Playing poker can improve your negotiation skills, here’s how.

Poker vs. Negotiation Skills

The Poker Player


I consider myself a pretty good negotiator, but when it comes to brokering a deal my husband can squeeze blood from a turnip. Whether it’s a yard sale and he’s after a $5 clock or $15k to renovate a bathroom, he always gets the opposition to bend.

Either way, he’s an expert negotiator and we all can learn something from him. Which is interesting. Since I do this for a living and obviously he doesn’t.

So it got me thinking, what could he be possibly be doing to refine these skills? What could he be doing on a consistent basis that would help his negotiation skills?

Was it one of his obessions, like being a world traveler? Probably not. What about his obsession with WWII and history? Doubtful. And then it hit me. He loves to play, watch and even analyze professional poker games.

Professional Poker Players and Expert Negotiators


So I’ll start by saying, there is a lot you could gain from having a Ph.D. in interpreting body language. Past the obvious uses when you have millions of dollars on the line.

Sometimes, there are even higher stakes and risks at hand. Just think about the implications of screwing up a negotiation with a sole source supplier. It’s in your best interest to make things go as smoothly as possible.


That’s why having even the slightest advantage could mean the difference in getting your adversary to make concessions.


But in my opinion, understanding body language is more of an art than a science. So it’s not a focus of this blog. But it is also why it is so useful in both poker and negotiations. If you can master the skill, you’ll always have the upper hand. And we all know that’s a good thing!

poker benchmark
Body Language Ph.Ds

It actually is a thing! If you are bored, check out the short-lived tv show “Lie to me.”

The show is inspired by the work of Paul Ekman, the world’s foremost expert on facial expressions and a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine.

Dr. Ekman has served as an advisor to police departments and anti-terrorism groups, on which the show is focused.

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Negotiations and Poker Games – 8 Striking Similarities


1. Texas Hold-em: The Flop, the Turn, and the River

A stepped process, whereby you learn new information after every card is turned. Same with negotiations. The longer the contracting process, the more you can learn about your opponent.  Same as with poker, you may have to fold on a couple of hands, but eventually, you’ll want to go all-in when you have confidence in your position.


2. Patience

Patience is key in poker, you need to wait for your hand to go all in. And there’s a reason they call it a ‘snap call’ when you make a quick decision.  You haven’t taken the time to think things through, and you’ve acted on emotions. And the odds are stacked against you if you do. That’s why it’s beneficial in poker and negotiations to be patient.


3. Bluffing

Sometimes you’re dealt a shit hand.  And sometimes with contract negotiations, you have the least leverage. Therefore, you may try and bluff out your opponent. You just need to proceed with caution. You don’t want to be holding on to a 3-5 off suit when the guy across the table has a pair of pocket Queens.


4. Preparation

You need to be able to understand what the odds are. With poker, it’s understanding the statistics of the game and the potential for someone to have a better hand. When negotiating, you should have the data to back your position. Both ways, being knowledgeable of the subject prior to entering the game, creates an advantage.


5. Poker Face

No, not the lady gaga song. But this is the one I struggle with the most. Having a true poker face during negotiations is key. Just like being able to read your opponent’s body language can give you an advantage, so is withholding as much emotion as possible. Especially if you’re laughing at someone’s offer.


6. Silence

This is one of the most useful and under-used tricks of the trade. So many people feel the need to talk to fill in the silent void. And it’s for that reason that no matter what you are doing if you can stay quiet you can turn the tides in your favor. Just look at how long the pro poker players sit in silence.


7. Under-estimating your opponent

I’ve played a few poker tournaments with my husband, and normally I’m the only woman there. So naturally, I get the least respect and get trashed talked the most. But I’ve knocked out some of the trash-talkers and have beaten my husband to take third place in one of the tournaments. So don’t ever under-estimate your opponent – no matter how green. You just might be surprised what they can do under pressure.


8. Focusing only on your hand

Sometimes when you get your last card on the river, you get so excited you miss what else your opponent could be holding. I’ve made this mistake. Not taking the time to understand the other position, can make for disastrous mistakes. Especially with contracting. Make sure you have a negotiation plan so you don’t give away too much because you are excited you go them to concede on one thing.

Ted - Talks to help you negotiate
Ted Talks – Playlist Link
5 Tactics to Win a Negotiation, According to an FBI Agent

How Poker Improves your Negotiation Skills


The similarities between the two go beyond what I have covered here. But if you can get a good understanding of the basics, and how they apply, you are two steps ahead of your competitor. And that’s exactly where you want to end-up.


It’s better to lose a few hundred bucks in poker games than to lose a few million in contract terms and conditions.


With any skill, the more you practice it, the better you become. So take chance and enter a poker tournament. Watch a few games of the professionals on ESPN (At least it’s more entertaining than watching golf). Anything you do to learn and therefore, enhance your skills will help.


Check out a couple other of my Negotiation Blogs:


Negotiation Donkeys

Nightmare IT Negotiations

Video Blogs

Would you rather watch a video than read a blog? Then check out more video blogs from Ms Category Management 👉🏼 Here


Would you rather listen to a podcast than a blog? Then check out the podcast links for Ms. Category Management 👉🏼 Here

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