Professional Listeners?

Posted On: August 7

shutterstock_254737258During my recent trip to New Zealand I gave a number of talks on how technology is going to dramatically disrupt every type of business. Part of my presentation focused on advanced robotics and how many jobs will be eliminated by robots and algorithms. Here is a question that I just received from one of the folks that attended a session I delivered to a group of New Zealand entrepreneurs.

Hi John,

I didn’t get a chance to talk to you after your presentation, but I was really curious about the balance between EQ and robotics. You mentioned a bar where the bartender was replaced by robots and how many other service jobs will be. How will this feed into our EQ? Many people go to bars etc. to talk to the bartender about how horrible their boss is. Do you think that as technology progresses more humans will turn to the virtual world for emotional conversations rather than the real world?

Take hotels for example, many can differentiate on price because of the quality of service they provide and the personalized touch they give. I think empathy is one of the key qualities needed to provide customer satisfaction. If a lot of these employees are replaced by robots for the sake of efficiency, how will user experience and emotions play into this?

I would really appreciate it if you could expand on this a bit.

My reply:


Wow, really great questions, with complex answers.

It is my opinion that many jobs such as bartenders and hotel receptionists will be replaced by robots, it is already happening. However, I completely agree with you that these are positions that traditionally act as service providers that directly connect with customers. I do not believe that computers, even with highly advanced AI, will be able to make a true “human connection.” So perhaps there will be new jobs for people that do nothing but sit and talk with other people about how horrible their boss is, politics, religion and other topics that people like to discuss. They will be trained not to push their own opinion, but to simply be there to listen to the other person, connect with them and show empathy. Actually, I just thought of this idea while I was writing you this note and it is something I’m going to look into with a lot more focus, service jobs being replaced with “professional listener” as a new career. Interesting?


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  1. In My blog,, I speak to this. “Great Sellers are Strategic Listeners.” They take Listening and use the Information to form Questions. People who Don’t want to talk to Humans in General typically don’t want a Real Answer, they just want to talk. People who are really interested will answer questions that takes the Buyer and Seller down a Mutual Path.

    1. You have hit on an important idea that came to my mind several months ago:

      Google can answer just about any question, but it can’t ask a simple question.

      Something to think about…

  2. I love it! We do need professional listeners. It’s a skill that is sorely lacking in today’s world and workplace. However, it saddens me to see how technology is replacing human jobs. It cannot substitute for human connection. I abhor automated calls and websites when I want customer service. People don’t go to bars for a machine to dispense a drink. It’s social. Otherwise, they’d go to their liquor store and drink at home. Even the old time Automat had a human behind the glass making the sandwiches. Technology can provide many solutions but as technology replaces more and more job functions there will be a greater hunger for human interaction. And yes, an intense desire for a person to listen to them.

    1. Diane, I was reading the news this morning and came across a story about advanced chat bots, artificial intelligence based virtual assistants. Think of Siri from Apple. However, they are now starting to use advanced technology to help the chat bot understand your emotions, recall past conversations with you, and display a small level of empathy. Probably years away from ever becoming truly efficient, but scary to realize they are starting to work on robots that have some level of emotional connection!!!

  3. John, you’re right, it’s already happened. The AI doesn’t need to be sophisticated at all. It doesn’t need to “trick” the person. People simply need to become comfortable with the change. Remember there used to be elevators operators? In the glory days they could provide directions and insight to the visitors to the building. What would happen if the elevator every broke? What would we do without the elevator operator?

    Progress is pushed along by fear of the stranger being greater than the fear of the technology. We cling to our smartphones because that’s what we prefer. Remember in the glory days when you would talk to someone on the plane? Now it’s headphones in for the whole flight with an occasional nod to the flight attendant. So much for getting a middle seat to sell to twice as many people.

    We cling to our smartphones because that’s what we enjoy. I want to pay for my hotel room on my phone 5 minutes before i need it. And then use the phone NFC to unlock the hotel room door. Why staff it with a robot? Eliminate the position entirely.

    Forget the bartender, how about all those students studying to become pharmacists. The job will be gone in a decade with self dispensing ATM like machines.

    And if lack of personal interaction doesn’t bother you enough already, how about the robotic seals replacing caregivers in nursing homes.
    Before you say, that’s creepy, realize the seal is the smartphone for the elderly. We all touch our smart phones more than we touch our loved ones.

    1. 100% with you, and shocking to realize that the smartphone was introduced in 2006 – only a decade ago – and they are nearly ubiquitous worldwide and we have already downloaded more than 2 billion apps. That happened in just 10 years – think about what will happen in the next 20 years.

  4. John: Thanks for all you have done and your willingness to share your wonderful cutting edge work, information and data! I served several 1,000-3,000 employee holding corps. and also the hospitality industry as the #1,#2 or #3 executive for 20 years. I founded my own consulting firm: turnarounds, reorgs and also private consulting /equity /M&A transactions for HIGH,HIGH net worth business owners/ Resort/casino Developers. John the only way/reason these executives/owner, (BOD) would call me/engage me was that I had developed a strong level of personal trust which took many years to cultivate. More than once I would assist a client/friend and bring a project to the table- $60mm hotel to GC and not always take a 3-5% fee or take just my expenses and a small, small fee. As I developed these personal/professional relationships over time, dinners, public and private outings; I began to get so many calls/ request that at any one time I might have $500mm in ongoing consulting project at any one time. My clients would send one of their planes for me and flew me any where I needed to be. John, I wasn’t a heavy hitter but I always shot straight gave 110% and I would get calls at 3am from a multimillionaire or a Billionaire Developer in South beach who many times just wanted to talk. More than once they had certainly had a few cocktails and we would end up talking 2 hours. John, I was actually being paid $1mm+ fees in 2010 representing all 4 clients in the deal at one time 2 Billionaires and 2 multimillionaires. My brother was murdered in late 2010 and I called my clients and bowed out from any future projects, I suggested they use several trusted associates. I reflected back on the ride if you will and knew when I begin my educational and professional journey that my goal was not to end up where I did. But it was deep personal relationships with my first high net worth employer who gave me positive Personal reference for years and after spending a great deal of time personally and professionally it seemed to continue to grow by an unreal multiple. I closed my small consulting practice 6 months after my brother’s untimely death.Recently several close friends and family have approached me about jumping back into the FIRE! I know that many of the names have changed, some retired some passed away. I realized that my entire business was built and run on nothing but positive personal relationships and 100% trust. And to begin to rebuild new relationships or to even rekindle old relationships would take more energy than I now have. John I amazed at all things technology; but when dealing with high net worth clients and representing them as well as their families I am not sure their is currently a technology which can instill the personal trust which is developed over time.
    Dannitte H. Mays, IV

    1. Dannitte – thank you for the very thoughtful input. This is my 22nd year working as a speaker, trainer and consultant and I have several clients who I have worked with for more than 18 years. Like you, this was all built on strong personal trust. Some of them never ask me what I’m going to charge for project, they simply ask me to come and do it and send them a bill for whatever I feel is fair. Several times they have sent me more than I have asked for. Computers are extremely fast, they can give you highly detailed and accurate information, they can replace many, many careers, but they will never replace the genuine caring and concern that builds real trusts. I wish you every possible success as you get back into the game!!

      1. John: Thank you so much for your kind response! I appreciate everything you are doing and will keep anopen line of communication if/when I amable to jump back into the game as you know only to well; it’s those challenges which get your blood flowing!
        Dannitte H.Mays, IV

  5. This is a great subject to explore! I think it’s similar to what’s happening in the personal care field. As marriage rates plummet and more people are living alone, the number of Americans who get massages and other services to bring “touch” back to their lives is increasing. The same thing will happen here. As routine jobs are taken over by automation – or robots – we’ll see different jobs and services emerge to fill the gaps for humans’ emotional needs.

    1. There is already a huge shift in Japan to using robots for eldercare. They simply don’t have enough people in the healthcare industry to provide personal attention for their increasingly large number of older people. And it turns out that after only a few months many of the seniors actually like their robots better than the live healthcare attendants!!! They are more reliable and are never in a bad mood.

  6. Bartenders are not going away. Part of the charm of going to a bar is it’s ad hoc. If you connect with the waitstaff the serendipity is a pleasant surprise. Professional listeners already exist. We call them therapist.

    No doubt truck, cab and any number of drivers will be automated out of work in the next decade. But bartenders. Nope that’s not going to happen. Like spouses, people are going to want a real connection.

  7. The concept of “professional listener” has a very interesting discussion surrounding it. HR has changed from a mentor/adviser to compliance manager. When was the last time you conducted, ordered/approved or were given an exit interview? Do remote managers really have time of desire to listen to their team? How can we ensure that our stake holders will remain engaged? Will they trust us enough to tell us that they are becoming disengaged? Who has the time or bandwidth to truly mentor a future rock star?

    1. Martin, you are describing a problem I see companies all over the world. Perhaps this is one of the major reasons that more than 70% of people are not engaged in their work.

  8. this sounds like potentially a subcategory of the counseling profession. Counselors and therapists are professional listeners who are trained to ask the right questions. AI could do this, but I think positions requiring high EQ have a little longer than some of the other professions you’ve mentioned.

  9. Heather, actually they have already created chat bots that can mimic the questions that a therapist would ask, and there are websites where you can hire a therapist to talk to you for an hour, I don’t think the AI will ever replace personal connection, but it is going to have a big impact on that industry. Fascinating.

  10. As someone that earns a living analyzing marketplace trends, I can you tell you that you are right John. AI will indeed cause a change in the labor force. For example. The banking system, through fintech solutions, continues to integrate technology into their business model. One big shift is at the teller level, where AI and other technology is causing banks to reduce human staff in lieu of self-service technology. However, one place that the banks are noticing a gap is in the experience. You see if you want efficiency you use technology. But, if you want to create an experience you use the human element.

    In reality, I believe we will see hybrid models for the next 5 years, where technology does take over some job functions but is paired with humans in others.

  11. Thank you for your article, John! You are absolutely right, and Professional Listening is a new, but much-needed service for all the reasons you listed.

    It is a very basic human need – to receive genuine human attention, to be listened to. With our world becoming increasingly digital, it is more and more difficult for people on all social levels to have this basic need fulfilled.

    I provide Professional Listening service in Vancouver, and many of my clients say that they haven’t felt so valued for a long time. I think this is because everyone needs to be heard, and human connection is in such short supply these days.

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