The Role Of Soft Skills In The Age Of AI

Soft skills matter in the age of AI
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It’s more important than ever to hone your human leadership qualities: ‘The best thing you can do to guarantee your position in the age of artificial intelligence is to understand and excel at soft skills like empathy.’

When OpenAi’s ChatGPT and DALL-E launched last year, artificial intelligence was all anyone could talk about. There was an eagerness and anxiety to see what this advanced artificial intelligence could do. An AI-driven workforce carries massive potential, but it also creates uncertainty for 300 million jobs worldwide.

In the United States, a staggering 79 percent of women and 58 percent of men could be affected as more companies adopt generative artificial intelligence into the workplace. For years, male-dominated, blue-collar occupations, like manual labor and production lines, feared replacement by machines. With the emergence of gen AI, that fear is now penetrating white-collar careers where more working women reside. Positions in office and administrative support, education, marketing, journalism, computer programming, cybersecurity, legal, accounting and finance all face disruption, especially entry- and middle-level jobs in these fields.

Yet there’s a huge factor at play when it comes to AI taking over completely—it cannot replicate our emotional intelligence as humans. The best thing you can do to guarantee your position in the age of artificial intelligence is to understand and excel at soft skills like empathy.

Knowing your employees as individuals and understanding their challenges is one of the most important traits you can have as a leader. Whether it’s an internal or external crisis, you empathize with whatever they’re confronting, then meet their needs and offer solutions. Empathy is necessary when engaging with customers or consumers as well. Gen AI can produce text responses to crises but lacks the conviction and soul a human writer provides.

Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, had to issue an apology earlier this year after they used ChatGPT to console students following a mass shooting at Michigan State University. Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development sent an email emphasizing a safe and inclusive environment. The problem? A line at the end of the text that mentions it was a “paraphrase from OpenAI’s ChatGPT AI language model.” Students were rightfully upset by the lack of personal effort and admittance to using AI to convey university values through the message. While generative AI can help with other content-creation efforts, it’s best to leave this writing style to humans who understand compassion and nonverbal signals.

Evolution shows we need nonverbal communication to form relationships—like smiling, nodding and maintaining eye contact. You can’t be an effective manager without comprehending and utilizing these expressions and gestures. Employees need that face-to-face interaction. They need to feel valued and heard; you can offer this through positive cues and body language, unlike artificial intelligence. Generative AI is about as successful at nonverbal communication as sending an email.

We’ve all been there: unable to interpret the meaning behind someone’s note and then taking it the wrong way. Would you be considered an asset to your employees if you only sent emails to communicate? I think not. It is hard to convey tone when you rely solely on text-based communication. Instead, master your facial expressions and gestures and pay attention to your employees’ cues. If their words don’t match their body language, figure out why so you can offer proper support and guidance.

An effective leader should also know how to delegate. Nuanced management is a skill artificial intelligence attempts to replicate but lacks the knowledge to perform successfully. For example, your team of four received a new project with a tight deadline. You know that Sarah and Steve don’t collaborate well, Marco has a lot going on in his personal life and Margaret is eager to take on more responsibility. With this knowledge, you’d assign Margaret to take the lead with Sarah or Steve and give minimal responsibility to Marco. If AI oversaw the assignment, it would have divvied the workload equally between each person. Artificial intelligence cannot process and weigh personalities, external factors or team dynamics like a human manager can.

While excelling at soft skills will secure your position for the time being, it would be a mistake to think you can continue your role or climb the ladder without learning to leverage AI. This technology will only become more prevalent in the workforce in the future.

When you’re not at work, dedicate downtime to playing with gen AI programs like BardMidjourneyDALL-E 2 and Chatsonic. Plan a vacation with Roam Around; curate a personalized recipe for dinner with LetsFoodie; have a conversation with ChatGPT like it’s a human—figure out how these programs work and how you can adapt their abilities to improve efficiency and productivity in the workplace.

Once you recognize the potential of generative AI, communicate with your team about how it will be included. AI usage guidelines are nearly nonexistent in 2023; you could lead the charge at your company by implementing standards for your team to follow, like determining how often or how much generated content is acceptable for use, streamlining reports and creating shared prompt templates to avoid reinventing the wheel. However you choose to employ AI, keep the benefit to your employees top of mind and be cognizant of potential cybersecurity risks since artificial intelligence can learn from the material users share with it.

There’s no stopping this workforce transformation—we must embrace it—yet soft skills still have a place in this game. AI excels in efficiency and analysis, but humans bring their emotional intelligence to the table. These abilities, like empathy and nonverbal communication, will be essential to filling the gaps left behind by artificial intelligence. Learn to embrace its capabilities alongside your own because, while AI may not take your job, someone who knows how to harness both most certainly will.

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