Keeping your poker face on at work

Want to play a winning hand? Learn how to control your emotions.

July 22, 2014


Successful poker players keep their emotions in check, play the hand they’re dealt, and use a combination of their five senses to get an idea—known in poker lingo as a “read” or a “tell”—of what cards their opponents hold.

Keeping your poker face on at work is not easy. The workplace often is an emotional roller coaster. Praise from your boss might bring you joy or satisfaction, while criticism could unleash tears or anger. The key, as it is in poker, is not to overreact. The course to victory follows the path of making adjustments, learning from mistakes, capitalizing on key moments, and not getting too high or low. Master your emotions and you’ll be better able to win over your colleagues and supervisors. You’ll then be in a better position to claim prizes such as more challenging assignments, raises, promotions, leadership opportunities, and, if you play the right cards, a rewarding career. 
Here are four ways to keep your emotions in check.

No. 1: Understand the importance of a good personality

An international survey of business leaders and professionals conducted by “global learning institute” Hyper Island found that personality trumped skills in an assessment of the most desirable attributes in employees. Asked to rate how important various traits were in an employee, 78% of the survey respondents gave the highest mark to personality, compared with 39% who deemed competence a top priority.

Does this mean that skills don’t matter anymore? Of course not, especially not in a profession such as accounting, which demands technical excellence. What the survey shows is the value placed on skills such as being able to collaborate with others and adapt to people and surroundings.

The Hyper Island study also found that “drive” was the most prized personality trait.
Skills are still vital in a strong worker, but they can be taught and learned. Having the passion to get things done can be the difference between a winning and losing hand in the workplace.

No. 2: Betting and bluffing: The art of dealing with drama and gossip

In poker, you don’t always start or finish with the best hand, but you can bluff your way to a victory. This concept also applies at work.

It is not uncommon for co-workers, supervisors, and others to lose control of their emotions and treat you with disrespect. This can come in the form of an emotional overreaction, a verbal insult, a threatening email, or a malicious attempt to cause you to have an outburst and lose your job.

Do not give in to this erratic and destructive behavior. Sometimes, the best thing to do is simply ignore the fray and stay the course. Even if you’re upset, keep your poker face on and don’t let your rivals know they’ve gotten under your skin.

Other times, a toxic email might contain a legitimate question. In those cases, respond to the question with due diligence and don’t bother to acknowledge the hateful remarks.

Another common occurrence is the spreading of scuttlebutt. Perhaps a colleague talks to you about a team member or even a supervisor. While it might be natural to get sucked into the conversation, avoid it at all costs. Don’t succumb to that pettiness and don’t do anything to jeopardize your job.

Remember, in the workplace, your best bet is acting like a professional.

No. 3: Don’t always react to an action

Personality clashes are bound to occur in the workplace, and they can cause tension and anxiety, hurting working relationships, work productivity, and personal health. That is why it’s sometimes important to:

  • Give your opinion once and move on.
  • Not take everything personally.
  • Turn a blind eye to something offensive.
  • Not get baited into reacting unfavorably.

Arguing with a co-worker can lead to emotional stress and a damaged relationship. Moreover, in the business world, someone’s offensive comments do not even need to be given the time of day. Your co-workers are not necessarily your friends, so don’t take their actions personally. Do not succumb to their hurtful remarks or harmful jabs. Sometimes, saying nothing says everything.

No. 4: Remember, it’s a process

Even if you have personality, passion, and a perfect attitude, you may have to exercise patience in dealing with your work environment. Just as a poker player can’t control the cards he or she is dealt, you can’t control the actions of other people. You can, however, learn to read the situation and make moves that help you deal with whatever comes your way. A great way to do that is to find ways to disconnect from work. Examples include exercise, volunteer activities, reading a book, and having dinner with friends. Activities that help restore your physical, mental, and emotional reserves can play an essential role in helping you deal with the emotions of the workplace.

As Anne Kreamer, author of It’s Always Personal: Navigating Emotion in the New Workplace, said in a Forbes article, “We need to demystify the role of emotion, so that employers show more empathy and employees find more balanced approaches.”

What works best for you? How do you deal with some of these things at work? Do you have an interesting story or anecdote on emotional stress or conflict at work? Share it with us today!

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