Spider-Man star Tom Holland recently flexed a real life superpower: The power of emotional intelligence.

Disney CEO Bob Iger revealed Friday in an interview on Jimmy Kimmel Live that Holland personally persuaded him not to give up on a deal with Sony Pictures, which had been sharing rights with Disney to the iconic comic book character.

Here's the back story.

Sony has owned the rights to the Spider-Man character since 1999, but Disney owns Marvel, the company that originated Spider-Man. After a string of disappointing Spider-Man movies, Sony and Marvel agreed to let the web-slinger appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). But negotiations for future pictures recently broke down, culminating in an announcement that Spider-Man would be leaving the MCU and returning exclusively to Sony. This move put Holland's future as the character in jeopardy and upset millions of fans.

Holland must have felt powerless. After all, what could a 23-year old actor do to broker a deal between two juggernaut movie studios, who essentially were no longer on speaking terms?

But the actor refused to sit on the sideline. Holland reached out to people close to the Disney boss, who confirmed with Iger that he'd be willing to take a call. Then Holland called Iger directly.

"He cried on the phone," Iger joked. "No, not really ... but it was clear that he cared so much."

The executive explained what happened next:

"I felt for him and it was clear that the fans wanted all this to happen. So, after I got off the phone with him, I made a couple of phone calls to our team at Disney studios. And then, I decided to call the head of Sony. And I said, 'We've got to figure out a way to get this done. For Tom, and for the fans.'"

Iger followed up with this key statement:

"Sometimes companies, when they're negotiating or people when they're negotiating with one another, they kind of forget that there are other folks out there who actually matter."

On the surface, Holland's move seems simple--but it teaches a some major lessons in emotional intelligence.

What's EQ got to do with it?

You've probably heard of emotional intelligence, the ability to identify, understand, and effectively manage emotions. I call it the ability to make emotions work for you, instead of against you.

Holland's phone call is a great example of emotional intelligence in real life. 

Think about it: Holland could have become frustrated and moved his focus to other roles. But he's repeatedly spoke about just how much he enjoys playing this character. He's also pretty good at the job, receiving rave reviews from critics and fans alike. And his latest film, Spider-Man: Far From Home, grossed over $1 billion at the global box office.

Add to this the fact that Far From Home ended on a major cliffhanger (that would have likely lacked a satisfying resolution), and Holland felt the need to do whatever he could to get Disney and Sony talking again. By calling Disney's boss and wearing his emotions on his sleeve, Holland was able to persuade Iger to restart negotiations that were dead in the water.

But Holland's phone call was not some clueless, desperate attempt at pity. Holland used clever strategy, expert negotiating technique, and emotional intelligence to solve a challenging problem, by doing the following.

He went straight to the top.

Holland could have voiced his concerns all he wanted, but it wouldn't have done a lick of good if he didn't persuade the right person. By reaching out directly to Disney's CEO, the actor took his best shot at persuading the person who had the most potential to influence the situation.

He used the likeability factor.

The more people like you, the more they'll be willing to do things for you.

If you've ever watched one of Holland's performances, you'll see that he's an extremely likable guy. He obviously used this likeability factor to get Iger to listen. (Remember, Iger said he "felt for Tom.")

He used strategic empathy.

When trying to persuade, it's critical that you understand your audience. You need to reason from their perspective.

By helping Iger to see how a continued relationship would benefit Disney and Sony, Holland showed how high-level empathy can make you more persuasive.

Ignore the "no."

The announcement had already been made: Disney and Sony were unable to come to an agreement, and Sony was moving on.

But as Harvard Business School professor and negotiation expert Deepak Malhotra says, when someone says a firm no in a negotiation, what they're actually saying is: "No, today."

By refusing to take no for an answer, Holland proved that it pays to not give up easily--even if all previous attempts at a deal had failed. 

So, the next time you're faced with a situation in which you feel powerless, don't give up. Take a moment to gather yourself and your emotions. Think of a way to channel those feelings into positive action. Then, use those feelings--along with empathy and enthusiasm--to persuade and convince ... or, at the very least, to get people to listen.

After all, you don't need super strength or spider sense to make big things happen.

Sometimes, all it takes is a phone call.

Published on: Oct 7, 2019
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