Why Poker Faces Are a Poor Choice in the Workplace
Imagine that you decided to run your business meetings like a game of poker. You’re sitting around the table with five of your direct reports, each person holding their cards close to their chests, so to speak. Each person is trying their best not to divulge information. How good are the decisions you’re going to make as a manager if no one tells you anything? The same goes for the direct reports: how good are their decisions going to be if they don’t have a chance to understand why you’re pointing them in a certain direction?
A “poker face” is just as bad for interaction effectiveness as it is for any other business decision. People have to be willing share information about themselves so that other people can figure out how to interact with them more effectively.
The word we think best captures this idea is disclosure. People need to say more about their thinking, reasoning, and other information that will help others understand their decisions, beliefs, assumptions, and actions. Telling people what we’re thinking and why helps them appreciate our point of view and become more involved in decisions that affect them.
This in turn creates trust and encourages feedback, which increases effectiveness and satisfaction within a team and drives faster, better results.
Disclosure doesn’t mean you need to tell people about everything going on in your business and personal life. Remember that the purpose is to improve interaction not conduct a therapy session. So you want to share information that:
- Provides a context for an impending business decision (such as budget concerns, revenue expectations, conditions in other parts of your company). “This sounds like a good idea, but I’m not sure we can afford it…” or “We have a lot going on to deal with, and I’m concerned that this may be too much to put on our plates.”
- Helps people understand your personal context for a decision. “I was involved in a similar situation last year…”
- Helps your coworkers know how to support you. “I’m not sure about ____. Do you have ideas that could help?”
Choosing to disclose something about ourselves may be challenging. But it is an act that more often than not will have positive rewards by creating an opportunity for good feedback. Choosing to disclose information puts you in the driver’s seat: you have total control over when it happens, how much information you choose to share, and with whom you share it.
Here’s an example…
“Monica,” said Jack, “I have to confess I have a lot of trouble structuring my presentations to the executive team. It never feels like the presentations flow well, and I’m not sure what to do about it.”
“I didn’t realize that,” said Monica. “I have always found your presentations to be very clear. However, I do see what you’re getting at. In your last presentation, you dove right into the meat without creating a context. I don’t think you have as a big a problem as you think. My suggestion would be that you focus on starting with the big picture at the beginning and then do it pretty much as you are now….”
By being open, Jack has just learned two new things:
1. His presentations are pretty much OK and it was his perception that was faulty.
2. His presentation structure was in need of improvement.
Disclosing his unease allowed him to receive feedback on a topic that will help him communicate more effectively in the future. He has also strengthened his relationship with Monica. She is much more likely to solicit advice from him in the future and would probably be very pleased to help him in the future (people invariably react positively to being asked for advice; it communicates that the person asking for advice values their opinion).
As Jack discovered, he had a lot more control of the feedback he got when he started off with a disclosure. Typically, a person asking for feedback has no control over the quality or nature of the feedback they could receive. (Similarly a person trying to give feedback isn’t sure whether their input will be welcomed or seen as an intrusion.) In both cases, the givers and receivers of feedback may feel vulnerable. By controlling the timing and tone of his disclosure, however, Jack focused the conversation on an issue that was important to him. And he made it much easier for Monique to share something that in another context could have been interpreted as a “criticism. ” Instead, it was welcomed as useful feedback.
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About the Author
Max is the CEO of Belbin North America. He brings a depth of knowledge and experience from his career in general management and consulting in North America, England, Europe and Asia. Max has assisted CEOs and senior leaders within client organizations with the design and implementation of Interaction Planning processes, team based organizational development programs and Lean Six Sigma initiatives.