Your Workplace is Like A Poker Hand

January 13, 2021

by Ed Evarts

As I work to improve my skills as a coach, there is a suggested best practice that if a coach can relate an experience that a client finds stressful, to an experience that is typically less stressful, the client will understand their stressful situation more clearly. This is what I have found with my poker analogy. In poker, you will be dealt either a good hand or a bad hand. Regardless of the hand you are dealt, it is the hand you have to play. More of your energy should be spent figuring out how to play the hand. By comparing their workplace to a poker hand – my clients seem better able to understand their situations, and more importantly, think more clearly about what to do about them.

By thinking of your workplace like a poker hand, you are also helping organize your thoughts and actions on what you can do next. Rather than having hundreds of next steps, as we will see shortly, you have the three options: fold, bluff, or take action to make things better. Once I share the poker analogy, a light goes off in my client’s eyes. “Oh my, I am bluffing!” a client will say. “No wonder I am so frustrated. How can I take action to make things better?” Now we are getting somewhere.

You should anticipate that the workplace you will be hired into will be one of the following three experiences:

  • My workplace is better than I thought it would be. It is possible that the folks who are sharing their observations about your workplace are being completely candid. Every once in a while, a client finds his workplace to be fantastic.
  • My workplace is worse than I thought it would be. In some ways, this is what many folks believe. During the recruitment experience, the workplace is made to feel like heaven, yet once you start, it begins to take on the characteristics of a hell-like experience.
  • My workplace is good enough. This is the feeling that most of my clients experience as they start a new job. My clients quickly assess that their new workplace is not a perfect place to be. No workplace is perfect and with a little effort and attention, we can make a big difference in how we are experiencing our work.

How can I play my poker hand in ways that help me?

Whether your workplace is worse than you thought it would be or good enough, most of you will aspire to improve your workplace. Since your workplace is like a poker hand, I believe you have three options to consider to navigate your workplace, just like you would in a poker game.

  • You can fold. Individuals like you who are not in the right job at a specific point in your career can be easily spotted. No matter what you do to improve your work situation, you do not fit in. You know it. Everyone you work with knows it. Perhaps you possess the wrong personal characteristics to fit the job profile. Perhaps you have negative issues you have encountered and you are in a significantly deep hole, unable to dig your way out. Perhaps you are simply not happy with your role. Whatever your situation might be, the best option for you is to consider folding and move on to a new opportunity.
  • You can bluff. Bluffing is a behavior where you pretend to like something you do not like, whether it is an opinion, a feeling, an action, or a person. If you need to bluff a feeling or making a decision for a week or so, this is something most of you can do and probably have done. What I frequently find, however, is that you are bluffing for the long-term. Many of you may be avoiding a conversation you should be having or pretending to like something that you do not like. I have clients who do not like working for their boss, yet have been bluffing for months (or years!) that they love their boss. There are two issues with bluffing for the long-term. First, bluffing takes a lot of energy and creativity. At some point, you will inconsistently do something that will cause someone to observe or call your bluff. Second, like in a poker game, your hand will have to be shown at some point. If you have been bluffing, most of you will need to become honest with your true opinion when your hand is called. I work with clients to be honest now versus being forced to be honest in the future.
  • You can take action to make things better. You can be more successful in your career if you can identify two to three behaviors or actions you can take to positively impact your workplace. You can work to gain a deeper understanding on how others experience you in your workplace and then identify some simple and realistic actions you can take to make positive progress. This is not a complicated process. It is the busyness of your workplace that prevents you from spending time thinking about how to be better.

Think about your workplace. Like a poker hand – whether it is a good or bad, it is the hand you have been dealt. Now do something about it.


Ed Evarts is the Founder and President of Excellius Leadership Development. Ed’s most recent book, Drive Your Career: 9 High-Impact Ways to Take Responsibility for Your Own Success is now available online. You can read more about Ed at