5 Social Skills You Need When Playing Poker

5 Social Skills of Poker
Characteristics of the Best Poker Players  
There is a common denominator among the best poker players: they really know how to schmooze at the tables. Social skills are but one of many characteristics needed to succeed in the multi-faceted game of poker. An interesting study was compiled by Robert J. Williams and Carrie A. Leonard, where the researchers examined a variety of factors, notably experience, statistical and quantitative skills, demographics, general intelligence, and also the most important elements, social skills and social intelligence.
The psychological component of poker is central to the game. It has been said time and again that a professional poker player is well-versed at playing the players at the table. But what does this mean to a novice poker player? Social intelligence differs markedly from general intelligence, and it factors heavily into the equation when we consider the best poker players. Professional poker players are blessed with many skills, but being able to read a social situation is arguably the most important component of a player’s poker gaming skills.
This begs the question: What are social skills in regards to poker?
Given that poker is an interactive, engaging, and immersive game with players competing against one another for the poker pot, there are a multitude of factors at play. Most of the action taking place at the table, typically in 6/9 formats is about attempting to ‘intentionally obfuscate’ the action by bamboozling other players a.k.a. the bluff, or attempting to read the facial expressions, body language, and intonations of other players at table. These skills are exceptionally difficult to master, given that every other player is attempting to misguide everyone else at the table too.

Social Intelligence Leads to Success in Poker Games

There is no doubt that social intelligence leads to success in poker. Those players who have an uncanny ability to see beyond the veil invariably win more hands, and take down more pots in the process. Studies compiled by Schlicht et al. (2010) reflect that poker players were more likely to fall victim to other players whose facial expressions conveyed ‘credibility and trustworthiness’ while they were bluffing.
In fact, the facade is far more successful than the typical poker bluffer who maintains a neutral facial expression. This ability to model the behavior of one's opponents is key to your strategy in developing the requisite social skills to become a successful poker player. There is no doubt that ranking poker players are far more adept at opponent modelling than casual poker players.
Poker psychology is a dynamic continuum. There is no set behavior that works all the time, especially when players are trying to outfox one another on every play. Poker players expect one another to change their strategies; that's par for the course. The precise timing, and scope of the behavioral, social, and psychological changes allow players to gain the advantage over their opponents.
Highly-skilled poker professionals zero in on their opponents early on. They learn to spot poker tells from the subtlest of behaviors. Eye movements, head movements, ticks, degrees to which parts of the body may or may not move when the cards are revealed are all telling. All of these elements of opponent modelling fall under the broad tent of social intelligence. We will now examine 5 social skills needed to play poker well.

1.     Interpersonal Skills and Active listening

While poker is not a cooperative game for mutual benefit per se, it relies on cooperation between players for personal benefit. Players share the same space – virtual or corporeal - when playing poker. The same chips, tables, and cards are used by everyone in the competition, in the hopes of personal benefit. If poker is perceived as a closed system, the inputs, throughputs, and outputs are all seated at the table.
Anyone who is deficient at interpersonal skills will be unable to assess the realities at the table. The ability to make small talk to lighten the mood during tense plays, or to intentionally throw other players off their game is critical in poker. For those players who struggle with interpersonal skills and active listening abilities, it becomes increasingly difficult to interact with other players at the tables, let alone make the right poker playing decisions.

2.     Problem Solving Abilities

Poker is unique in the sense that the social skill of problem-solving has to be managed differently than it would in a typical social setting. In poker, players are continually calculating statistics, probabilities, and attempting to manage assumptions based on a combination of the facts and gut feel. Since you cannot wear your heart on your sleeve and ask other players for assistance when you're having a bad beat, you have to conduct problem-solving on your own. This proves to be an insuperable challenge for many players who are lacking in social skills. Your problem-solving abilities require you to use the available information at your disposal (known and unknown variables) to make the best decisions.
In poker, the best decisions are the ones that preserve your bankroll when variance works against you, or leads you to victory when the poker gods are on your side. Some poker players thrive in social situations where their backs are up against it; others fold. You will be put through the ringer at the poker tables. Experienced poker players use a variety of psychological techniques to taunt you, making you doubt yourself and your decisions.
Your ability to solve problems and understand the realities at the table will serve you well in your poker playing sessions. In games of poker, and sports alike, players are routinely taunted. In the sport of cricket this done verbally in the form of sledging, in rugby it is in your face with hard tackles, pushes and shoves. In poker, it may be subtle, or direct, but it's always there.

3.     Relationship Management

Relationship management is just as much about emotional intelligence as it is a social skill. Relationship management is one of 4 pillars of emotional intelligence – the others being social awareness, self-awareness, and self-management. In the days of old, we were taught to curtail our emotions and not to act on tilt by making emotionally-based decisions. This still holds true in poker, but we can benefit tremendously from the emotional outbursts of other players at the table, while curtailing our own. The psychology behind this has changed in recent years.
Now, people are encouraged to express themselves and to behave in a way that is less inhibitive.  Yet in poker, we’re at odds with this new-age thinking. We are taught that less is more. The less clarity you portray, the less you are understood. This raises an important point: Do you want to be perceived as an enigma among your fellow poker players and risk being shut out of the social scene? Exaltations, guffaws, and lamentations are standard at poker tournaments today. If any of these words is a foreign concept, chances are you prefer to be aloof than integrated.
Relationship management takes time to build. You need to know your opponent. You need to understand what drives your opponent. Poker also teaches us how much effort we should expend in relationship building, with our eyes on the ultimate prize – that being the big money takedown. 

4.     Effective Communication with Verbal/Non-Verbal Elements

Communication with verbal and non-verbal elements is sacrosanct among the 5 social skills that are needed to play poker. Verbal communication is easily explained – it entails the words that we use when we are conveying our sentiments at the table. The poker-nuanced utterances, colloquialisms, slang, and jargon are easy enough to understand.
However, it takes time to get into the swing of things with effective verbal communication at the table. The non-verbal elements require tremendous learning. The best poker players are adept at hiding information from other players. This is known as bluffing, and it can certainly be a powerful poker resource when used in moderation, and infrequently.
Non-verbal communication is anything that conveys an idea through channels other than ones voice. Think of eye contact, facial expressions, body language. That's why so many poker players wear sunglasses, baseball caps, hoodies, loose fitting clothing, and the like. It's the non-verbal element that is so important in determining poker tells.

Multiple psychology studies have been conducted on non-verbal cues, particularly in a poker setting where the art of deception is at play. Studies routinely show that the most successful poker players our supremely skilled at using deception through non-verbal means to confound their opponents, and make them take actions that result in them losing the game. A deceptive poker player can cause other players to fold perfectly good hands. It is certainly one of the most impressive social skills to fine tune.

5.     Empathy and Rapport Skills

Empathy is an important social skill, but not quite from the same angle that you may be thinking. We don't necessarily care if our opponents are losing money and we are benefiting. It's sad when people lose, but it's certainly more hurtful when we lose. Empathy is an ability to put yourself in somebody else's position and understand how they may be feeling.
However, from a poker perspective the social ability to be empathetic towards other players requires an understanding of oneself. What would motivate you to take certain actions? Why would you fold your hand, or go all in?
It is imperative that we understand other players motivations for taking certain actions in order that we can beat them at their own game. Most of the time, we share the same fears and aspirations. Nobody goes into every single poker game wanting to lose – that's self-defeatist and asinine. Players play to win, and they play because they love the game. Assuming that these are constants in a pool of unknown variables, it is much easier to understand how important empathy is in the game of poker.
Rapport has often been called into question at poker games. Is it truly possible for players to behave in a cordial way towards one another, knowing that everyone is a potential obstacle to your success? This is a social skill that needs to exist, regardless of our motivations for playing the game.
In any competition, everyone else is a potential opponent, even fellow team members. That doesn't diminish the fact that it is important to have a good rapport with players at the table. This is a social skill that needs to be learned and mastered, not only for expressing good social graces, but for a long and healthy poker playing career.
These are some of the most important social skills that are needed to play poker. From a psychological perspective, there are many more elements to consider, most of which begin with an in-depth assessment of our own fears, aspirations, strengths and weaknesses.