Allowing people to talk reduces anxiety. It’s a form of therapy. Finding patient, disciplined listeners can be tough though. Computers, using artificial intelligence software, have infinite patience and tolerance.
In “The Computer Will See You Now” (The Economist, August 16, 2014 edition), Jonathan Gratch (Institute for Creative Technologies) has successfully explored such computers as therapists in some circumstances. Humans can learn from these circumstances. They can improve listening skills. As managers, they can learn to employ venting techniques better.
These conditions seemed to favor computers:
- Long, intense discussions
- Disclosure of unsettling graphic events
- Fears of being judged
- Strong concerns regarding confidentiality
Even though good therapists can navigate these conditions well, clients might feel differently. For instance, a good therapist could endure long, intense discussions, but the client might become anxious that he’s taking too much of the therapist’s time.
As another example, Gratch discussed computers’ potential to help war veterans. Soldiers are often reluctant to discuss battlefield experiences, the horrors and their dealings with them. While good therapists can navigate these, Gratch’s work shows that clients still initially withhold information.
Withholding information occurs because events are too unsettling or graphic, clients fear being judged or they have heightened concerns about confidentiality. Of these, avoiding judgment is very difficult for everyday listeners. This is especially true in the workplace. Yet, avoiding judgment is a very effective development tool for managers with employees.
Computer therapy isn’t as outlandish as it might seem initially. It’s similar to journaling. It offers benefits for managing stress. Journaling allows us to explore our thoughts and feelings about life’s events. The only person we express them to is ourselves, same with computer therapy. Journaling and computer therapy are both solitary, self-expressionistic experiences. Moreover, both are complementary with professional therapy. Therapists often recommend journaling to clients as part of their work with them. Computer therapy could serve the same role.
Frequently though, we focus on computers displacing workers. We blind ourselves to the lessons computers give about being human. As we program computers to be like us. We learn more about ourselves. Can we withhold judgment so we can learn?