Sometimes (often) people say really inappropriate and damaging things about others. The important thing is to know when you messed up and to apologize — before more damage is done.

Such was the case with Elon Musk, who just publicly apologized to British cave diver Vernon Unsworth after calling him a “pedo.” The diver contributed to the several-day rescue operation of the 12 boys stuck in a cave in Thailand.


Photo Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images

How the situation escalated to firing insults

The Tesla and SpaceX CEO had his team build a mini-submarine to rescue the boys. However, the tool didn’t end up being used because the head of the rescue mission Narongsak Osottanakorn found the method to be  “not practical.”

Ultimately, the boys got out via the use of stretchers, but Musk’s tool was left in Thailand in case it ended up being useful in the future. This is where things got murky, because soon after, Unsworth did an interview with CNN and called Musk’s plan a PR stunt.

“He can stick his submarine where it hurts,” Unsworth said. “It just had absolutely no chance of working. He had no conception of what the cave passage was like.”

Musk replied with an unnecessary smear shortly after, but soon apologized.

Musk tweeted that “his actions against me do not justify my actions against him, and for that I apologize to Mr. Unsworth and to the companies I represent as leader. The fault is mine and mine alone.”

“I am aware of his apology, and (have) no further comment,” Unsworth told Reuters over the phone Wednesday.

Handling conflict and criticism with grace

Whew. Ultimately, resorting to name-calling and personal attacks is never the answer, even if the other guy “started” — it doesn’t mean you have to go to that level and make a bad situation worse.

It comes down to emotional intelligence and the healthiest way to handle a complicated situation with another person. Many of us have a tendency of going to an immature place, sometimes, and beneath reactivity are hurt feelings.

Musk got hurt and reacted in an immature way. Having a brilliant mind doesn’t shield us from the tendency to let our social skills and emotional intelligence be impacted by hurt feelings.

Here is a guide to handling conflicts in a productive way if you’re interested in learning more.