Have you ever worked with someone who tried to put you on the spot in front of other people? Or been the object of someone’s negative joking, when each comment feels like a sharp jab at you? Perhaps you’ve encountered people who have ignored you, talked over you, conversed with others when you’re speaking, or made pointed comments about your every word. In poker, that’s called trash talking. It’s a tactical maneuver used to distract you.

A trash-talker’s aim is to throw you off your game. 

When they’re trash-talking, your opponents talk to you while you’re trying to make a decision, they try to guess what cards you have in your hand, tell you to fold because you’re beaten, or do something odd and unexpected to confuse you. Trash-talk can actually be very effective, and it’s perfectly legitimate in poker. You’re allowed to trash-talk and distract your competitors as long as you don’t reveal what is in your hand.

Lori, a PokerDivas student, encountered trash-talk while playing at a poker tournament for a children’s charity. Although she was new to the game, she got good cards and played them well. Three hours later she was at the final table; one woman up against nine men who had been playing for years. Lori played aggressively and narrowed the nine down to two opponents.

That’s when the relatively quiet, polite game took a turn. The two opponents started to talk to her when they would make a bet. They would make their bets, and as she contemplated her next move they would talk to each other loudly, commenting on her play and guessing out loud what cards she had in her hand.

For the first couple of hands, their attempts to knock her off her game were successful.

They intimidated her with trash talk, and she folded her cards. I happened to be at the tournament and explained to her exactly what they were trying to do. She then started trash-talking with me, turning the tables and throwing them off their game.

Trash-talk can come from all directions, such as the colleague who says, “maybe when you’ve been doing this as long as I have you’ll get the hang of it” or a boss who puts you down for a small error in an otherwise perfect project, saying “what were you thinking when you did this?”

The trash-talker is a bully trying to throw you off balance. 

There’s a lot of bullying behavior going on at the poker table, in the workplace, and in life in general.  When you encounter trash-talk you have two choices:

Ignore them.  That’s a talent that takes time to develop, but if you can learn to tune out the trash-talk, you’ll be able to rise above it and focus on winning the game, whether it’s at the poker table or the conference table.

Give it right back to them.  Imagine you’re a comedian dealing with a heckler when you reply. Use humor if you can. Many trash-talkers will back off from someone who’s willing to put them in their place. This tactic takes  practice, but it beats being manipulated by a person who wants to intimidate you.

Here’s some additional tips you can use:

Stay focused and surround yourself with people who support you.  Seek out people who are your advocates, not your adversaries. Don’t waste your time with people who don’t have your back.

Don’t take it personally. Trash-talking is just a tactic so that the other person feels more powerful. Find a way to detach from it emotionally. Don’t let it mess with your head.

Next time, I’ll discuss ways to detach from things that look good on the outside but have poor odds of a positive outcome. We call it  “falling in love with your cards.”