I am a poker player. I love the odds, the strategy, the bluffing, the reading of the other players, and most of all the social interaction. I play a couple of times a month with friends, never online with strangers. And only for low stakes… very low stakes. I just enjoy the experience.
Just like everything else in all of our lives, our regular poker game got interrupted in late March by the health crisis. And for a few weeks, no one was talking about or suggesting a game.
Then I heard from a close buddy of mine, who suggested that we put together a game online with our same buddies, for the same low stakes. It would be an amazing way to get everyone together for some fun. So we did, he was right, and we had a great time. We played again about a week later, and now we have a regular game, a couple of times a month, for a few hours on a weekend night. We play cards virtually, we get together in a Zoom meeting, and we laugh. Tonic for the soul.
Except for one small detail. I was terrible. I described myself above as “a poker player.” I am not a great poker player. I am pretty good. On my best days, I can compete within my group, which is competitive, and perhaps occasionally win. But most of the time I am just competitive at best.
Until we started playing online. Same guys. Same game (Texas Hold ‘Em, is always our game), same low stakes. But my results went from pretty good to just plain awful. For about four or five games in a row, I was literally the first one out. Just terrible.
What was different? I wracked my brain, really obsessed on it. (Those who know me well can easily imagine the level of my obsession!) Everything was the same… except for the fact that we were no longer in the same room. We were playing virtually now, and eventually I realized how big a difference that was for me. What I realized was that one of my strengths — reading body language and facial expression — was no longer as easy. Even though we were connected on Zoom, it wasn’t the same. You couldn’t feel each other’s presence. You couldn’t notice the subtle shift in the chair, or hear the nearly silent exhale. Reading each other was much harder.
And it was at that point that I realized how much I relied on that part of the game. I went from “pretty good” to “terrible” almost immediately, simply because I no longer had access to a field of information that was disproportionately important to my success. It was a fascinating moment of self awareness, that has had a huge impact on the way I have approached my teaching and coaching over the last six weeks. My entire awareness of the importance of presence and body language has skyrocketed… simply because of a shift in my poker game with my buddies.
The lesson here is we should not underestimate the shift from a face-to-face world to a remote world. The shift is bigger than we realize. And it simply means that the levers of communication and persuasion are different. We have fewer fields of information available to us.
Keep that in mind the next time you allow yourself to be distracted on an important conference call or web meeting. You are already at a major disadvantage, even without allowing yourself to be distracted. Don’t make your life harder than it already is.
(And, once I realized why my poker game had suffered, I changed my game pretty dramatically. I got back to basics, started paying more attention to the cards and the odds, less to the other players. And over the last few games, my success is back where it was. Pretty good. Not great. But no longer terrible. Thankfully…)
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