You can be the most knowledgeable, uniquely capable person on face of the planet, but if you've still got abysmal soft skills, achieving successful leadership and business performance will be a serious struggle. But the best way to improve those skills might not be to just interact with real, live people. The future of EQ development and improved interpersonal interaction ironically might lie with machines.

Talespin, which develops enterprise XR solutions, has come up with a new virtual reality technology designed specifically to let you walk through different social scenarios. The technology, which features virtual humans, is meant to provide a realistic portrayal of emotion, expression and gesture so you get more experience reading communication cues. You can see what it's like, for instance, to be in front of an employee you have to let go.

Kyle Jackson, Talespin's founder and CEO, says the new technology is necessary because of the growing impersonal nature of work. With computers, mobile and social dominating, we know tons about each other but don't get to physically interact as much. So the hope is to hone in on the soft skills that have become de-emphasized, so that people can be better colleagues, team members and leaders.

"We often treat areas of soft skill development as compliance instead of giving people the real opportunity to practice and improve," Jackson asserts. "That is where current solutions are failing to set people up for success. We need practice to develop the most challenging soft skills. We just don't get the chance to step up to the plate before we are already striking out. [...] Ultimately we learn best from failure, and with this technology, we give people a safe place to fail without the negative impact of not being perfect on their first outing in some of life's more difficult moments."

Jackson notes that the technology is still in the testing phase, but results from the pilot in Fortune 100 innovation labs have been positive, and they're consistent with first client deployments that already are reaching thousands of employees across different use cases and disciplines.

"Users who go through a virtual human training experience report feeling real emotion and empathy in response to their interactions with the AI characters. [...] This is translating to more confidence in their jobs and a greater understanding of how their responses will impact real colleagues and customers during challenging conversations. [...] The early feedback is very exciting, and we are partnering with one of the world's top consulting firms on the largest enterprise study to-date on the effectiveness of VR for soft skills training."

Jackson says a big reason they've been able to achieve such encouraging results is that, unlike other practice methods like regular video, extended reality writes to your memory as a real experience would. That means you can take what happens in the VR session and rely on it when you go back to the real-world setting.

"We're using virtual human technology to allow L&D and HR teams to make soft skills development tangible, repeatable and efficient. Our platform is providing the first scalable way to actually quantify and measure interpersonal skills, along with their improvement over time."

And while Talespin's technology is just one XR training out there, it's worth noting that XR methods have the potential to save companies as much as $13.5 billion, according to a report from SuperData Research. And 71 percent of the companies who are using XR already use it for training purposes. Applying it to soft skills is simply the latest option.

Of course, the limitation of the technology is that, while the offerings are broad, it still ultimately offers only a specific number of scenarios to practice. In real life, what you encounter isn't necessarily going to follow a strict, predictable emotional script, and it can be more or less complex than what Talespin shows happening. There also isn't the opportunity to engage in more physical ways that could make a difference in real interactions, such as taking someone's hand. But if you can stay flexible and think conceptually, the practice theoretically still could leave you with a bigger advantage than if you never went through the training at all.

So get out there. Connect. It matters. But don't think you have to jump in totally cold. You can learn, and the technology to help you do it is just getting started.

 

Published on: Mar 7, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.