Why emotional intelligence is becoming key for consultants

18 January 2021 Consultancy.eu 5 min. read

Building emotional intelligence is becoming an increasingly important asset for consultants, especially for those that operate mainly in a highly analytical environment. According Gilbert Eijkelenboom in his new book ‘People Skills for Analytical Thinkers’, consultants need to focus on the human side of doing business if they are to demonstrate their continued importance, amid the coming wave of artificial intelligence.

The continued march of innovative new artificial intelligence (AI) technologies have brought with them a host of debates surrounding their implementation. One of the most consistent discussions on the issue is the extent to which automation, machine learning and AI may lead to job losses.

While it is still largely impossible to know exactly how much AI will impact employment over the coming decades, the agreement is almost universal that the tech's implementation might see manual labour and manufacturing jobs decline, but in professional services, it is expected to compliment rather than replace human labour.

Gilbert Eijkelenboom, Author of ‘People Skills for Analytical Thinkers’

Emotional skills for consultants

Most experts predict that consultants will find themselves freed from time-consuming and repetitive tasks by machines, and will therefore be able to spend more time on value adding, client-facing work instead. With that being said, taking advantage of such changes depends upon consultants being able to hone their human touch, to give the robotic insights AI presents them with some much needed emotional intelligence. This is precisely the lesson Gilbert Eijkelenboom’s new book ‘People Skills for Analytical Thinkers’ seeks to teach.

“Many consultants are fantastic at rational skills: analysing, problem-solving, data crunching,” Eijkelenboom explained to Consultancy.eu. “But in the current age of AI, more tasks are being automated. That's why emotional skills are becoming more important, because they cannot be easily automated. For example: communication, collaboration, and empathy. Numerous researchers have shown that emotional intelligence is a crucial skill, now and even more so in the future.”

Illustrating just why this is important, Eijkelenboom noted a 2018 paper from McKinsey & Company on automation and the future of the workforce, which found that demand for social and emotional skills will increase by 24% by 2030, compared to 2016.

Echoing this prediction that “demand for soft skills is beginning to surge,” meanwhile, research by Deloitte in 2019 found that the jobs in highest demand today and those with the highest acceleration in salaries are so-called “hybrid jobs,” which bring together technical skills with soft skills, such as communication and collaboration. In this environment, the staples of analytical consultants such as highly analytical advice, and PowerPoint slides for strategies will no longer cut it.

Eijkelenboom himself has had a diverse career to say the least – and one which has taught him the value of complimenting technical skills with soft skills. Ten years ago, he was a professional poker player, working every day to optimise his decisions based on statistics and insights in human behaviour.

Remembering that time, he recalled, “Poker is a game of analysis and math. That’s why I was good at it. The thing is, real life is more than analysis. Human interaction is different from math. You cannot optimise social situations by taking the derivative. On the contrary, the more I analysed, the more I screwed up…”

In his book, Eijkelenboom uses a metaphor to understand one’s own behaviour and the behaviour of others. He said: “You can view your brain as a set of algorithms. Your brain takes all variables in a situation as input, and processes them into an output: your behaviour. In other words, our algorithms analyse a situation and tell us what to do. The better you understand the algorithms of yourself and others, the easier your interactions are with other people.”

He continued focusing on his passion regarding psychology and numbers after his move to the consulting industry six years ago – since which he has spent three years with Cognizant, and latterly Capgemini. At the French-origin technology consultancy, he was most recently made a Managing Consultant in Data, Digital Analytics and UX, alongside his duties as a Trainer with Capgemini Academy – imparting his insights on the human side of analytics to internal and external employees.

People Skills for Analytical Thinkers

His book will open up these lessons for a wider audience. “My book is written for people who consider themselves analytical. Main goal is to help them improve their emotional intelligence (EI). The book consists of four parts: [how to] understand your own behaviour, learn to deal with your own emotions; [how to] reprogram your mind and learn new behaviours; improving empathy and collaboration, also with people who are less analytical and more emotional; and how to positively influence people around you – developing your persuasion and negotiation skills.”

In April 2020, Eijkelenboom switched to a part-time contract with Capgemini to make more time for on his own company: MindSpeaking. In his trainings he helps analytical thinkers improve their people skills.

According to Eijkelenboom, these people skills have a positive impact on employees by helping them build better relationships, boost productivity and subsequently improve their job satisfaction. Meanwhile, he pointed out that Capgemini research suggests that firms with higher EI skills in their workplace can drastically improve their performance.

Citing Capgemini’s recent study ‘Emotional intelligence – the essential skillset for the age of AI’, he suggested that organisations with enhanced EI enjoy increased market share, and reduced attrition, as well as returns on investing in emotional intelligence of up to four times the size of input.

‘People Skills for Analytical Thinkers’ is available on Amazon, Kobo, and the webshop of MindSpeaking.