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How Not to Accept Criticism


The customer is always right — unless you’re the CEO. The recent dust-up between Uber, a company that has created an app that connects passengers and car services, and Bridget Todd, a writer and activist who says that she was choked by a driver she ordered through Uber’s app, shows that high-level executives sometimes know less about accepting criticism than their reports lower on the corporate ladder.


(Photo Credit: daz smith)

The incident occurred on Saturday night. According to Todd, she and her husband took an Uber-acquired cab after an evening out, only to be assaulted by the driver after he became enraged by her kissing her husband. (Todd felt the attack was racially motivated. Todd is black; her husband is white. The driver, she says, “appeared to be of African descent.”)

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She tweeted the following at Uber:


(Screenshots via Valleywag.)

Uber told Valleywag a different story:

uber response 

When their reporter Nitasha Tiku reached out to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick for comment, he duly provided context for story, claiming that Todd was intoxicated (which she doesn’t deny) and combative (contrary to her version of events), going so far as to claim that Todd assaulted the driver first. He also said the company removed the driver from their service.

It’s neither fantastic PR nor amazing human behavior to blame a customer for her own assault. Regardless of what authorities ultimately determine to be the facts of the case, one thing is perfectly clear: Kalanick, being external to the incident and relying on information after the fact, had no way of knowing what actually occurred.

The real kicker to the story is the email Kalanick sent his own staff prior to giving his statement. (Tiku says she was copied on the email chain, although she doesn’t know whether or not it was intentional.)

email 1

email 2 

So to recap, according to Kalanick:

1. The incident didn’t exist.

2. If it did exist, it wasn’t their fault.

3. In any case, a reporter — a potential critic — is a troll.

What we can take away from this mess is that being defensive in a professional context is never the right answer.

It’s certainly understandable for an individual to want to present their side of the story in a dispute, but the difference between professionals and private citizens is that when we’re acting as representatives of a company, we can’t afford to get into a he said/she said PR situation with a customer.

It’s one of the first things a customer service representative (or an intern, or an assistant) learns on the job — not to argue with customers, and to seek resolutions instead of assigning blame. Apparently, sometimes, it’s one of the first things executives forget when they get to the top.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you think executives are less willing to hear criticism than their employees? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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