Poker is a game of concentration, reactions, and critical thinking. While luck still plays a large factor in the distribution of the cards, your skill at reading common poker tells can give you a significant edge. This means focusing on your opponent’s body language to decipher subconscious shrugs, sighs, and signals that give away their hand.
It’s the same in business, but often tells are even more obvious – coming right out of the individual’s mouth. For example, a CEO of a major US company was on television talking about organizational culture. He stated:
“We want to do much more for our employees and build camaraderie amongst team members. We recently began a family bingo night – if anyone knows me, they know that things like this are not in my DNA, but we’re giving it a try.”
On its face, you might say it’s great that he’s open to change. On the other hand, seeing his body language and intonation when he said these words, it was clear he wasn’t bought in. Not even just doubt, but clearly waiting for this activity to pass so he could get back to business in status quo format. His behavior in the coming weeks validated that tell.
When talking with a superior or even a co-worker, it can be hard to discern their tells. You’re typically trying to focus on understanding the subject matter, their expectations, and more often, what you want to say or respond with to their comments. But it’s critical to sit back, observe, and listen as much as possible so you can pick up on information that’s even more useful than what they actually say.
For instance, one C-Suite leader was speaking to me about her vision for the future of the company. She emphasized major changes and areas that she wanted to focus on. But she also mentioned a business book and author she was a fan of. While this was a tiny comment, it was a tell. The approach the author illustrated in that book was the approach she intended to take for architecting the organization’s approach to budgeting and planning. Even though she didn’t articulate that specifically, it came out clearly in the subsequent weeks. She had said it in advance without saying it.
Everyone has tells. While we often focus on what someone is saying to us, the more important elements are those smaller things they mention within the context of the conversation. The more important elements are the body language they use when saying things. Don’t get hyperfocused on the information being conveyed without considering the manner in which it’s conveyed, and those little nuggets that can give you insight that others will overlook.
Andrea Belk Olson is a keynote speaker, author, differentiation strategist, behavioral scientist, and customer-centricity expert. As the CEO of Pragmadik, she helps organizations of all sizes, from small businesses to Fortune 500, and has served as an outside consultant for EY and McKinsey. Andrea is the author of three books, including her most recent, What To Ask: How To Learn What Customers Need but Don’t Tell You, released in June 2022.
She is a 4-time ADDY® award winner and host of the popular Customer Mission podcast. Her thoughts have been continually featured in news sources such as Chief Executive Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, Harvard Business Review, Rotman Magazine, World Economic Forum, and more. Andrea is a sought-after speaker at conferences and corporate events throughout the world. She is a visiting lecturer and startup coach at the University of Iowa, a TEDx presenter, and TEDx speaker coach. She is also an instructor at the University of Iowa Venture School.