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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

What's Your Office Poker Style?

people in meeting in office
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At work, as in poker, you have to play the hand you're dealt.

But if you've ever joined a game of Texas Hold'em or tuned into a nail-biting round in the World Series of Poker, you know there are a number of ways to play that hand.

In fact, there are four basic styles of poker play, defined by the type of action you take (whether you're more "passive" or "aggressive") and how often you are inclined to take action ("loose" players will play a variety of hands; "tight" players are much more choosy). Most players tend to stick to one main approach, but there's definitely a lot to learn from observing how others behave, too.

The same can be said for how you operate at work. Is your contribution to the office brainstorm an approving nod? Or are you the one who makes the bold move that will change your company's landscape?

Here's a rundown of the four styles, how they might play out on the job, and how to use your type—and that of others—to your advantage.

Tight Passives tend to sit back, observing (and judging) while other players make big moves. Even if they've got a decent hand, they figure someone else's is probably better.

In the office, these are the people who tend to hold back while letting others unleash a monsoon of ideas. Rather than sharing a strategy that might end up in the muck pile, they hang tight, then get back to whatever they were doing prior to that uncomfortable meeting.

But unless they get really lucky, these passive players are guaranteed to miss opportunities to get ahead. Someone else, who's willing to take a bit of a chance, will always sweep all the chips off the (board room) table and win.

So, if you find yourself heading into a situation with a tight passive mindset, remember the lesson of poker: You might save yourself from big losses, but you're not likely to see big wins—especially in the form of new opportunities, promotions, or raises.

How Can You Be Most Effective?

Be confident in yourself and your ideas. Yes, someone may have a great idea, but who's to say yours isn't better? Big or small, start sharing your thoughts and be open to the learning opportunity it provides.

With a touch more audacity, Tight Passives can assume the envied role of a TAG, widely believed to be the winningest poker style. Tight Aggressives don't play every hand—they tend to hold out until the time is right. But when they do play? They bet—and can win—big.

Take a cue from this style in the office. You've got to “know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em.” When you have a great idea, share it. If you're not so sure it will fly, hold off. There will be another meeting or project that calls for your area of expertise or special set of skills, and you will know it's the right time for you to make your mark. Others will be sure to notice your judiciousness, and when you do go all in, you're almost certain to pitch a winning idea.

How Can You Be Most Effective?

Use those keen observation skills to read the room and pinpoint the perfect time to share your big idea, then reap the benefits of a perfectly-timed pitch.

Loose Aggressives can win too, and they can win big—they play often, and they're not scared of betting.

At work, a Loose Aggressive hears, “This program is successful" and raises you, “Let's start one in China." While this could lead to big results, it's important to remember that not everyone's on board with such big plays, so read the room before you go all in.

Or, if you're in the presence of a Loose Aggressive, you could use the opportunity to say, “Ms. Shark, I hear where you're going with this. California might be a start. Let's team up and outline a five-year plan." After she has shaken everyone at the table with her loosey-goosey aggro play, you can sneak in a strategic move that saves the day.

How Can You Be Most Effective?

Always explain why you think your idea works, and share a timeline for getting it done. That way, you can guide people through your thinking and have a better shot at getting everyone on board.

The Loose Passive is your friendly neighborhood tagalong, all grown up. He loves the reward of riding in the ice cream truck but would never risk stealing it. In poker, the Loose Passive plays a lot of hands, but rarely raises the stakes.

In the office, he's a people-pleaser. “Great idea! I'm on board." He is not the ideas man.

Granted, these types of co-workers are great. They stay in the game until the end. They don't fold. They work late to get the job done. They may not pitch that big idea, but they'll be behind you when you do.

How Can You Be Most Effective?

While the loose passive has some great qualities, loyalty for one, they can miss out on the thrill of seeing their idea come to life. So if you don't want to miss out, ask your co-worker for advice on how they come up with and share their ideas. You've proved you're always there for them, and it's likely they'll do the same.

Whatever your style, don't stray too far from your nature—but do pick up tactics by watching differently oriented peers, especially if you tend to be passive. There's a saying in poker: Scared money never wins. You don't need to play every hand, but don't be afraid to play.

Improve your performance by collecting information for future use. What does your boss value? What does she already respect about you? Look for feedback, and the responses others have received. Use what you glean to tweak your style, or to learn what kinds of proposals will fly when you are ready to double down (who's ready for some Blackjack?).

The most successful people in the game—or in the office—are always the keenest observers.