Emotional intelligence is malleable throughout life and can contribute to overall life satisfaction. In this Parade article, Mindpath Health’s Tara Lindahl, PsyD, discusses the common habits and how to increase EI.
You can’t go far without hearing something about artificial intelligence these days—whether it’s “the robots are coming for our jobs” or tips on how to use it to better your career. Basic intelligence, often measured in IQ test scores, is something else people tend to focus on. However, some experts argue another type of intelligence called emotional intelligence is equally if not more important.
“Emotional intelligence, or EI, is an integral part of forming and developing meaningful human relationships,” explains John Huber, PhD. “EI can help maintain long-term relationships and help people to deal with intense situations.”
What does it mean to have high emotional intelligence?
“People with high EI are keen to learn about themselves and apply it to the world around them,” Dr. Lindahl says.
How can you tell if someone has high emotional intelligence?
It’s easy to spot. Dr. Lindahl explains that people with high emotional intelligence stand out.
“They are cool in times of high stress,” Dr. Lindahl says. “It’s that person who never seems flustered and always knows ‘just what you need’ when encountering a bump in the road. They are easy to get along with and seem interested in getting to know you. They apologize, accept responsibility for mistakes, and can speak freely and calmly during a conflict.”
12 habits of highly emotionally intelligent people
One of the hallmark signs of a highly emotionally intelligent person is the ability to self-regulate. These types have made self-regulation so habitual that they can use these skills even in the most challenging circumstances, like the need to pivot on a dime at work.
“They manage their thoughts and emotions well by being in tune with their mind and body,” Dr. Lindahl says. “They do not suppress feelings but rather feel them in the moment and then let them go.
2. Effective communication
Dr. Lindahl says that highly emotionally intelligent people know how to read a room and use it to shape their words and actions. They pick up on non-verbal cues in others, like body language, and combine this awareness with regulation to bring calm to situations that would otherwise get heated, like a disagreement over finances with a romantic partner.
“They are aware of their emotions and others’ and navigate difficult conversations with facts, not feelings,” says Dr. Lindahl.
3. Meaningful work
People with high EI regularly perform work that means something to them, whether volunteering or pursuing a passion project.
“Emotional regulation requires feelings of success and mastery, and most of us will find work—paid or unpaid—will satisfy this drive,” Kristin Daley, PhD, FSBSM says.
People with high emotional intelligence don’t say yes to everything—they know their limits and set boundaries to protect their peace.
“Highly emotionally intelligent individuals continue to monitor their boundaries so that they know when they have enough emotional bandwidth to continue managing a situation versus when they may feel overwhelmed and need to take a break,” says Marty Cooper, PhD, LMHC, NCC.
5. Listening to constructive criticism
Highly emotionally intelligent people are regulated and self-aware enough to handle criticism like a pro.
“They can admit to weaknesses and see criticism as instructions on how and where to improve,” Dr. Lindahl says.
6. Embracing the possibility of failure
Failure is an option for people with high emotional intelligence—and not necessarily a bad one.
“They take the experience and learn from their mistakes,” Dr. Huber says. “They do not take one failure as a representation of who they are or how any situation will end.”
7. Waking up at the same time every day
Ever find you’re more emotional when you’re exhausted? “Regulation starts with being well-rested,” Dr. Daley says.
“Sleep is most regulated by having a consistent wake-up time every day,” Dr. Daley says.
Emotionally intelligent types build more than strength, speed and endurance when they get physical activity.
“Exercise is protective from depression, dementia and a whole host of psychological and physical ailments,” Dr. Daley says.
9. Sitting still
Quiet can feel confrontational, but highly emotionally intelligent people seek out the calm.
“Whether it is a formal practice of meditation or just the capacity to sit still and take in a sunrise, emotionally intelligent people know how to be active and inactive,” Dr. Daley says.
10. Always learning
Emotionally intelligent people are lifelong learners.
“They love learning about other ways of thinking—new ideas and concepts are their bread and butter,” Dr. Lindahl says. “They ask specific questions while listening actively to answers.”
Emotional intelligence starts with internal work.
“During self-reflection, people with high emotional intelligence ask themselves the hard questions,” Dr. Huber says. “They work on identifying weaknesses and areas that they need to improve on.”
12. Seeking in-person connection
Dr. Daley notes that humans aren’t meant to do this life thing alone, something we got a sobering reminder of during pandemic restrictions.
What to do if you’re struggling to build emotional intelligence
First, give yourself some grace. You likely didn’t learn algebra in a day. You won’t build emotional intelligence in one, either.
“If you feel like your emotional intelligence is low, the first thing to do is to commit to a slow and continuous process to increase this,” Dr. Cooper says.
Dr. Cooper suggests doing an evening check-in a few times per week.
Ideally, Dr. Cooper says you’ll keep a journal or continuous note in your phone, allowing you to see progress over time. That said, prepare for some regression.
“Change is hard, and sometimes we revert to our previous behavior,” Dr. Cooper says. “The important thing is to return to your process of reviewing your emotions and working toward being the emotionally intelligent person you want to be.”
During setbacks, remember: People with high EI embrace learning from failure.