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AI vs EQ: which matters more for businesses?

October 16, 2023

It’s the battle of the ages: humans versus machines, hearts versus minds, EQ versus AI.

It feels as though every day there’s a new piece of ground-breaking technology released, designed to make our lives easier - but with a slightly terrifying iRobot-esque undertone…

As business psychologists, we rely on technology all the time to make our work simpler, more efficient and more effective, just like many other industries. Technology makes us all more efficient and more connected, but it also threatens to make more and more roles redundant.

Self-checkouts are the most visible example, where supermarkets are reducing the number of manned checkouts in favour of using technology to create cheaper (for them) and more efficient (for us) ways of buying groceries.

In offices too, technology’s making big changes. Why hire a graphic designer when an intern can do the same with Canva? Why hire a copywriter when ChatGPT can churn out thousands of words a minute?

So, are we seeing the beginning of the end for many business roles? Or is there still a place for humans in this technological world?

That’s what we’re here to answer! Keep reading (and we swear not a single word of this was written by ChatGPT!)...

The rise of AI

AI, or Artificial Intelligence, is the name given to pieces of technology that have the ability to create something new based on past experience - like humans do. Whether that’s answering complicated questions or generating photo-like portraits of people who never even existed, AI can do things we could only have dreamt of as little as 5 years ago.

By sending simple instructions and nuggets of information to a computer programme, we can suddenly all be poets, designers, photographers, coders, authors, experts - pretty much whatever you could dream of creating, you can make reality with a bit of AI magic.

The term AI was coined way back in the 1950s, so it’s not something that we’re unfamiliar with. Since computing arrived on the scene, scientists have been working on developing AI’s capabilities. But what we are unfamiliar with and what feels slightly too sci-fi-like for many of us is just how fast AI is developing.

We’ve gone from using computing power to translate languages (ground-breaking at the time) to using it to do pretty much anything we want it to do - in what feels like the blink of an eye.

Publicly accessible machine-learning programs are giving anyone with access to the internet the ability to:

  • Write essays, emails, blog posts, song lyrics, poems and entire books from scratch with a few words of prompt (ChatGPT and others)
  • Summarise articles, legal documents, audio and image files into bite-size chunks (SummarizeBot, ChatGPT and others)
  • Answer phone calls to respond to queries, book appointments and help customers (Google Duplex and others)
  • Create visual art from scratch (Lensa, Google AI and others)
  • Create audio (music and voice) from scratch (Mulbert and others)
  • Manage business admin tasks without manual interception (Tykr and others)
  • Create professional logos and branding from scratch (Wix, Canva and others)
  • Edit images (Photoshop AI and others)
  • Write code for websites or apps (GitHub Copilot and others)
  • Create entire websites from scratch (Wix, Hotsinger, Framer and more)

Even with that non-exhaustive list of applications for AI, it’s clear that there are areas where AI could easily replace individuals or entire departments in businesses. 

If AI can write blog posts, create social media graphics, build entire websites and generate captions for videos, what’s the point of a marketing department?

If AI can keep track of expenses, manage budgets, predict financial performance and pay bills, what’s the point of a finance department?

If AI can answer phone calls, communicate with customers and book appointments, what’s the point of a receptionist?

It’s understandable that people are feeling threatened by AI and concerned that it will take over all our jobs eventually… but is that really true?

EQ: the human element

There are a hundred-and-one different iterations of it, but you’re probably familiar with the phrase that goes something like, “focus on what you can control, rather than worrying about what you can’t” - and that’s exactly the rule we should be applying to the rise of AI.

We can’t stop it. Technology will evolve whether we like it or not, because a) it’s in our DNA as humans to want to progress and b) technology makes big businesses a lot of money…

We can’t do anything about AI getting better and more powerful and more threatening to our jobs - but what we can do is develop the unique things that make us human and the things that AI can’t compete with.

And emotional intelligence (EQ) is the most important of those uniquely human things.

Why does EQ matter in the workplace?

EQ is the measure of how we perceive, evaluate, express and control emotions. It determines how we interact with other humans, how we handle things that happen to us, and how effective we are at whatever we’re aiming to achieve.

In the days of headstrong male leadership where emotions were seen as a weakness that had no place in the workplace, EQ was been labelled as ‘fluffy’ and not worth bothering with. But today, we know better.

Today, we know that leaders who display emotional intelligence are much more effective than those who don’t. We know that teams who are actively encouraged to develop their emotional intelligence perform better than those who aren’t. And we know that businesses of any shape or size who prioritise the development of emotional intelligence from board level right down to boots-on-the-ground workers are more successful than those who don’t.

We’ve written plenty about the power of emotional intelligence in the workplace, so we won’t repeat ourselves too much here - but we will leave you with this: emotional intelligence time and time again has been proven (both by researchers and by evidence we see with our own eyes in the businesses we work with) to be the difference between success and failure for businesses in so many industries - and that’s why it matters.

If you want to read more about emotional intelligence, here’s a selection of blog posts:

What is emotional intelligence?

Is there such a thing as a natural born leader?

4 ways you can manage stress in the workplace

Leadership skills for success in 2023

EQ & AI: the power couple

Machines and technology and AI have more computing power than the human brain, but they don’t have the empathy, intuition and sensitivity that make humans human. Technology has its role; humans have their role.

When we combine the two, that’s where the magic happens. When we pair AI with EQ, we create environments where productivity and efficiency reign, but not at the expense of compassion, intuition and creativity.

Emotionally intelligent humans harnessing the power of AI to make their roles more efficient? That’s the key to business success.

Why? Because it’s the best of both worlds. It’s businesses running efficiently and increasing productivity by using technology, and it’s individuals being empathetic, responsive and emotionally available both for internal colleagues and external customers or clients.

On an individual level, someone who’s able to master technology to get more done in the same amount of time as someone else is a business asset. Someone who’s able to do that and has a high level of emotional intelligence (able to manage their emotions, perceive the emotions of others, and handle moments of stress, uncertainty and challenge with ease) is an even greater business asset. These people will thrive as technology continues to develop. 

The person who sees AI as a threat and who focuses on their own needs at the expense of others’ needs and the needs of the business is not going to thrive in this new modern workplace. 

So, is your job safe from AI?

The key to thriving in a world where AI is infiltrating the workplace is to focus on developing the one thing AI can’t replace: your emotional intelligence.

Thankfully for us all, emotional intelligence isn’t something that you’re either born with or not born with - sure, some of us are predisposed to have naturally higher levels of emotional intelligence, but it is something that can be actively developed over time.

Emotional intelligence covers a huge range of soft skills, but the most important ones in the workplace, particularly for leaders, are empathy, flexibility and emotional self-awareness. Developing those three areas of emotional intelligence will allow you to work effectively in teams, communicate effectively with team members and/or clients, handle stressful situations well and remain consistent in times of uncertainty and change.

How can you develop those soft skills and keep yourself safe from being replaced by machines? That’s a question for another blog post - which, thankfully, we’ve already written! Find out how to develop the 3 traits of emotionally intelligent leaders here.

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