Communication — A Strategic Poker Game?


Do you view communication as a strategic poker game or like playing a good game of chess? I coach many executives who do just that. For example, Pete, a forty-something sales leader, put his spin on making communication strategic: “I view business as a poker game. You are constantly on view when you’re the head of a sales organization, so you must protect company information as well as your emotions. It’s critical to remain in control of your environment. Unfortunately, I take that level of apprehension and mistrust home with me far too many times.” Net result: Close relationships are negatively impacted as communication closes down.


Do you agree that improving communication makes for doing better business? Let’s find out if you win or lose by making these communication moves. Here’s how the poker game is played:

1. HIDE YOUR BLUFFS EXPERTLY. I hide what I have in my hand, and I play with a poker face. I don’t want to disclose that what I’m telling you is anecdotal or lacking in facts, until I know what your hand is. Till I see your cards, I can dance all day. Being protective of my hand prevents others from snagging information from me that they might use against me at some point in time, and it prevents me from divulging more information than I want. The point is to win the hand.

2. I DON’T LIKE TO LOSE. I like to win. I don’t like to lose because I’ll feel inferior. How I’m perceived is extremely important to me. I want to be viewed as having substantial integrity and professionalism. But to tell you the truth, I would like for people to describe me as a nice guy, someone they want to be around, not have to be around. Maybe it’s a longing to be liked. I feel bad when I’m not included, but I typically am included because I’m V.P. of Sales. Although I appear to take criticism well, it stills gnaws at me, fueling my inferiority feelings. The whole point is, I don’t like to lose because it triggers my feelings of inadequacy.

3. IT GIVES ME A SENSE OF MELANCHOLY. I don’t feel depressed, but I feel low. I’m not enthusiastic about anything, and I feel dejected. Seeing a psychologist indicates that I have failed. First of all, I screwed up. Secondly, why can’t I handle this alone? Thirdly, my sense of failure causes me to feel lousy. I define a failure as disappointing others and myself. Why? Because I’m supposed to be in control of my actions. I know the difference between the paths of right and wrong, and I’ve failed to make the correct choice. I chose the wrong path — shame on me. The point is, failure causes me to feel melancholy, because failure means I’ve disappointed someone.

4. TO CONTROL PRESSURE, YOU TRY HARD TO CONTROL THE SITUATION. So, you’re always thinking and trying to plan ahead. I have to manage this…and take care of that…and keep this person distanced from that person…and not let this person know that, but not let that person know this. It’s very calculating, there’s no question about it.

5. CRAFTY COMMUNICATION MOVES. I am very shrewd, but I will appease you by denying it. When confronted about being calculating, I will come back with, “I don’t think so.” Then you’ll say, “You’re really smart and shrewd,” and I’ll joke back, “I’m just a dumb salesman.” People will leave you alone and not push the issue when you tell them that. It works every time. “I’m just a dumb salesman, just put it to me in English.” It will disarm the person every time, and then I can move the agenda where I want it to go. Disarming is a better word than denying. In my mind, I’m not denying the truth, but I am disarming my communication partner.

6. CONTROL THE AGENDA, TOPIC, OR DISCUSSION. I control the agenda by deflecting the agenda of the other person. It gives me a sense of controlling my own life; someone else isn’t writing the rules. I deflect criticism, but I may or may not advance my agenda as a result. When I take this controlling stuff with me when I leave work…wanting to control the agenda, wanting to deflect criticisms, taking the “dog eat dog world” home…well, it doesn’t work out very favorably.

7. CHANGING PERSONAL AND BUSINESS COMMUNICATIONS. If I were adept at communicating at home, that would have a positive influence on how I handle communication in my business role. It could positively change some of the things I do. Hiding, deflecting, being disarming, winning at all costs, etc., doesn’t work out at home very well for me. Will articulating these hidden feelings actually help me score points with my spouse?

Successful leaders don’t often wear their feelings on their sleeves. But this same strategy of hiding emotions can wreak havoc at home, diminishing that feeling of intimacy. What can you do about it?


Goals help focus communication changes when you want to change. Here’s how Pete described his goals:

Goal #1: Re-instill and rejuvenate my relationship with my wife

Goal #2: Regain my self-confidence

Goal #3: Let go of feeling that I have to keep things close to my chest

Goal #4: Learn to better express my emotional state of mind

Goal #5: Communicate more candidly without fear of the conversation’s content being used against me


Dr. Dennis O’Grady walks, talks, and works on both sides of Talk Street, using the same innovative and results-driven communication system he developed, TALK TO ME: Communication Moves To Get Along With Anyone. Are you licensed to drive on the two-way communicator highway? Are you sending out positive messages and obtaining effective relationship results with those around your communicator table? The same communication strategies which work effectively for you while you are on the job may not work equally well at home, unless you live with your co-workers. You deserve to be a proficient communicator. Consult soon with communications psychologist Dennis O’Grady, at (937) 428-0724.

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