Translating the “tell”: successfully deciphering body language

Poker Divas Body Language

What people say isn’t that important. It’s what they DON’T say that matters. Scholars suggest that 60-90% of how people perceive you has nothing to do with the words. That’s why when poker is played well, it’s largely a non-verbal game.

If you start to notice people’s subconscious reflexes: how they cock their head, move their eyes, and shift their bodies, you’ll have a greater ability to understand their motivation and take control.

Tells are nonverbal cues that hint at whether the other players have a good hand or a bad one. 

The next time you’re at the poker table, take a close look at those around you. Does anyone push their chips in very quickly when it’s their turn, indicating they have a really great hand? Does someone start chewing their gum very hard, shaking their leg, or shifting around uncomfortably in their chair, indicating they’re uncomfortable with their hand? Is anyone toying with their drink or eyeglasses because they aren’t sure what to do next? 

There are numerous tells, as well as numerous books written on how to spot and decipher them. Tells offer valuable insider information that you can only glean from close observation. 

Being able to read other people’s unconscious tells is a useful skill at work as well. 

If you have a boss who isn’t very good at communicating verbally, you might find that he sits away from you if he has bad news to share. A co-worker trying to horn in on your territory may avoid sitting next to you in a meeting. These tells give you an indication of how the other person is feeling about you.

Poker is the ideal venue for honing your nonverbal observation skills. We all reveal something about ourselves through our body language in business and in life. Keep in mind that it’s the combination of tells that may reveal the most valuable information; one tell alone may not be enough to go on.

Here are a few tells to look for: 

  • Distance:
    • Check how physically close someone is to you; the closer they are, the warmer their opinions of you, but the further away, the less they care. Or, they may be afraid of you. 
  • Visibly distracted:
    • If someone is looking at their watch or phone, they aren’t paying attention to what’s going on in the poker game, meeting, or interview. Take note and re-engage them.
  • Arm position:
    • Those with crossed arms are often closing themselves to social influence and will respond badly to being challenged, while someone resting their arms behind their neck is open to what is being discussed and is interested in listening more.

Think of the poker table as a lab for dissecting the words, movements, and deeds of your fellow players in order to reveal their hidden intentions. In “real life,” your skill with tells will serve you well. 

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