Let me start this blog by making it clear that I’m not passing judgement on “them,” the majority of professional poker players who struggle with arrogance. In fact, I am a professional poker player myself and am well aware that I can often come across as arrogant and condescending.
Many intelligent people do come across this way, and poker attracts intelligent people. Arrogance isn’t exclusive to smart people, but it’s often a character trait that comes along with having a high opinion of your intellect. This doesn’t make arrogant people good or bad. There are plenty of arrogant people who truly mean well, and have the best of intentions, but struggle to communicate what they are trying to say without being condescending.
For poker players, there are even more traps than most professions. Think about the kind of confidence it takes to think you can beat the best poker players in the world? The assessment you have to make about your own abilities in comparison to theirs. Take a typical super high roller event that draws between 40-50 players. The vast majority of those players make their living playing poker and only a handful could be categorized as recreational players. That means, a professional poker player has to believe that not only is he better than the 4-5 weaker players in the field, but in order for it to be a worthwhile decision to enter this tournament, he needs to believe he ranks somewhere in the top 10. Of course, not all of the 40 pros can be right.
Now think about a younger kid, maybe 24 years old who played online poker and is now a millionaire simply by applying his intellect and skills to a game. Young, intelligent, and with plenty of disposable income. In addition to that, often a lot of free time to educate him/herself on a wide variety of topics by reading books, or even simply googling “facts” on the internet about different issues.
If you were that 24 year old kid, with the confidence to become a high stakes poker pro, it should be assumed that you are going to have a high opinion of your intellect and your ability to interpert things you read on the internet as being factual or not.
When I was in my early 20’s grinding at the Mirage, Twitter didn’t exist and reading articles on various topics wasn’t as simple as folding a few hands while ingesting an article on my IPhone. Today, people that age are far more intelligent and have absorbed more information than any previous generation by a large margin. Not all of the information is accurate, of course, but most people think their information is rock solid and whatever you disagree with is because you read the wrong article!
I’ve always found arrogant and condescending people quite annoying. Those are character traits I know I also possess, and when I see them in other people I find them to be ugly. As I’ve grown older, maybe a little more wiser, that annoyance has turned to acceptance and empathy. Some people are self aware enough to realize when they are being arrogant, but the vast majority are totally unaware of how their statements will be received by others.
If you saw a reply to one of your Twitter posts that starts with, “You can’t really be this ignorant can you?” How would that make you feel? What is the message you think the person is trying to get across to you? If you were the one who wrote this message, what was your intention when you wrote it? Was it to educate the poster, or was it designed to make them feel small and you superior? Was it simply a need to be “right” and make the other person wrong? Last question: do you think this is an effective way to communicate your thoughts and ideas?
Social media has changed the way we communicate with each other. You only get 140 characters, and it’s often difficult in that short span to convey the appropriate tone. With that being said, I still think it’s worth trying to read the message and before pressing send, think about how people are going to feel about it. Another way to say, “You can’t really be this ignorant can you?” Would be to try something like, “I hear what you are saying, but I’m not so sure I agree. Here is why…” Depending how you finish off that message you may still come across as arrogant and condescending. Sometimes even after being extremely careful about how you word something, people may still be either offended or receive you as being arrogant.
Poster writes, “2+2=5”
“You can’t really be this stupid?”
“I think you may have made an error in your calculation. I believe it’s 2+2=4”
With the first one, there is a high likelihood that it won’t be received well. Having said that, you pointing out an error in a respectful way doesn’t guarantee that the person won’t feel bad, stupid, less than, or as though you are just an arrogant jerk that needs to be right about everything.
Arrogance goes hand in hand with the addiction to being right. Many of us are more concerned with being right than anything else. Of course, when you fight to be right, you are also making someone wrong. Does it feel good? Honestly? Do you truly feel better after proving someone wrong and seeing the look on their face that screams of sadness and/or shame? If your 7 year old daughter came home to you and said, “Daddy, Daddy, I saw Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny today and Santa promised me toys and the Easter Bunny told me I would get chocolate covered eggs!”
Would you ever choose to respond with, “You are wrong. That is neither true nor possible. Santa Claus isn’t real and bunnies can’t talk. Santa isn’t getting you any toys and if you get chocolate covered eggs, it’s only because your mother and father paid for them and bought them for you.”
“But no daddy, I really did meet Santa and the Easter Bunny!”
“No you didn’t. You are being foolish and can’t provide me any evidence that you did. I’m not saying you are a liar, I’m sure you thought you did, but I am right on this one. I’m older than you and smarter than you.” Way to crush a kids dream you jerk! HAHA.
I run a daily question on Twitter and find it interesting to read not only the responses, but the tone of those responses. The vast majority are passionate, and filled with the addiction to be right. Often I will get yelled at for simply asking the question and adding no opinion of my own. I could ask a simple question like, “Do you like or dislike Bernie Sanders?”
The responses may look like, “He is a commie socialist! You don’t know what you are talking about, aren’t you Canadian anyway? Stick to Poker.” I’m fascinated by how many responses use that exact framework to a neutral question.
Or another may look like, “Anyone who doesn’t like Bernie Sanders is an idiot and an awful person.”
Often with age comes a better sense of self and the exuberant arrogance of youth dissipates. In other cases, it may take some type of humbling experience. I won’t name names, but there was one particular poker player who was among the most arrogant I’d ever encountered. A few years have passed and this once rich man is now broke, and suddenly a helluva lot more humble!
It doesn’t always click for people though. I play with an older “legend” occasionally who is no less arrogant today than he was in his heyday. With him, it’s an unspoken arrogance. A presence that makes it quite clear the message he is sending, “I’m rich. I’m too cool for school, and you peasants should be honored to be in my presence. My life is amazing. You should wish you were me.”
It’s been my experience, though, that younger poker players are less likely to have the self awareness of how they are coming across when communicating. Not in all cases, of course, but a decent percentage of young, successful, poker players are mostly unaware of their own arrogance.
I had an exchange with one young player, and when I pointed out how I experienced his last message as arrogant, he wrote something to the effect of, “That may be true, but my arrogance is a justified response to your ignorance.” When I read it, I actually laughed out loud! Like, really loud! I can’t imagine a situation where arrogance is justified. None of us are perfect, and we will all find times where we have arrogant thoughts and often communicate them, but the idea that it’s justifable in response to ignorance is… dare I say, ignorant?
So what steps can you take to increase your own self awareness and curb your own arrogance? Well, when it comes to social media, you can ask yourself a few questions before you press send:
What is my intention with this communication?
How will the people reading it feel about how I’m conveying my message?
Is this constructive, or am I only fueling my need to “win” and be right?
if you are communicating in person, you can also take a look at your tone and more importantly, your body language. Are you rolling your eyes and scoffing while listening to someone? That’s communication, and it sends the message that you aren’t listening, you are judging from superiority.
I’ll leave you with this; A listening exercise that is used in effective boardroom meetings and has been written about extensively in books like, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and others. Next time you are in a heated debate with someone, suggest this method of communication:
Person A speaks and makes the point they want to make. Person B must now, paraphrasing, repeat back to person A what they heard. If person A is satisfied with the response, now person B can make his point. If, however, person A is not satisfied with what person B heard, person A can repeat what he said, and person B does not get a chance to make a point until person A accepts that he has been heard by person B.
Person A says, “Abortion is the murdering of children and I don’t think it should be legal to kill a child that is in the womb for 6 months with a heartbeat and all, but then as soon as the baby leaves the womb it would be considered murder to kill that child.”
Person B says, “What I heard you say, is that abortion is the murder of children and it should not be legal.” Person A accepts, and now person B gets a chance, “As long as we are talking about what is going on inside of a woman’s body, I think the woman should have the legal right to choose whether or not she feels compelled to have the child or not. Especially in cases of rape or the health of the mother, an abortion may be the more compassionate choice.”
Person A now must repeat back what they heard, “So you are saying that a woman should have the right to make this choice, especially in cases of rape or the health of the mother.”
This type of listening exercise helps teach us to really listen, not just wait for our chance to interrupt and respond, and is a highly effective way of communicating from a more humble place. You’ll also be amazed at how much more likely you are to find common ground, even on an issue as complex and divisive as abortion. What do both sides want? Less babies being aborted. Common ground on an issue that creates so much anger when debated by opposing sides that aren’t hearing or empathizing with the pain the other side is feeling. Another term for this type of listening is actually called empathetic listening.
If you are pro-choice, can you not empathize with the opposing views pain, struggling with the picture of what they believe to be murdered children being burned and snuffed out? For the other side, can you not empathize with the decision a 14 year old girl faces after a rape has left her pregnant? You can be both passionately clear about your personal stance on the issue while still being empathetic to the people with an opposing view.
In closing, I hope you will read this blog with the understanding that I am smarter than you. Odds are, that I’m also better looking than you and have more money which makes my opinion more valuable to society than yours. So, if you disagree with anything I’ve written, just know that you are wrong and need to educate yourself on the topic. Reread this piece daily until it sinks in
(Disclaimer: I was just joking in the last paragraph)