Over the past year, technology companies Uber and Waymo (the self-driving business spun out of Google) have been engaged in a battle of wills, culminating in a high-profile court case that commenced last week. Waymo has accused Uber of stealing trade secrets related to its self-driving technology.

But on Friday, just four days after the trial began, Uber and Waymo announced they had reached a settlement.

What happened? According to a report in the New York Times, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi had been working behind the scenes for weeks, looking to took advantage of a golden opportunity.

Per the Times:

Mr. Khosrowshahi worked to coax Google's founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and to let them know that Uber had turned over a new leaf, according to two people briefed on the situation, who asked not to be identified because the details were confidential. Tony West, Uber's recently appointed general counsel and a former Department of Justice official, also jumped into the negotiations, these people said.

The actions helped lead to a compromise. On Friday, four days after the trial began and revealed some embarrassing testimony, Uber and Waymo announced they had settled the trade secrets dispute. Under the agreement, Waymo dropped the suit and will receive 0.34 percent of stock in Uber. Uber also said that it could have handled some past actions around driverless car tech differently.

Contemplating Khosrowshahi's actions reminded me of one of my favorite anonymous quotes, which sums up this story in a single sentence:

Apologizing doesn't always mean you're wrong and the other person is right; it means you value your relationship more than your ego.

In my forthcoming book, EQ, Applied: The Real-World Guide to Emotional Intelligence, I use examples like this to illustrate the power of emotional intelligence: the ability to make emotions work for you, instead of against you.

What emotional intelligence has to do with it

First, some context. How did we get here?

It all started when former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick hired Anthony Levandowski, a prominent engineer in the field of self-driving technology, who was previously employed by Google. After leaving Google, Levandowski founded Otto, a self-driving truck startup. Believing Levandowski would help take Uber's autonomous driving efforts to the next level, Kalanick acquired Otto in 2016.

But Waymo alleged that Levandowski illegally downloaded thousands of proprietary documents before he left. To add insult to injury, Levandowski poached a number of top Google engineers to join his efforts at Otto.

Obviously, Google didn't appreciate any of this. But part of the problem between the two companies was Kalanick's defiance that he had done anything wrong. Kalanick readily admits that his view of Google changed; at one point he saw the company as a potential partner, but he eventually identified it as a likely competitor and threat. Nevertheless, Kalanick has strongly held his position of innocence, even after the settlement was announced. "Our sole objective was to hire the most talented scientists and engineers to help lead the company and our cities to a driverless future," he said in a statement (as reported by the Times.) "The evidence at trial overwhelmingly proved that, and had the trial proceeded to its conclusion, it is clear Uber would have prevailed."

In stark contrast, Khosrowshahi, who replaced Kalanick, has focused on mending the relationship with Google. This can be seen clearly from an official statement he published via Uber's blog on Friday. In addition to apologizing for Uber's "mistakes of the past," Khosrowshahi reaffirmed his desire to work together with Alphabet (Google's parent company).

"To our friends at Alphabet: we are partners, you are an important investor in Uber, and we share a deep belief in the power of technology to change people's lives for the better," wrote Khosrowshahi.

Uber's new chief then added this fascinating statement:

"To be clear, while we do not believe that any trade secrets made their way from Waymo to Uber, nor do we believe that Uber has used any of Waymo's proprietary information in its self-driving technology, we are taking steps with Waymo to ensure our Lidar [navigation technology] and software represents just our good work."

What makes this is so interesting is that Khosrowshahi basically said exactly what Kalanick has claimed all along: that Uber didn't steal Waymo's technology.

The difference, of course, is in the way Khosrowshahi says it. By striking a conciliatory tone and offering an olive branch (accompanied by equity), Khosrowshahi managed to persuade Alphabet's leadership to put this ugly mess behind them and look to a brighter future--one that includes potential collaboration.

Using the power of emotion to break down barriers and change minds? To build bridges instead of walls, leading to stronger, healthier relationships?

3 Simple Questions to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence
Published on: Feb 11, 2018