COMMUNICATION POKER: In the Boardroom and Beyond, Knowing When to Show ‘Em, Hold ‘Em or Fold ‘Em

Ken Donaldson Communication Poker


What’s poker got to do with effective communication? They both require discernment, patience and emotional management.

There are times in both poker and communication that you need to be proactive, or say something (show `em), be patient, effective listening (hold `em) or simply take a break (fold `em).

In business, as in most areas of our lives, we are often in such a hurried state and preoccupied with the tasks in front of us, that we don’t give the time and energy that effective communication requires.

And you know just how challenging effective communication can be. People often have huge emotional reactions, misunderstand each other, interrupt and cut each other off, or sometimes just completely shut down.

Oh, then there are also the yellers, screamers and ragers with the super-short fuses. Yeah, they’re fun.

But if we’re to have any effective interactions, which are necessary for any change or growth to take place, we have to know how to communicate with others.

And since you’re the one reading this, then you’re the one that’s going to be making the changes. Why? Well, someone has to start and since “they” are not reading this, then that only leaves you. (Yes, life isn’t fair; let’s just get that out of the way right now.)

The core elements of effective communication are simple (the good news) and difficult (the other news).

They’re simple because they require learning no new languages (other than the language of listening…more on that in a moment) or any additional schooling or advanced degrees. The only difficulty is that they will require you to change your habits, and habits that you’ve been using for a long time do not want to go away easily.

The Most Important Communication Skill: Listen. Yes, listen. If you master only this one skill, you’ll take a quantum leap in your communication abilities.

Listening is simple, and yet, also very challenging. Your listening muscles have likely not been working out as well as they could. How do you listening effectively (Key word being effectively)? Here are 4 simple effective listening tools:

1.) Mirror. Be an accurate mirror and repeat back what you heard without any changes. No editorials, comments, disagreements and/or corrections. Even if it’s “wrong” and you completely disagree. Why? Sometimes people don’t say what they mean and sometimes you don’t hear what you thought you heard them say.

So to nip potential misunderstanding in the bud, this is a great practice. Additionally, and perhaps even more importantly, the person you’re listening to will know you’re focused on them (and not you) and they are likely to be more open, honest, and direct, and also less defensive, all which adds to effective communication.

See, that’s simple, right? BUT, in order to be truly effective, you have to remember to do it instead of reacting to whatever your old patterns have been. (Remember, this is all about YOU making the changes; not “them.”)

2.) “Tell me more.” These are what some people refer to as “the three most powerful words of listening.” Why? After you have effectively mirrored back what you heard (which may take a number of tries before your listening muscles kick in fully), wouldn’t it make sense to invite the person to say more? (If you’re thinking, “When is it my turn?” this would be a good time to also strengthen your patience muscles…two workouts for the price of one!)

If you want to have a deep and thorough understanding (which, if you didn’t know, is one of the cores to all effective communication AND healthy relationships), you have to be willing to get to the depths of what the person means and where they are coming from. Plus, you’re gathering information and the more information you have, the better the understanding. Think of yourself in the role of Sherlock Holmes for a few minutes, gathering information and evidence for a better understanding.

3.) Offer understanding and emotional validation. For people who make it this far into the realm of effective listening, this step is often a stumbling block. Why? Because people often feel like they’re agreeing with the other person even though they’re not in agreement with them.

However, understanding and emotional validation is simple conveying, “I get you” to the other person. People love to “be gotten” (I know that’s not proper English or grammar, but work with me a bit here). An easy way to phrase this would be something like, “I understand you must be feeling _________ because of ________.”

For example, “I understand you must be feeling really frustrated because you’ve been working so hard on this for so long. I get that you’re really committed.”

If you’d like to add even more, if it fits, then also say something about how you might have possibly added to the emotional charge (I know, it feels like you’re admitting wrong when you know you’re not wrong…got to let go of a little ego here…or maybe a lot of ego…that could be a BIG part of the problem). That would sound something like, “I can see how my lack of attention to this project might have further added to your frustration. Am I understanding you accurately?” That question on the end will help you get feedback to the accuracy of your understanding.

Remember: When you’re listening, it’s all about them, and not about you at all (sorry).

Now, you see how simple this is and yet how challenging it can be? Remember, most people have had very little, if any, training in effective listening skills. As you practice these skills, you’ll become a more masterful communicator.

Okay, now you’re ready for the forth and final step…

4.) Empathize. Do you know what that word means and how to do that? This simply means to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to fully experience what they must be feeling, thinking and going through.

You have to leave all your opinions, judgments and ideas behind and completely flip roles to fully empathize with them. A statement of empathy would sound something like, “You know, if I was in your shoes and our roles were completely reversed I would be feeling frustrated too.” Simple, right?

Are these 4 steps the end-all and cure-all? No, but they are a great start. They don’t necessarily solve problems or create solutions, but they do build connections and relationships. These are “processing tools” and they help the emotional process of the interaction that builds powerful points of connection. It’s impossible to have effective communication without having a connection between the people communicating. That’s like trying to cross a ravine where there is no bridge.

So…you got to know when to hold `em, know when to show `em, and know when to fold `em. 


Today’s the day: Marry YourSelf First!

About Ken Donaldson

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