Why the loss of core interpersonal skills could hamper marketers of the future

In an increasingly virtual world, are the future marketers and business leaders of tomorrow at risk of losing interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence? Tate Zanner considers how we can educate and support the next generation of marketers post-pandemic.

As anyone in marketing will know, the ability to effectively communicate with people is a core part of the job. Without that core connection in place, marketers risk creating entirely forgettable brands.

Strong interpersonal skills are the key to creating and maintaining that connection, but in our new hyper-digital age of virtual hangouts and messaging apps, we’re at serious risk of losing the skills we need to make it happen.

The new communication normal

In the age of COVID-19, face-to-face interaction is increasingly limited and virtual communication rules supreme. In Australia, 71 percent of the Australian population actively use social media, or 83 percent of the eligible population, aged 13 or more, according to the latest Digital 2020 report from creative agency We Are Social and Hootsuite.

We’re still yet to fully realise what the long-term consequences of COVID-19 will have on an entire generation’s developing interpersonal skills, but the existing research doesn’t tell a positive story.

We know that social media actually can make us less social. A study from 2009 found that when social media is used as a replacement to face-to-face interactions, young people can become more socially isolated and also hinder their skills to interact face-to-face with other young adults. Another study from 2005 found that there has been a high prevalence in social anxiety and young adults that use social media to regulate challenging social interactions or to escape the pressure and fear of those interactions.

These findings are especially concerning considering how little face-to-face interaction people around the globe are currently experiencing as a result of the pandemic.

Of course, in a pandemic, we often don’t have much choice but to communicate virtually. Thankfully, there are still many great ways to build strong interpersonal skills without being in the same room as the person you’re communicating with: skills that will be essential for the next generation of marketers.

Marketing and telephobia don’t mix

When I first started out, like a lot of business owners, I did cold calling. The practice of cold calling, although often awkward, is one of the best ways to truly understand how people tick.

Unfortunately, the fear of talking on the phone is an ever-growing problem in our age of online bookings, chatbots, and online food delivery. Even seemingly simple tasks such as calling up to book a doctors’ appointment or calling a restaurant have become fraught with anxiety and worry. The condition even has a name: telephobia.

This isn’t simply a problem faced by young children: a study of UK office workers from 2019 found that of 500 respondents, 62 percent of office-based employees experience call-related anxiety before answering the phone. The top reasons workers gave for feeling the fear were: concerns about not knowing how to deal with a query (33 percent), anxiety about ‘freezing’ on the phone (15 percent), thoughts that the person on the other end could think negatively of them (9 percent) and sounding ‘strange’ when they speak (5 percent).

In order to resolve this for the future, we need to give our children seemingly simple tasks such as booking their own hairdressing or doctors’ appointments over the phone. Regular, consistent exposure to these kinds of tasks can solve a lifetime of anxiety around talking to strangers – a critical skill for all kinds of business roles, but especially for marketing.

Building emotional intelligence

Without the ability to directly speak to our customers, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to understand their needs and desires. A good marketer is one who understands the very essence of their customers’ needs, wants and desires. If a marketer can successfully understand their audience and empathise with them, they can successfully sell to that audience.

The job of both marketing and sales is to find out what people are struggling with and help them to solve that issue. Finding your way there is in part based on a gut feeling, helped along by learning to read the small cues that people drop during a conversation or even through their digital body language. In order to reach that level of understanding, marketers need a high level of emotional intelligence.

The task will fall to parents and teachers to build these skills in the next generation of business leaders. Showing empathy, modelling appropriate feelings, and helping develop problem-solving skills are all great ways to begin building these skills in early life. And if you’re an employer or team leader, consider implementing strategies to help bring these skills out in your existing staff members.

Without the ability to communicate effectively, there’s a chance we could significantly hinder job candidates of the future, particularly in sales and marketing roles. In order to stop that from happening, it’s vital that we work on building a strong baseline of emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills – and that we don’t let the pandemic become an excuse for forgetting to work on them. After all, as the old saying goes: if you don’t use it, you lose it.

Tate Zanner is the founder of Insil.

Photo by Ivan Aleksic on Unsplash.