Why Soft Skills Are More Important
Than Ever in the Era of AI
Many experts believe that we’re on the cusp of the next Industrial Revolution — the AI revolution — which is already reshaping the contours of our daily lives. From chatbots that can emulate our favorite celebrities to algorithms that are replacing human financial advisors, the touch of AI is omnipresent.
With the rapid advancement of artificial intelligence, it's tempting to assume a tech-heavy skillset is our ticket to the future. However, as AI begins to redefine the job landscape, the skills that will remain the most relevant are quite the opposite. Paradoxically, in a world dominated by AI, soft skills are more important than ever.
In this article, we will cover five ways in which soft skills will be critical in the age of AI:
- Human-machine collaboration
- Decision making in an AI-driven world
- Emotional intelligence in the workplace
- Creativity and innovation
- Learning and adaptability
1. Human-machine collaboration
The proliferation of AI tools for work is already having an impact on our professional lives, especially around how we create, communicate, and organize knowledge. But while AI can be a major timesaver when it comes to brainstorming ideas, creating a first draft, or creating a summary from meeting transcripts, it is not a replacement for human judgment.
Consider the domain of presentations: while AI tools can help you generate slides quickly, it cannot replace the need for you to decide on the intent, identify your audience, or articulate the key messages you want to convey. For example, while an AI might have a general formula for the length of a presentation, how many slides you need for an x-minute presentation can depend a lot on context.
The best way to think about leveraging AI powered productivity tools for work is to treat AI like a co-pilot that can build upon and help you execute your ideas, but is not a good substitute for soft skills like:
Understanding your audience
Adding important context like people’s intentions or external constraints
Prioritizing ideas and key messages
Communicating ideas in person, especially with non-verbal language
2. Making decisions in an AI-driven world
In the realm of decision-making, AI can be an invaluable ally, particularly when it comes to processing vast amounts of data and suggesting frameworks or models based on historical patterns. Yet, there are intrinsic limits to AI capabilities, especially in nuanced, real-world scenarios, where critical thinking remains as important a human skill as ever.
What AI can’t do:
Get real time data (yet): Even the most advanced AI models today have been trained on historical data that existed before a certain time. Moreover, no AI models have perfect access to proprietary or internal company data, so you will need to augment the AI’s understanding with relevant knowledge.
Understanding organizational context: An even bigger issue is that AI is not aware of the intricate, real-time context surrounding a decision, like the morale of a team facing a major corporate shift, the impact that company culture might have on a specific initiative, or the political dynamics that govern how a company’s board might react.
How AI can assist:
Suggesting frameworks: One way in which AI can be really helpful by recommending various decision-making frameworks that might be applicable to a particular scenario. For instance, if you're facing a marketing dilemma, AI can sift through previous similar scenarios and suggest strategies or models that worked in the past.
Analysis and synthesis: AI's ability to handle massive amounts of data and content means it can help you leverage existing information, like sifting through years of internal company documentation to find patterns or insights, or summarizing the points-of-view of stakeholders from meeting transcripts.
Despite the remarkable advancements in AI, the most challenging decisions often boil down to human judgment. While AI can provide you with data, predictions, and even recommendations, the ultimate call—a blend of intuition, experience, and understanding—is uniquely human. Whether it's a CEO deciding the future direction of a company or a team lead managing interpersonal conflicts, AI can inform and guide, but rarely replace human critical thinking.
3. Emotional intelligence in the workplace
Emotional intelligence (EI) or emotional quotient (EQ) refers to the ability to recognize, understand, and manage our own emotions, as well as to recognize, understand, and influence the emotions of others. Historically, this innate human trait has facilitated everything from effective leadership and team cohesion to conflict resolution and sales negotiations.
Even before the dawn of modern workplaces, emotional intelligence played a pivotal role in human societies. Tribal leaders, for instance, had to read the mood and morale of their groups, ensuring unity and shared purpose. In more recent times, managers, educators, and even parents have relied on EQ to navigate interpersonal dynamics and make decisions that resonate emotionally with their audience.
It's been shown time and again that high EQ can lead to better outcomes, whether in negotiations where understanding the other party's emotional stance can lead to win-win scenarios, or in leadership roles where fostering a positive emotional environment boosts productivity and morale.
Scenarios where AI is of limited value:
Real life emotional cues: While some new AI tools can recognize overt expressions of emotion in video, much of our daily workplace interactions take place in person. Moreover, humans will continue to be better than AI at understanding nuanced emotional cues, especially those deeply rooted in cultural or personal contexts.
Interpersonal dynamics: Situations involving layered human emotions, like grief or a mix of excitement and anxiety, can be challenging for AI to decipher accurately. An employee might be excited about a promotion but anxious about the new responsibilities; recognizing and addressing both emotions requires a level of EQ that AI currently lacks.
How AI might help us cultivate our EQ:
Emotion recognition software: Some advanced AI tools are working toward being able to analyze facial expressions or voice tones to give real-time feedback on perceived emotions. In the near future, such tools will likely be available for use in training environments to help individuals become more aware of their emotional responses and improve their empathy skills.
Virtual scenarios and role-playing: We can already use the AI chatbots that are available today to practice working through interpersonal situations or simulate a difficult conversation to hone our script. This can be particularly useful for professionals in sectors like customer service or HR.
4. Creativity and innovation
Creativity is the act of bringing new ideas into existence. As AI becomes more intertwined with our creative processes, the nature and scope of creativity are undergoing a fascinating evolution. AI will change the nature of creative work, at the same time that human creativity and originality will become more invaluable.
The rising value of human originality:
AI-driven content saturation: As AI tools democratize content creation, the digital landscape will become inundated with vast volumes of passable — but generally low quality — content. It has already become harder and harder for us to find good answers on the internet, when most content has been search engine optimized for length, not clarity. In a sea of AI-produced content, genuine human creativity—imbued with emotion, original thought, and unique perspectives—becomes a rare and valuable commodity.
Authenticity as a premium: The democratization of rapid content creation also raises concerns over misinformation and underscores the paramount importance of media literacy and critical thinking. In such a landscape, sources that consistently offer authentic and trustworthy content will stand out, becoming crucial touchpoints in a sea of AI-generated ambiguity.
How AI can assist us with creativity:
Although AI will not replace human creative work, it can still be a useful tool, particularly in the brainstorming phase of a project. For instance, AI can quickly generate a plethora of design variations, helping design clients narrow in on their preferences, saving the human designer valuable iteration time.
Try using an AI presentation maker to quickly create a draft of a presentation instead of starting from scratch. Having an outline to start from can jumpstart your ideation process.
5. Learning and adaptability
As the proliferation of AI touches all aspects of our work and personal lives and reshapes the landscape of our economy, one of the most critical soft skills that individuals can continue to nurture is adaptability.
While we can be certain that the jobs of tomorrow will look different than today, we can’t be confident about how they will evolve. For example, at the dawn of the internet, we would have had a hard time imagining professions like web development, digital marketing, or online influencers, let alone entirely new industries and platforms like social media or ecommerce. As the job market evolves, we must adapt to new skill sets to remain relevant.
Some job categories that will emerge with AI:
From content creation to curation: As generative AI produces vast amounts of content, the work will evolve from producing content to curating quality content, ensuring that what reaches the end-user is of genuine value.
AI Trainers: As AI systems become more advanced, they'll need more specialized training. Humans will play a pivotal role in refining these systems, from prompt engineering to novel ways of testing.
Ethical oversight: As AI impacts various sectors, there will be a rising demand for professionals who can ensure that AI applications adhere to ethical, societal, and cultural norms.
Historically, every significant technological advance has both eradicated and created jobs. The key to navigating these shifts lies in our ability to adapt and evolve. Embracing continuous learning ensures that we're not left behind but instead are at the forefront of these exciting transformations
In a new age reshaped by AI, our human qualities will continue to be more valuable than ever. Technology has evolved numerous times throughout history, but our capacity for critical thinking, emotional understanding, and adaptability has consistently proven to be the most undisruptable. As AI seeps into our jobs and professions, it's vital to remember that soft skills have always been, and will remain, crucial.
About the Author
Daniel Li is the founder and CEO of Plus, an AI presentation maker that helps customers design, create, and automate presentations.