Updated: Dec 20, 2020
I’ve just lost $45,000 playing online poker. Ouch. All of that money wasted in one night. I imagine the trip around the world I could have taken instead. From the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro to skydiving in Sydney. From tuna sashimi in Tokyo to hiking in the Himalayas. Everything flushed down the drain. I feel frustrated. Angry with the cards. Disappointed with myself.
I’m still clicking my mouse, but my mind has long since switched off. Slowly, the sun rises and peeks through the blinds of my student flat. I’m exhausted. The only thing that keeps me awake is my unwillingness to accept my record loss.
That was September 2, 2009. For 2 years, I played online poker at a professional level. I loved it. I still see myself sitting behind my 30-inch monitor, smiling. In online poker, I could optimize every decision based on statistics. When I clicked on a player’s icon, a window with 120 different numbers appeared, which helped me understand how the other person plays.
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 optimize social situations by taking the derivative. On the contrary, the more I analyzed, the more I screwed up. “Does this person like me?” “What should I say next?” “Is this good, smart, funny enough?” I was always overthinking. Also, I was shy, and that led to awkward situations.
I will never forget one day in my first year of university. We were sitting in a small group to agree on the next steps for our project. Like always, I had been mostly silent. Then suddenly, a girl in the group asked, “Gilbert, do you agree?” Before I could open my mouth, another guy said, “He doesn’t have an opinion anyway.” The guy smiled at me. I just looked at him, not knowing what to say. There were no statistics above his head that told me how to respond. The only response I could come up with was a poker face. I didn’t show anything on the outside. But on the inside, it felt like the guy had twisted a knife in my heart.
While the group conversation proceeded, I zoomed out. I looked at my watch, counting down the minutes of the meeting while I thought, “This is not how I want to live...” Something had to change, but I had no idea where to start.
Challenges of Analytical Thinkers
Back then, I didn’t realize it, but now I know I wasn’t the only one struggling. Many people overthink things in social situations. In the years before writing this book, I got so passionate about the challenges of these analytical thinkers that I wanted to know everything about them. That’s why I interviewed:
· 118 analytical thinkers
· 45 people in business roles who work with analytical thinkers
· 3 psychologists
I define “analytical thinkers” as individuals who state that at least 10 out of the following 20 words describe their character. How many do you recognize in yourself?
From the interviews I held, I discovered that many analytical thinkers struggle with the same challenges. Most of these challenges relate to soft skills: people’s ability to communicate with each other and work well together.1 In the current era of technology, your analytical skills are incredibly valuable. But you may have found that it’s challenging to communicate with people who don’t have the same level of analytical skills. And that’s where soft skills come in handy. But are there other reasons why soft skills are
important in your career? Let’s ask Deloitte, McKinsey, and the academic world.
Why should you care about soft skills?
Research by Deloitte (2019) shows that the jobs in highest demand today and those with the highest acceleration in salaries are so-called “hybrid jobs”.2 Hybrid jobs bring together technical skills with soft skills, such as communication and collaboration.
The 2018 LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report presented similar findings: training for soft skills is the number one priority. The report highlights communication (#2) and collaboration (#3) among the most important soft skills to learn.3
McKinsey observed this trend as well. According to a paper from McKinsey Global Institute (2018) on automation and the future of the workforce, demand for social and emotional skills will increase by 24% by 2030, compared to 2016. The paper stated, “The demand for soft skills is beginning to surge.”4
Katy Börner, a distinguished professor of engineering and information science, drew a parallel conclusion. From the academic research that Börner led and published in 2018, they found that “in an increasingly data-driven economy, the demand for ‘soft’ social skills, like teamwork and communication, increase with greater demand for ‘hard’ technical skills and tools.”5
If you aren’t yet motivated to develop your soft skills, I’ll give you three more reasons why it’s a good idea to start today:
1) Soft skills are relevant in every job that requires collaboration with others.
2) Technology is continually changing. Some of the programming languages that were in high demand in the past are about to go extinct. In contrast, soft skills will always stay relevant.
3) Soft skills help you in all areas in your life, whether it’s to make new friends, improve your dating life, or deepen the relationships with your family.
Have you ever been rejected for a job, passed over for promotion, or seen as “too serious” by the people around you? In that case, more advanced soft skills would have made your world look different.
In this book, I use the term “people skills” because it’s clear that these skills are all about people. Namely, the ability to communicate and collaborate with other people and the ability to influence them. Your people skills might be well-developed. Or perhaps you’re at the start of your journey. In either case, I have been in your shoes.
While I was playing poker, I thought I faced many tough decisions. Should I make a small bet and hope the other guy won’t call my bluff? Or should I shove all my poker chips to the middle, risking the equivalent of a four-week holiday?
Tough choices. But in the third year of my studies, I had a decision of a different order in front of me. Three friends—fellow poker players—decided to move to Malta for a year. They asked me if I wanted to move in with them. A beautiful apartment near the beach, in a country free of poker taxes. How tempting.
Should I bet on poker? Or go all-in on another direction in my life?
After a lot of thinking—because, yes, that’s who I am—I decided not to go to Malta. Instead, I quit poker completely. Looking back, I’m happy I did. It turned out to be the start of a transformation. I decided I wanted to get better at interacting with people and started experimenting.
Instead of raising a bet on the poker table, I raised my voice in social situations. Instead of hiding my emotions behind a poker face, I tried to express them. Instead of covering my cards, I strived to be more open.
Along my journey, I have read over sixty books on human behavior. The books were helpful, but they never taught me how the lessons applied to analytical thinkers. That’s why I started trying out new things. It was hard. I failed miserably. Many times. But step by step, I got a little better at interacting with others. And, importantly, I discovered a systematic approach to improve my people skills as an analytical thinker. A way to benefit from my logical mind, instead of having it block my potential to connect with others.
I can still feel the pain when I think about the remark that the guy in my university group made. But fortunately, everything has changed. When I see a room full of new people, I can enter with a smile, instead of having my legs shake from anxiety. Now, after my transformation, colleagues see my interpersonal skills as my biggest strength. Nowadays, I get up much, much happier than I did before I started working on my people skills.