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Uber’s CEO Called a Scientist’s Work Incompetent. His Response Is a Lesson in Emotional Intelligence

By keeping his feelings in check, Stephen Zoepf shows us how to make criticism work in your favor.

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BY Justin Bariso - 07 Mar 2018

Uber's CEO Called a Scientist's Work Incompetent. His Response Is a Lesson in Emotional Intelligence

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

You've spent weeks working on a major project. Although your work isn't complete, you want to share it with others to get some feedback.

Then, it comes. A powerful voice shares your work on social media...

And calls it incompetent.

How would you respond?

That's essentially what happened earlier this week, when Stephen Zoepf, who is working on a study for MIT's Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research (CEEPR), shared a brief of his work with the public. Soon after, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi attacked Zoepf's initial findings and publicly mocked MIT, tweeting:

"MIT = Mathematically Incompetent Theories (at least as it pertains to ride-sharing)."

I was surprised by Khosrowshahi's tweet, especially considering he's been tasked to change Uber's image from a company of bad behavior to one who benefits from feedback and works well with others.

But although Khosrowshahi's insulting tweet lacked emotional intelligence, it seems to be based on a reasonable argument.

Some context: Zoepf's study combines survey data of more than 1,100 drivers working for Uber and Lyft with information regarding the current costs of operating a vehicle (e.g., fuel, insurance, maintenance, and repairs), in an attempt to determine driver wages per hour. Among other things, the brief claimed that a significant percentage of rideshare drivers earn less than the minimum wage in their state, with some drivers actually losing money once vehicle expenses are accounted for.

Khosrowshahi cited a rebuttal by Uber's chief economist, Johnathan Hall, who argued that the methodology of the study was flawed, and if adjusted properly the average wage earned by drivers would be much higher.

So, how would Zoepf respond to Khosrowshahi's insult?

With humility, respect, and emotional intelligence.

Zoepf took to Twitter to release an official statement, which you can read here:

Zoepf's response is a case study in how to respond to criticism, for the following reasons.

He was appreciative of the feedback.

Zoepf praised Hall's rebuttal as thoughtful, and he thanked Hall and his team for the time they took to read Zoepf's work and provide input.

"This is exactly why we provide working drafts: to solicit constructive feedback and improve our work," wrote Zoepf.

He addressed Uber's concerns.

Zoepf goes on to adjust the findings, based on Hall's recommendations--which does indeed lead to higher estimate of driver earnings.

Interestingly, though, the numbers are still alarming: Zoepf states that even after adjustments, for at least 41% of drivers, profit per hour is less than the 2016 minimum wage in their state.

He holds out an olive branch.

Citing the original purpose of the paper, which is to understand all of the benefits and costs of the transformative technology of ridesharing, Zoepf invites Uber to help improve the results of his research by sharing appropriate data.

Uber's response will tell a lot about what type of company it really wants to be.

The Takeaway

Remember, when you exercise emotional intelligence, you make emotions work for you, instead of against you.

It's never easy to accept criticism, especially when it comes in the form of an attack or insult. To be clear, that's definitely the wrong way to deliver criticism--as it will often close the ears (and mind) of the intended recipient.

But when you're on the receiving end of negative feedback, you don't have the luxury to choose how it's delivered. Criticism that is communicated poorly is still often rooted in truth. And even if it's completely unfounded, it can give you a chance to view things from an alternate perspective.

So, the next time someone criticizes your work, ask yourself:

  • Putting my personal feelings aside, what can I learn from this alternate perspective?
  • Instead of focusing on the delivery, how can I use this feedback to help me or my team improve?

By doing so, you turn your criticism into a gift--because it provides the opportunity to make you better.

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