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Negotiation, Poker, and Philosophy

There are countless books, studies, and essays written about negotiation techniques and strategies. The topic has had significant time and effort donated by experts across all industries. Negotiation often goes hand-in-hand with other hobbies and activities, poker being one of the most prominent examples. High-level poker players are often incredible negotiators, as they are masters of probability and human behavior. Mike Caro, my recent guest on Negotiations Ninja, is the author of Caro’s Book of Poker Tells. It is one of the leading books on the subject of observing behavior with the purpose of deciphering the other side’s inner thoughts. Peers in the industry, such as master poker theorist, Doyle Brunson, have called him one of the greatest players and strategists of all time. In recent years, Mike Caro has taken a step back from the poker spotlight and his hectic conference schedule. He is currently developing the most intricate electronic poker teaching tools ever created. What can negotiators learn from one of the best poker players in history?

In negotiations, life, and the poker table, you’re always dealing with unknowns. One of Mike’s greatest gifts is taking poker situations and correlating them to real life, making them highly relatable. Life is all about unknowns. Learning to deal with unknowns effectively is a massive part of being successful in life, negotiations, and poker.

Mike developed his famous theory, Caro’s Law of Loose Wiring, to decipher the idea of unknowns and how a discussion is likely to play out. The law states: if choices are not clearly connected to their benefits, people usually interact in ways that make outcomes unpredictable. If you are in a negotiation and have clearly expressed a benefit to the other party, the conversation becomes more predictable. However, if you have not revealed an interest, anything can happen. The discussion, therefore, becomes impossible to predict.

It is essential to keep in mind that not all decisions and possibilities are worthy of analysis. We would spend our entire days analyzing the most mundane tasks if we applied probabilistic thinking to everything. Some choices should not carefully be considered – buying milk, for example. There are two brands in the supermarket. It makes no difference at all which one is selected. It is crucial to understand the difference between whim decisions and important decisions.

Our inner compasses of probability are the most important tools we have when making decisions. As a person ages and matures, a fundamental understanding of probability develops. For example, most seven-year-old children would likely not try to run across a freeway. Their early sense of danger and survival instinct would instruct them there is a high probability of death. The most successful negotiators have a fully dialed in probability compass. Developing this tool is a great method to assist in orchestrating situations and wins.

Keep in mind, just like poker, negotiations are a process. Poker is not just about winning pots. We are trying to win the tournament, not just an individual pot. We do this through not only the observance of probabilistic thinking but also through the observance of human behavior and by becoming the other players, by putting ourselves in their shoes, so to speak. By acting as the other side, we are able to start recognizing their behavioral nuances and predicting what comes next. As we take on their characteristics, we gain the ability to figure out what they are honestly thinking. By seeing the other side’s options as they see them, it becomes easier to correctly read their emotions of nervousness, confidence, and anger, and to subsequently see when they are trying to hide something.

For more with Mike Caro, subscribe to Negotiations Ninja or head over to my LinkedIn.