Ever been in a situation where you say exactly the wrong thing before you even realize what happened? When you just react before thinking? I know I still do this a lot, and it’s something I’m still working on.
As a business owner, team leader, or any kind of manager—your reactions matter a lot more than if you were an employee, because your reactions show who you really are as a leader.
For example, just yesterday I threw my second happy hour in downtown L.A., and at one point I was chatting with a guy about podcasts, and we started to talk about how I’m co-hosting a podcast with Neil Patel called Marketing School. All of a sudden, this guy says, “Yeah, it seems like everyone just wants to listen to Neil.”
Now, I’d like to think that I don’t have a big ego. I don’t usually mention what I’m up to, even if I am seeing a lot of success with one thing or another. But this guy almost completely disregarded me to my face with drinks that I had paid for at an event that I was throwing. Here’s the thing—I don’t think he intended to do that, but the damage was done, regardless.
There were four guys in that conversation, and although I managed to keep my cool it was really awkward. The two other guys in the looked like they wanted to be elsewhere as soon as possible.
But I let my irritation pass though me, because I’ve learned that I can control my reactions. I can’t control what he said—he already said it—but I can control how I react. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. But the old me, from five or six years ago, would have said, “Who the hell do you think you are? Like, this is my event, bud. What are you thinking saying this to me?” I probably would have kicked him out and never talked to him again.
Instead, I just continued the conversation and let it be. I don’t think that guy even realized that what he said was actually offensive.
My point in bringing this up is that if I reacted poorly in that situation—let’s say I started yelling at him and actually kicked him out—think about how poorly that reflects on me. This was my event, and everyone would have seen me blow up. There’s a bunch of great people around me, and everyone’s having a good time. I don’t want to be that guy who overreacts to a situation.
While this example might be obvious (for example you probably wouldn’t have blown up in that situation either), the same holds true when you’re a team leader at a company. If somebody is yelling at you—let’s say an employee is having a really bad day and is distraught or emotional— it’s not your job to fight back and say, “Hey, I’m the boss.”
It’s not your job to yell at them or try to put them in their place. Ultimately, it’s your goal as a leader to serve your employees.
Especially coming from an Asian background, I can’t tell you how many companies I’ve seen where this is not how things are done at all. Most leaders are super privileged and employees understand they have to tread carefully.
Fortunately, I think leaders and managers are starting to better understand the concept of servant leadership. It’s your job to serve your managers and it’s their job to serve your employees. It’s the business owner’s job to create a great working environment. Ultimately, it’s all yours and if anything fails, it’s all your fault.
This all ties back into how you react to certain situations. People who can’t control their emotions and go off the rails all the time may make great products or even make tons of money—but they aren’t good leaders.
True story: I had a long day on Monday and I ordered a Chipotle bowl using my phone. I ordered about an hour in advance, at 5 p.m. The food was supposed to be ready by 6 p.m. When I got there, around 6:10, it still wasn’t ready. They’re like, “Oh, okay, we’ll go get started on the order right now.” That’s never happened to me before at Chipotle, and I overreacted.
I was like, “Hey…this was supposed to be done at 6 p.m.” The cashier replied, “Well, what do you want me to do? I just came back from break.” To be fair, I wasn’t that upset until she said that. Her reaction pissed me off. I said something like, “You’re responsible for it, blah, blah, blah.” I didn’t yell or anything, but I still overreacted. Before I knew it I had lost control of my emotions.
In the grand scheme of things, I had to wait an extra 5 minutes. I didn’t need to react like that, and it reflected poorly on me.
That’s the irony in these two stories, right? In a higher-stakes situation, I managed to react the right way. But in a really low-stakes situation, my stress spiked and I lost control. To be honest—even though I was in the right—I was just disappointed in myself.
The key takeaway from both stories is that you can’t really control what other people do or say to you. But the one thing you can control (and this has to do with Stoicism) is your reaction. At any given time, you can control your reaction. If you think about all the times that you’ve been angry or yelled or thrown things—every single time you did those things it never, ever helped.
I grew up watching people argue all the time. Guess what? It never solves anything. This is why couple’s therapy exists. When you overreact and your emotions get the better of you, you’ve basically lost already.
Even if you’re 100% right, it doesn’t matter because once you start to disrespect or yell at someone, the damage is done. This is why you should never fight fire with fire. If you react to someone emotionally, then it’s already game over.
This post was adapted from Eric’s Facebook Live videos: Growth 90 – DAILY live broadcasts with Eric Siu on marketing and entrepreneurship. Watch the video version of this post: