” She goes to great lengths to communicate how much she admires, loves and appreciates what Apple does. In that same vein, she acknowledges the fear of those “who are afraid to speak up publicly because we admire and respect Apple so much.”

By speaking with so much respect and admiration for Apple, she puts herself on the same side as Apple. It’s easy to dismiss someone who is ranting and making you wrong. It’s much harder to ignore the appeals of someone who supports you, respects you – even admires you.

Communicate with respect, and you’ll get the other party to listen.

3. It’s about them, not you

And for the real power move, make the behavior change about their values, not yours. Ultimately, the most persuasive point Swift made was that Apple’s policy is inconsistent with Apple’s own “historically progressive and generous” brand.

One point of contention is the line at the end of the letter, “We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation,” which was a cheap shot. It may work to garner attention on social media, but if you resort to making cheap shots face to face, you’ll often lose.

At the end of the day, Apple listened and Taylor won. But in general, it’s better to take the high road and stick to the formula that works: acknowledgment, respect and framing the behavior change in their values, not yours.

Ultimately, Apple wasn’t shamed into changing its policy – it was inspired to do it. Apple has higher aspirations of being “the platform that gets it right” – Swift just reminded it of who it is.

Remember Apple’s old tag line, “Think Different,” or its legendary commercial from 1997, “Here’s to the Crazy Ones”? The monologue Steve Jobs reads during the commercial says it all:

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Well done, Taylor. You have a way of communicating so people think it’s about them, not you. From my own daughter, whom you inspired to pick up the guitar and start posting her music online, to reminding the people at Apple who they are and what they stand for:

“We hear you @taylorswift13 and indie artists. Love, Apple.”

Well done, Taylor. Well done.

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