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Robin Hills



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Why emotional intelligence is essential in the age of artificial intelligence


It has long been known that AI will affect workforces and markets. Robotic production lines will continue to erode manufacturing jobs. Self-driving vehicles will force drivers of trucks, trains and buses to look for alternative forms of employment that can utilise their skills.

As AI improves, which is happening quickly, a much broader set of jobs will be impacted, including those that require certain levels of cognitive ability. Some of these are jobs that, until a few years ago, no one could imagine being done without the participation of a trained human being, such as teaching, medicine, financial advising, marketing and business consulting.

These jobs may seem complex but there are a lot of things that machines can do better than human beings. In reality, many skilled jobs are no more than glorified processing, which includes gathering data, interpreting the results, determining a course of action and implementing this course of action.

The threat of AI in highly skilled work

Highly skilled work, requiring years of training, can command high rates because of three capabilities:

1. Going through early routine tasks quickly and accurately

2. Experience and judgment in determining a course of action

3. Astuteness for helping clients navigate that course

AI and machine technology will quickly surpass human abilities on the first two capabilities. This will shift the skillset required for anybody wishing to stay in these careers as they are transformed by artificial intelligence.

As we become more familiar with machine technology through our personal mobile devices, trusting and engaging with machines becomes easier and our preferred choice in many cases. Human beings are limited and often biased, whether consciously or unconsciously; we have our preferences and our emotions impact upon our decision making.

We can never keep fully abreast of all the changes in our area of expertise and have a narrow set of experiences, habits, expectations and insights. We get stressed, get ill, need time away from work to eat and drink, exercise, sleep and take part in a whole host of other activities that are important to us as humans.

Why a human touch remains important

AI may be able to diagnose complex business or medical problems and recommend actions to reach a satisfactory conclusion. A human being, however, is still best suited to jobs like motivating teams to action, navigating politics and identifying perceptive individuals to lead change.

Also, AI might be able to diagnose an illness and recommend a course of treatment better than a doctor, however, it takes a person to engage with a patient, understand their life situation (finances, family, quality of life, etc.) and help determine what treatment plan is optimal.

It’s these human capabilities that will become more and more valued over the next decade. Emotional intelligence skills such as influencing, persuading, social understanding and empathy will become differentiators as artificial intelligence and machine learning take over.

Skills in emotional intelligence will become essential to anyone who wants to stay relevant in their field as automated systems proliferate. 

Reactions to emotional intelligence

Andy Haldane, the Chief Economist at the Bank of England, has been arguing for the need for emotional intelligence over a focus on cognitive intelligence. “The future could see a world of work in which emotional intelligence rivals IQ for skill supremacy. Students may be better off developing emotional intelligence rather than cognitive skills to prepare for a future of work in which they will be competing with robots.”

The response from professionals in the financial field has been less than favourable with one commentator writing “Emotional, yes, it nearly brought me to tears… tears of laughter of course. The Chief Economist must have a clause in his contract to come up with at least one wacky idea every quarter”!

Over the years, doctors in the NHS have seen a greater focus on targets, administration, reports and data.

From the work that I have been carrying out developing the emotional intelligence of senior secondary care doctors, I have noticed low levels of self-awareness, poor listening capabilities and high levels of defensiveness, blame and criticism.  

Unfortunately, the human-oriented skills underpinned by emotional intelligence have generally been viewed as second priority in terms of training and education.

We’ve all experienced the doctor, financial planner or consultant who is more focused on processing us through a system rather than on our unique situations and emotional requirements.

Regrettably, this level of ignorance is rife in many areas where cognitive intelligence is currently highly valued. There has been some change as emotional intelligence becomes increasingly recognised as a relevant concept, but it is poorly understood.  

Why emotional intelligence will become a key skill set

Skills in emotional intelligence will become essential to anyone who wants to stay relevant in their field as automated systems proliferate.

There are some attempts to bring these skills into the education system. They are regarded as something that is important in the early years in nursery and primary school but have yet to become an integral part of human development throughout, and beyond, primary, secondary and tertiary education.  

Emotional intelligence training in business is often seen as a bolt-on to leadership and management programmes. Better than nothing, they can be broad and simplistic in their delivery, lacking the depth of application to bring about sustainable, embedded change through a thorough exploration of the construct.

Machine learning and AI have the ability to improve our lives and outcomes, all at a lower cost. Welcome the change in your industry and work to make it beneficial for everyone.

Facilitated development of emotional awareness, understanding, management and expression through training and coaching brings about transformational change.

Cognitive intelligence can be used to bring about change in working with emotion to understand their meaning and impact upon performance. These changes are in social skills, empathy, communication, assertiveness, interpersonal relationships and social responsibility, to name but a few.

These are real skills for the 2020s and beyond as AI becomes more established.

Working with AI and emotional intelligence

Here are three recommendations around working with AI and emotional intelligence.

1. Don’t fight the progress of technology

Machine learning and AI have the ability to improve our lives and outcomes, all at a lower cost. Welcome the change in your industry and work to make it beneficial for everyone.

2. Examine your own capabilities in interacting with, motivating and assessing people

Recognise how emotions underpin everything that we do. Utilise emotional information as a data source that allows for more problem solving and decision making, and to develop more authentic relationships. Know your strengths and limitations when it comes to emotional intelligence.

3. Invest in developing your emotional intelligence

The simplest way is to change your mental model about what is important in your role to begin focusing on how you can better manage, influence and relate to other people.

Take it a step further by seeking out training and coaching from people with in-depth experience of working in the field of emotional intelligence.

What you have to offer and what you can do better than any machine, no matter how intelligent it is, is relate to the people around you. Begin to invest in and develop these emotional capabilities in the same way that you have the more technical parts of your job.

If you can be an outstanding listener, motivator or leader, then you will have a very important part to play as technology changes the future of work.


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Robin Hills


Read more from Robin Hills

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