6 Differences Between Negotiations & Poker; or The Greek Drama Seeks Catharsis

By Christos Tsolkas

I was never into politics and it is unlikely that I will ever be. For the past 23 years, I have worked as an international business executive. But I am also Greek and the current state of my motherland has forced me to think about its dire situation through the lens of my education, my experience, my understanding of business and negotiations, and common sense.

1. NEGOTIATION is the art of Influence. It is actually the process of establishing MUTUAL interest and interaction in order to develop alternatives and eventually come to agreement on a shared course of action.

Negotiating is, in other words, a problem-solving exercise whereby CONTEXT is usually more important than CONTENT. It requires skills & capabilities gained through training and experience. Depending on the seriousness of the matter at stake (e.g., a hostage situation) highly specialized professionals are invited to achieve the ultimate objective of the negotiation, which is to carve a good deal.

In reality, a good deal for every negotiator is the opportunity to be BETTER OFF as a result of the negotiations while the other party will stay at least in STATUS QUO or be a BIT PLUS. Experienced negotiators understand that winning today while your opponent loses is not sustainable long term.

POKER, in contrast is not a problem-solving exercise. Your objective is to win by making your opponent or opponents lose. The better you play, the bigger you win and the larger are the losses of the other players.

2. There is no such thing as BLUFFING in negotiations, only tradeoffs which need to be bridged. Bluffing is an essential element of poke

3. In negotiations there is always an ASPIRATION position and a SAFETY NET, below which each party is not willing to fall. Professional negotiators also prepare well and try to keep emotions out of the process. It’s a game of logic.

In poker, there is no safety net; the game is over usually when one or more of players are out of chips or BROKE. Poker is highly emotional, based on perceptions and psychology.

4. LUCK is part of life. However the impact of luck in a hard, complex negotiation process is minimized provided both parties are well prepared. There’s no need to explain why luck is helpful for poker players.

5. You can bargain when you buy or sell a car but professional negotiators rarely put their own, PERSONAL INTERESTS or money at stake. They usually represent their company, their client, or their country. In poker you usually risk your own money.

6. In poker you see the chips of your opponents. Depending on the type of game, you sometimes see some of their cards. In negotiations you hardly ever clearly see the position, strengths, and weaknesses of your counterpart. You need to PLAN, prepare, estimate, create contingencies and make calculations.

The Greek Drama that we are witnessing today has parallels with Greek Dramas of ancient times. The story of today began in 2009; and the tragic heroes, plot turns, and Deus ex-machina of the past 5 years are now heading towards their denouement. A few questions still remain to be answered, however. Who will be the final victim? What is the final currency of the sacrificed? Will we eventually achieve Catharsis?

All to be answered by referendum next Sunday, July 5th.


June 29th, 2015