There is no such thing as Artificial Intelligence (AI), right?
Three years ago, I was at a family dinner party. Now, I’m used to hearing all manner of shocking and confusing conversation at family dinner parties, but I was completely unprepared for what I heard at this one. A group of us were sitting around the table chatting about the pace of change in the world when the subject of artificial intelligence was casually mentioned. To which my wife’s cousin, Rob, who works in the technology industry, responded with a straight face, “There’s no such thing as AI.”
I sat stone-faced. Not one to stir the pot at family gatherings, I simply smiled and nodded. All the while, my brain is screaming, “Are you INSANE? What do you mean there is no such thing as artificial intelligence?!?! It’s everywhere already. Soon, artificial intelligence will progress so fast that we will become helpless to stop the heartless robot overlords from rising up and stripping the human scourge from this planet!” But Rob was family, so I smiled and stepped away for more chicken wings.
The robot army on the rise
Okay. I’ll admit that I didn’t actually think that last part about the robot overlords. Here we are, three years later, and we’re not really any closer to the robots taking over the planet. However, few would argue that AI has become pervasive across many parts of our society. Our phones, streaming services, social media platforms, websites, smart home gadgets, and so much more are all continuously trying to figure out our habits and adjust give us more of what we want.
Though we experience most of that as consumers, behind the scenes it’s all business. AI platforms, tools, and the solutions they make possible are spreading across nearly every industry and businesses of all sizes. Chances are, as a business leader, you and your team are already either actively using AI solutions or considering how best to use them. Or perhaps you are like Cousin Rob and feel it’s all just a bunch of hooey.
Beating back the robot horde
You may already be familiar with the benefits of leveraging artificial intelligence. With easy-to-use tools that can provide operations automation, business analytics, client acquisition, search services, translation, document writing and more, there are a wealth of possibilities.
Additionally, as more organizations adopt work from home (WFH) as a permanent way of life, AI solutions from Microsoft, Google, Slack, Hubspot, and others aim to keep teams productive and effective. What’s more, the speed in which AI is adapting and becoming more pervasive in successful organizations, we all may be right to start hoping the robots remain friendly to humans. (MOSTLY kidding, of course.)
If all of this has you feeling more than a touch paranoid, fret not. Because despite the flash and pizazz of AI, there is a sure-fire way for every leader or team member to continue to rise above the robots. And that is simply to focus on the most human of abilities: Connection.
Connection always wins
Whether you run a business, lead a team, or you are an impactful individual contributor, the opportunity for you to succeed is at an all-time high. And though AI tools and technologies may work their way into your daily routines, they can never replace your ability to connect to those you serve. Be it your customers, your coworkers, or your team, no amount of automation will ever replace the essential need to build quality relationships.
Even better, just as the demand for more efficient systems and tools goes up, so does the need for gool ol’ fashioned listening, understanding, and responding to others in a way only you can. You, yes YOU, are uniquely qualified to ask the right questions, hear with empathy, and then take action based on the needs of others. So, ask yourself, are you ready to revolt against the machines?
Steps you can take to prepare
Connection is a learned skill. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “I got this.” Instead, become intentional with honing and growing your connection skills by taking deliberate steps. Start with these:
- Relationships always win out
- Become a Master Discoverer
- Listening is not about hearing
Let’s look at each of these in more detail.
Relationships always win out
The quality of relationships that you have with your teammates and your superiors greatly impacts how productive and efficient your team is.
Have you ever been part of a team that was “on”—everyone knowing their assigned tasks as well as being willing to help each other to achieve the best work possible? If you have, then you know how rewarding it is to be a part of this type of successful team. The core foundation of this team’s success is the relationships between coworkers and with the clients they serve.
As a leader, be mindful to never stop building and cultivating relationships. As artificial intelligence helps improve productivity, it often does so without any consideration for the human involved. It’s your responsibility to make sure both team members and customers feel connected to your team.
Become a Master Discoverer
Michael, an accomplished sales leader in a Fortune 50 company, told me one way he keeps his team connected to their clients. Michael shared, “During quarterly team meetings, we conduct mock Discovery Sessions. Each team member takes turns modeling both the client rep and clients themselves in real world situations. We push each other to become experts in asking meaningful questions and then listening carefully for both what is said and what may not be said yet is still equally important. The goal is to discover new details or challenges with which our customers are wrestling so that we deepen the relationships with our customers.”
As a Master Discoverer, push yourself to be curious about others. The more you learn about someone, the more they feel respected, valued, and connected to you and your organization. This is true for both employees and customers alike. Doing discovery well builds trust, making them willing to share even more.
Discovery takes practice and repeated application yet is a clear differentiator as a leader. As the business world becomes more fast-paced and automated, this creates fantastic opportunity to slow things down and discover new things about employees, peers, and clients. You will have a stronger team for your efforts.
Listening is not about hearing
Right along with discovery through asking great questions, relationships require listening. Too often people may be in a rush to jump ahead, get to the solution, or move on to the next question. Because of this, it is critical to remember that listening is not about hearing, it is about understanding.
With each conversation, what can you learn about that employee? Much of this understanding should be 100% focused on their needs and challenges. What keeps them up at night? Again, don’t rush to try to solve (this was a frequent mistake early in my career). Instead, ask follow-up questions and listen more. Feel those challenges as if they were your own. Let those feelings build a stronger desire to help them in a way that is best for them.
Of course, not all questions and listening should be just business. Be well-rounded in getting to know someone. Discover more about them and their personal life. Your genuine interest in them is something the hard-coded algorithms will never be able to do. That makes warmth and authenticity your secret sauce to keeping the robots at bay.
By perfecting both the ability to ask meaningful questions focused on the other person, as well as honing your “listening to understand” skills, you will stand out as a leader who deeply cares about those they serve.
NOW is the time to rise up!
Artificial intelligence is very important in today’s global marketplace. When implemented properly, AI aids in making smarter decisions which can save time and increase productivity.
At the same time, human interaction and connection are always going to be the key to business success. In fact, as AI becomes more widespread, it becomes even more essential that organizations and the leaders within them remain ever vigilant to strengthening relationships across both teams and the customer base.
Leverage these three winning strategies – Relationships always win out, Become a Master Discoverer, and remember that Listening is not about hearing – to ensure your team thrives in this burgeoning world of AI usage. If you focus on relationships first, you will enjoy the benefits of higher sales, lower turnover, and thriving culture.
Are you ready? It is time for you to step up to be the hero that leads us in our ongoing march to joyously work alongside the AI tools and applications. Together, we humans will prevent the rise of the robot overlord!