Common knowledge would have us believe that we should be chasing down new tech skills so we can apply for the jobs that will be needed in America’s future economy, like learning how to code or taking a course in graphic design—but a new study suggests that mechanical, technological, and thinking-focused skills might not be the most valuable things to invest in after all. Rather, the future “feeling economy” is likely all about getting in touch with your emotional intelligence.

The study, published in the most recent issue of the California Management Review, found that artificial intelligence will soon be able to solve problems and analyze data better than humans ever can. In fact, University of Maryland marketing professor and study author Roland Rust, Ph.D., said in a news release that AI has already surpassed humans when it comes to not only completing rote physical tasks like manufacturing, repairs, and crunching numbers (“mechanical intelligence”) but also thinking-related tasks like analyzing and interpreting information to make decisions (“thinking intelligence”). Thus, our greatest sell as human workers will be our ability to tackle the things AI can’t: our internal, emotional states.

“It means that if humans want jobs, they better get good at feeling,” Rust explained. “Things like interpersonal relationships and emotional intelligence will be much more important.”

We’re already in a feeling economy.

Rust and his fellow researchers pulled U.S. Department of Labor occupational data about millions of American workers in thousands of job types. They looked at their daily tasks and what each worker perceived to be the most important skills in their workplaces. Then, the researchers evaluated the changes that had occurred in people’s jobs and people’s evolving perceptions of their jobs between 2006 and 2016.

What they found was an overwhelming shift in importance from practical, quantitative skills to feelings-focused tasks, which involve “the capacity to recognize, emulate, and respond appropriately to human emotions.” 

For example, Rust said a financial analyst job is much more feeling-oriented and less quantitative now than it was 10 years ago. “People are using more AI-powered tools that can do a lot more of their analytical work for them, and what’s left in their job is to hold people’s hands and to reassure them about things like stock market dips,” he said.

The study found that the most desirable hires today are able to quickly identify and manage others’ and their own emotions; compared to 10 years ago, today’s HR departments prioritize hiring people with emotional intelligence skills, negotiation skills, and people management skills.

The researchers expect that this move away from a mechanical economy and thinking economy and toward a feeling economy will only continue to speed up in the next two decades. They also expect that these new needs will trickle down into our education system. Rather than focusing on quantitative skills like multiplication and division (which can now be done on a cellphone), teachers may begin teaching children to interact better with one another and to develop stronger emotional intelligence—a welcome change considering how fundamental these skills are for all aspects of our lives, both in our careers and outside them. 

Prioritizing emotions in the workplace.

If emotions are not your strong suit, there are ways to develop those skills. Rust recommends focusing on managing your relationships at work in an empathetic and emotionally intelligent way, which is a skill you’ll be able to take to any job in the future. If you’re a manager, consider becoming more conscious of feelings and more focused on the people around you, versus the tasks at hand.

Learning to validate others is also an important part of emotional intelligence, clinical psychologist Amber Groomes, Ph.D., recently told health news. This means identifying why someone feels the way they do and thinking about why their feelings make sense based on what they’re going through.

“When we validate, we are communicating that we really understand another’s emotional experience,” Groomes explained. “We do not have to agree with someone’s emotion in order to understand why they are feeling that way. It’s the difference between saying, ‘I understand how you feel; I felt that way too when I was fired’ and ‘I can see how you would feel confused since your boss never gave you a warning about that behavior.'”

Here are a few more ways to improve your emotional skills and how to spot someone who’s lacking EI.

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