All too often we discuss professional skills solely within business environments. We imagine how management-directed team-building exercises can improve business communication, for instance. Or we read about improving training mechanisms designed to mold employees to particular environments and/or tasks.
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Certainly, practice and training within business environments matters. At the same time though, it’s important for those looking to advance their careers to continue learning and developing outside of work as well. There are plenty of real-world practices and activities that breed skills that are useful in business environments as well. And the age-old, beloved game of poker happens to be one of them.
While you might hear “poker” and think of Las Vegas casinos or dingy game rooms, the truth is it is both a cerebral and social game — and one that many have long appreciated for the lessons and habits it teaches. Below, we’ll highlight some of those lesson and habits with regard to how they can benefit you professionally.
5 Professional Skills You Can Learn From Poker
We have looked at different ‘Types of Communication’ before, noting that there are a number of ways in which we convey information and express ourselves to one another. And it just so happens that the game of poker helps people to develop and hone multiple ways of communicating.
First and foremost, the game teaches players to read their opponents non-verbally — recognizing visual signals, understanding unspoken thoughts and feelings, and so on.
But poker is also — usually — a very social game as well. In a world in which we enjoy less and less interaction with others, the game gives every player the chance to practice basic social skills, and become more at ease with conversation.
These benefits are not tricks that will unlock one aspect or another of professional life. But becoming a better communicator in general will benefit most people professionally, and poker can bring about improvement in this area.
Risk assessment is more relevant in some lines of work than others, but it tends to come up in some form or fashion. Thus, it’s worth noting that it’s not a huge stretch to say poker will train players in basic risk-versus-reward reasoning better than most anything else!
Each and every decision in a poker game essentially boils down to an assessment of whether or not the risk of losing outweighs the potential to win. This is not to say that professional scenarios present similarly, but regular poker players do learn how to assess risk in a calm, analytical manner, which can only help in other walks of life.
This is an idea that was brought up by professional player Ebony Kenney in a piece on Poker.org, and it’s an interesting one to think about. Speaking on tips for beginning players, Kenney stressed the importance of being honest, and confronting mistakes without fear or embarrassment.
In her estimation this is necessary if one wants to use those same mistakes to improve, and the same concept pretty much speak for itself in a business context. The ability to practice introspective honesty is crucial to anyone who hopes to learn and improve in a position, and it’s a habit you can train yourself in at the poker tables.
Another skill people learn playing poker is how to balance patience and action — or, as some put it, patience and aggression. Much of a successful run at the tables tends to involve not doing a whole lot, but rather waiting for the right cards and circumstances.
At the same time though, successful players know when to play aggressively to push advantages or manipulate opponents. It takes time to learn the balance and timing involved in these decisions, but in the end, it’s another skill that can carry over into real life and professional environments.
Of course, specific strategies won’t be the same as in poker, but there is a benefit to having practice balancing patience and tactful aggression.
Calm Under Pressure
The question of how to stay calm under pressure is more or less omnipresent in professional environments. TheBalance recently highlighted it as a popular interview question and did a whole write-up on how applicants should handle it; the best business leaders continually exhibit calm when others would not; and with more consideration of employee wellness these days, there’s even a component of necessity to the idea of finding a way to stay calm.
And once again, poker can help people figure it out. A few years ago, a piece at Weforum.org delved into the issue of calmness under pressure, and asserted that “nothing helps you maintain the right frame of mind in a crisis like logical thinking.”
This is exactly what poker teaches. Players learn quickly that if they panic or act emotionally in the face of a challenge they become more likely to lose — whereas putting feelings and reactions aside and acting logically and analytically leads to greater success. The same tends to apply to real life, and to business.
Consider these skills and lessons and there really is something to be said for the benefits of a poker hobby. By no means is the game the only way to develop these skills. But it’s effective, and you get to have fun in the process.