[Editors Note: This article was written by Suzanne Paulinski.]

Have you ever felt taken advantage of by your boss, but you struggle to speak up, afraid to bite the hand that feeds you?

What about being in a band where other members aren’t respecting what you have to say, but speaking up feels like you’ll run the risk of being replaced or further isolated?

Do you have a client who’s a nightmare but you’re not sure how to stop working with them without losing future work due to a nasty review online?

Ever wonder what you could say to get your point across without losing your cool or burning bridges?

It all comes down to how you say what you say. It’s the difference between the other party focusing on your message or focusing on your tantrum.

Relationships are rarely at risk because someone spoke up, but rather because someone else was hurt by that person’s delivery.

Let’s look to one of Time Magazine’s most influential people, Taylor Swift, as an example. Yes, Taylor, just like any pop princess, has plenty of things you could criticize, but you’ve got to hand it to her and her team when it comes to effectively speaking up for what she feels is right.

It has shown us that standing your ground while remaining respectful can truly effect change.

Back in 2015, Apple launched its streaming service amid some controversy among the artists whose music it would be streaming (in case you missed any of the well-mannered & restrained drama, you can read the full story here). 

Basically, it went down like this:

  • Apple wanted to offer listeners 3 months of free streaming to test out the platform
  • It initially was not going to pay artists their royalties for those 3 free months
  • Taylor Swift withheld her multi-platinum album, 1989, from the streaming service until Apple agreed to change it’s policies via an open letter on her Tumblr page, stating, “This is about the young songwriter who just got his or her first cut and thought that the royalties from that would get them out of debt.”
  • Apple senior executive, Eddy Cue, responded promptly to Taylor’s request and granted a change in policy

::End Scene::

Now, most people say Apple listened because of Swift’s tens of millions of followers, giving her ample leverage against the company’s bottom line. Maybe. But plenty of celebrities have spoken their mind while on top and it’s cost them their careers (say hi to Katherine Heigl).

If Swift, or another artist of her stature came at Apple in an attacking, condescending, entitled manner, I have a feeling it would fail to have the effect it did.

There are plenty of other influencers & platinum-record pushers out there that haven’t taken a stand against Apple, a company who is by no means suffering from low profit margins.

When wanting to get your points across to another party (whether a boss, collaborator, etc.), there are three main things you want to remember: 

1. Watch Your Tone

There’s the saying “kill them with kindness,” but when arguing your point to someone all you want to focus on is killing them with respect. Don’t beat them down simply to raise yourself and your point of view up. Two parties can come at something from different perspectives and still remain on an even playing field.

This is especially crucial when your communication is via email and not over the phone or in person. Keep in mind that the person on the other end can already feel defensive so make sure there isn’t any room for misinterpretations of what you’re saying.

Taylor’s letter to Apple begins by stating her objective, followed by how much she respects, “the company and the truly ingenious minds that have created a legacy based on innovation and pushing the right boundaries.” She goes on to compliment and praise the company throughout the entire letter.

2. Put Their Objections At Ease ASAP

Knowing the other party will be defensive, beat them to it by quelling their concerns from the get-go. Let them know your intentions come from a good place. Let them know there is value to your point of view.

Rather than allowing her sentiments to be open to interpretation, Taylor got right to the point and said what the reader was probably already thinking at the onset of her letter – “Boo hoo, poor little rich girl.” She wrote, “This is not about me… This is about the new artist or band that has just released their first single and will not be paid for its success.”

3. Speak Their Language

Use terms and scenarios they will understand. If you’re unhappy with how you are being treated paint a picture for them that illustrates what their reality would look like if the situation was happening to them.

Taylor illustrated this effectively by saying, “Three months is a long time to go unpaid… We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.”

Keeping these three things in mind, you can effectively diffuse any discourse and create an atmosphere where the other party can put down their walls and truly listen to what it is you are saying.

Always remember, relationships are what make a sustainable career in this industry. Even if you are “right,” there’s no telling the role the person on the other end will inevitably play in your career – whether directly or from afar.

One disagreement or injustice is not worth burning bridges and stunting the growth of the path that you’re building. Build a reputation for keeping your cool and communicating your thoughts clearly and respectfully. Let what you’re saying be what people talk about and not the way you’re saying it.


Suzanne Paulinksi is an artist consultant with over 10 years in the music industry and owner of The Rock/Star Advocate.

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