It's been kind of a bad few months for Tesla. In addition typical production challenges with its flagship Model 3 electric sedan, a Tesla Model X automobile crashed into a freeway divider last month, killing the driver. And just last week, the company voluntarily recalled 123,000 Model S vehicles because of an issue with the power steering component, sending the company's share price plummeting.
So, you could imagine what went through the mind of Tesla CEO Elon Musk when an article on The Information, a subscription-based technology news website, reported that in taking charge of Model 3 production, "Mr. Musk appears to have pushed aside the company's senior vice president of engineering, Doug Field, who had been overseeing manufacturing in recent months."
Actually, you don't have to imagine, as Musk was quick to respond.
The exchange took place on Twitter and the full thread is worth checking out. It began with the article's author, Amir Efrati, tweeting the article:
Efrati: EXCLUSIVE: @elonmusk personally takes over Model 3 production, bumping Doug Field (ex-Apple), who had had meteoric rise til now, plus other new details: [followed by a link to the article]
Musk: Can't believe you're even writing about this. My job as CEO is to focus on what's most critical, which is currently Model 3 production. Doug, who I regard as one of the world's most talented engineering execs, is focused on vehicle engineering.
Efrati: How about we set up an interview and you can tell me, among other things, what you think is worth writing about?
Musk: Uhh, hello, I need to build cars
Uhh, hello, I need to build cars-- Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 2, 2018
First things first. I admire a lot about Elon's ability to inspire others and his efforts to effect real change. At the same time, no one can deny the fact that Tesla is going through a very rough patch right now--which is why Elon's switching focus to Model 3 production is exactly what I'd expect from an engaged CEO.
As for Efrati's request for an interview, the wording of the tweet could easily be seen as sarcastic and combative. That's dangerous for a journalist whose job is to report facts, as it indicates bias. And in the case he really did want an interview with Elon, this was the worst way of going about it.
What could have helped is a little emotional intelligence. Maybe Efrati could have said something like:
Hey Elon, thanks for your reply. Actually, you make some great points. Would love to do an interview to get your perspective on the situation.
Elon could have delivered the exact same response ("Dude, I've got cars to make"), and it still would have been hilarious. (After all, Musk made his position pretty clear with his original replies via Twitter.) But a more diplomatic invitation to an interview would demonstrate the intent to be fair and balanced. It could also help break down barriers and promote more thoughtful, rational discussion. And although now might not be the best time for such a discussion, it would have left the door open for the future.
And that's the moral of this story: Emotional intelligence involves much more than what happens in a given moment. Rather, it's about stepping back, seeing the big picture, and playing the long game.
That's how to make emotions work for you, instead of against you.