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June 28, 2013

Hardnosed Negotiating as Executed by Steve Jobs

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Jeff Cochran

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If you have been paying attention to legal news, you know that by this point in time, the United States government is building its case that Apple – headed at that point in time by the late Steve Jobs – engaged in a nefarious price fixing scheme for eBooks in the iBooks store. The courts ordered the release of a series of emails between Jobs and a number of News Corp. executives, including Rupert Murdoch’s son. Beyond the legal implications of the emails, reading them over it becomes clear that Steve Jobs had mastered many tactics about negotiations that added to his success.

Here is what we can learn about the art of negotiation from Steve Jobs:

1. Listen Before You Speak.

If you read the emails carefully, you will be able to notice that Steve Jobs never once makes an assumption about Harper Collins or News Corp. without getting direct confirmation or clarification from a member of the News Corp. team. By taking the time to get adequately informed, Steve Jobs sets himself up to give his terms without the risk of getting surprised by his opponents.

2. Present the Options.

When Steve Jobs presents the options to News Corp., he is clear, concise and certain. In writing, Steve Jobs’ presented options look especially powerful because he numbers them and keeps each option to two sentences tops. By keeping the options brief, Steve Jobs is ensuring that News Corp. is aware that these options are the only options.

3. Speak Respectfully.

The incredible thing about the Apple/News Corp. emails is that, despite the fact that the conversation is certainly heated, Jobs is never derisive or disrespectful. At all times during the negotiations process, he is careful to remain courteous and level-headed.

While these three tactics added to his success, we disagree with his last tactic of backing them into a corner. He used the trick of slowly but surely backing the opponent into a corner where the only viable option is for them to acquiesce to your desires. While this may have added to his short-term gain, he could’ve improved by thinking more about the other side’s objectives to create a “WIN-win” deal that would’ve aided the advance of the relationship, deal, and further benefit both sides in the long term.

Steve Jobs will be remembered as a lot of things. He brought us the iPhone, the MacBook and A Bug’s Life. He is now also being called a “ringmaster” in an eBook price fixing scheme. No matter how this lawsuit shakes out, he should also be remembered as a good negotiator whose willingness to hold fast resulted in many successful business maneuvers.

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