Neuroscience and the return of human skills in an AI world


Ian Rheeder: Robots are here, but the future needs humans who empathise, love and lead.

We’re told to prepare for the future of work, which entails embracing technology and artificial intelligence. In hushed and ominous tones, we’re told that our job will likely become redundant in less than a decade, what with the speed of change. But sales and negotiation skills trainer and founder of Markitects, Ian Rheeder, who gave a talk on the neuroscience of persuasion at the Finance Indaba 2018 on 4 October, begs to differ. 

“We must prioritise human skills. That will ensure the sustainability of our businesses. Computers can’t negotiate, question, empathise, or lead.” 


There’s nothing that matches the human touch – and neuroscience backs this. We’re hardwired to be social creatures. We’ve evolved to read body language to sense danger. We want people to like us. We want to relate and form tribes. 

“People buy things when they like the salesperson and when they get a good feeling about them. The calibre of the person is four times more important than the product or service,” Ian said.

It’s not logic, he added, that drives clients to buy a product or invest in an item. Descartes got it wrong – it’s not I think therefore I am. It’s I feel therefore I am. He gave the example of a yellow car. Yellow is easily visible in all weather conditions and beats the other colours in terms of safety. But there are more white, black, grey and blue cars on the road. 

“Yellow is a logical choice, but people’s emotions and the way they feel about yellow, will lead them to buy a less safe colour,” said Ian. 

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Training people to tap into the power of feelings through negotiation and persuasion is therefore an excellent way to guarantee revenue growth.  Negotiation and persuasion are built on trust and the ability to ask the right questions. 

“There’s surprising power in asking the right questions,” Ian said.  

The ‘right’ questions include: What’s important to you? What bothers you most? What are your challenges? Can you help me improve my service to you?
Ian concluded: 

“If you want people to really like you, do NOT get rid of the office coffee machine even if you’re cutting costs. People need to feel important and taken care of.” 


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