18 Behaviors of Emotionally Intelligent People

Emotional intelligence is a huge driver of success

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When emotional intelligence (EQ) first appeared to the masses, it served as the missing link in a peculiar finding: people with average IQs outperform those with the highest IQs 70 percent of the time. This anomaly threw a massive wrench into the broadly held assumption that IQ was the sole source of success.

Decades of research now point to emotional intelligence as being the critical factor that sets star performers apart from the rest of the pack. The connection is so strong that 90 percent of top performers have high emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is the “something” in each of us that is a bit intangible. It affects how we manage behavior, navigate social complexities, and make personal decisions to achieve positive results.

Despite the significance of EQ, its intangible nature makes it difficult to measure and to know what to do to improve it if you’re lacking. You can always take a scientifically validated test, such as the one that comes with the Emotional Intelligence 2.0 book, but unfortunately, most such tests aren’t free. So, I’ve analyzed the data from the million-plus people TalentSmart has tested in order to identify the behaviors that are the hallmarks of a high EQ. What follows are sure signs that you have a high EQ.

You have a robust emotional vocabulary

All people experience emotions, but it is a select few who can accurately identify them as they occur. Our research shows that only 36 percent of people can do this, which is problematic because unlabeled emotions often go misunderstood, which leads to irrational choices and counterproductive actions.

People with high EQs master their emotions because they understand them, and they use an extensive vocabulary of feelings to do so. While many people might describe themselves as simply feeling “bad,” emotionally intelligent people can pinpoint whether they feel “irritable,” “frustrated,” “downtrodden,” or “anxious.” The more specific your word choice, the better insight you have into exactly how you are feeling, what caused it, and what you should do about it.

You’re curious about people

It doesn’t matter if they’re introverted or extroverted, emotionally intelligent people are curious about everyone around them. This curiosity is the product of empathy, one of the most significant gateways to a high EQ. The more you care about other people and what they’re going through, the more curiosity you’re going to have about them.

You embrace change

Emotionally intelligent people are flexible and are constantly adapting. They know that fear of change is paralyzing and a major threat to their success and happiness. They look for change that is lurking just around the corner, and they form a plan of action should these changes occur.

You know your strengths and weaknesses

Emotionally intelligent people don’t just understand emotions; they know what they’re good at and what they’re terrible at. They also know who pushes their buttons and the environments (both situations and people) that enable them to succeed. Having a high EQ means you know your strengths and how to lean into and use them to your full advantage while keeping your weaknesses from holding you back.

You’re a good judge of character

Much of emotional intelligence comes down to social awareness; the ability to read other people, know what they’re about, and understand what they’re going through. Over time, this skill makes you an exceptional judge of character. People are no mystery to you. You know what they’re all about and understand their motivations, even those that lie hidden beneath the surface.

You are difficult to offend

If you have a firm grasp of who you are, it’s difficult for someone to say or do something that gets your goat. Emotionally intelligent people are self-confident and open-minded, which creates a pretty thick skin. You may even poke fun at yourself or let other people make jokes about you because you are able to mentally draw the line between humor and degradation.

You know how to say no (to yourself and others)

Emotional intelligence means knowing how to exert self-control. You delay gratification and avoid impulsive action. Research conducted at the University of California, San Francisco, shows that the more difficulty that you have saying no, the more likely you are to experience stress, burnout, and even depression. Saying no is a major self-control challenge for many people, but “No” is a powerful word that you should unafraid to wield. When it’s time to say no, emotionally intelligent people avoid phrases such as “I don’t think I can” or “I’m not certain.” Saying no to a new commitment honors your existing commitments and gives you the opportunity to successfully fulfill them.

You let go of mistakes

Emotionally intelligent people distance themselves from their mistakes, but do so without forgetting them. By keeping their mistakes at a safe distance, yet still handy enough to refer to, they are able to adapt and adjust for future success. It takes refined self-awareness to walk this tightrope between dwelling and remembering. Dwelling too long on your mistakes makes you anxious and gun shy, while forgetting about them completely makes you bound to repeat them. The key to balance lies in your ability to transform failures into nuggets of improvement. This creates the tendency to get right back up every time you fall down.

You give and expect nothing in return

When someone gives you something spontaneously, without expecting anything in return, this leaves a powerful impression. For example, you might have an interesting conversation with someone about a book, and when you see them again a month later, you show up with the book in hand. Emotionally intelligent people build strong relationships because they are constantly thinking about others.

You don’t hold grudges

The negative emotions that come with holding onto a grudge are actually a stress response. Just thinking about the event sends your body into fight-or-flight mode, a survival mechanism that forces you to stand up and fight or run for the hills when faced with a threat. When the threat is imminent, this reaction is essential to your survival, but when the threat is ancient history, holding onto that stress wreaks havoc on your body and can have devastating health consequences over time. In fact, researchers at Emory University have shown that holding onto stress contributes to high blood pressure and heart disease. Holding onto a grudge means you’re holding onto stress, and emotionally intelligent people know to avoid this at all costs. Letting go of a grudge not only makes you feel better now but can also improve your health.

You neutralize toxic people

Dealing with difficult people is frustrating and exhausting for most. But high-EQ individuals control their interactions with toxic people by keeping their feelings in check. When they need to confront a toxic person, they approach the situation rationally. They identify their own emotions and don’t allow anger or frustration to fuel the chaos. They also consider the difficult person’s standpoint and are able to find solutions and common ground. Even when things completely derail, emotionally intelligent people are able to take the toxic person with a grain of salt to avoid letting him or her bring them down.

You don’t seek perfection

Emotionally intelligent people won’t set perfection as their target because they know that it doesn’t exist. Human beings, by our very nature, are fallible. When perfection is your goal, you’re always left with a nagging sense of failure that makes you want to give up or reduce your effort. You end up spending time lamenting what you failed to accomplish and should have done differently instead of moving forward, excited about what you’ve achieved and what you will accomplish in the future.

You appreciate what you have

Taking time to contemplate what you’re grateful for isn’t merely the right thing to do; it also improves your mood by reducing the stress hormone cortisol (in some cases by 23 percent). Research conducted at the University of California, Davis, found that people who work daily to cultivate an attitude of gratitude experience improved mood, energy, and physical well-being. It’s likely that lower levels of cortisol play a major role in this.

You disconnect

Taking regular time off the grid is a sign of a high EQ because it helps you to keep your stress under control and to live in the moment. When you make yourself available to your work 24/7, you expose yourself to a constant barrage of stressors. Forcing yourself offline and even–gulp!–turning off your phone gives your body and mind a break. Studies have shown that something as simple as an email break can lower stress levels. Technology enables constant communication and the expectation that you should be available 24/7. It is extremely difficult to enjoy a stress-free moment outside of work when an email with the power to bring your thinking (read: stressing) back to work can drop onto your phone at any moment.

You limit your caffeine intake

Drinking excessive amounts of caffeine triggers the release of adrenaline, which is the primary source of a fight-or-flight response. The fight-or-flight mechanism sidesteps rational thinking in favor of a faster response to ensure survival. This is great when a bear is chasing you, but not so great when you’re responding to a curt email. When caffeine puts your brain and body into this hyper-aroused state of stress, your emotions overrun your behavior. Caffeine’s long half-life ensures you stay this way as it takes its sweet time working its way out of your body. High-EQ individuals know that caffeine is trouble, and they don’t let it get the better of them.

You get enough sleep

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of sleep to increasing your emotional intelligence and managing your stress levels. When you sleep, your brain literally recharges, shuffling through the day’s memories and storing or discarding them (which causes dreams) so that you wake up alert and clearheaded. High-EQ individuals know that their self-control, attention, and memory are all reduced when they don’t get enough–or the right kind–of sleep. So, they make sleep a top priority.

You stop negative self-talk in its tracks

The more you ruminate on negative thoughts, the more power you give them. Most of our negative thoughts are just that–thoughts, not facts. When it feels like something always or never happens, this is just your brain’s natural tendency to perceive threats (inflating the frequency or severity of an event). Emotionally intelligent people separate their thoughts from the facts in order to escape the cycle of negativity and move toward a positive, new outlook.

You won’t let anyone limit your joy

When your sense of pleasure and satisfaction are derived from the opinions of other people, you are no longer the master of your own happiness. When emotionally intelligent people feel good about something they’ve done, they won’t let anyone’s opinions or snide remarks take that away from them. While it’s impossible to turn off your reactions to what others think, you don’t have to compare yourself to others, and you can always take people’s opinions with a grain of salt. That way, no matter what other people are thinking or doing, your self-worth comes from within.

Why People Cry at Work


The stress of the workplace can bring out plenty of feelings in all of us. As an executive coach, I see joy, sadness, frustration, and disappointment on a daily basis. But while we may experience an array of emotions at work, there’s a general consensus that we shouldn’t see anyone reduced to tears, hopelessness, or defeat on the job. If you as a manager have caused an employee to cry, your primary objective is not to let it happen again. How?

First, you need to understand exactly what happened. What, specifically, caused the crying? Tears can signal sadness, or, quite frequently, they can be a cover for other feelings: frustration, anger, a sense of powerlessness, anxiety, poor self-esteem, or negative self-image. As a trained psychologist, I know that we have to consider the particular cognitive and emotional makeup of the person who’s in tears, as well as the situation that the person is in. What did that person reallywant to do: slug her insensitive boss, or walk away from a demeaning job? Those alternatives are rarely an option, so sometimes the only recourse may be to shed tears.

I’ve generally seen three primary circumstances that reduce people to tears:

The formidable manager:

It’s a good thing to be a manager who’s seen as extremely smart and highly accomplished. But remember that you may be viewed by your reports as someone who sets such a high bar that they’re quaking in their boots and sorely afraid of the consequences of not measuring up to your high standards at every turn. If that’s the case, then the simple critique you thought you’d delivered in the spirit of helping your report to develop her or his skills could have been translated as “You’ll never measure up,” resulting in a crying spell based on a sense of hopelessness. Other types of formidable managers might use fear to motivate employees, or might snap at subordinates in stressful situations, rather than using more skillful language, such as: “Hey, we’ve got a tough row to hoe here. Thanks for your effort; we all have to keep at it, but it will be worth it. Let’s stretch to reach this goal.”

Organizational culture and differences:

Like families, social groups, and geographical regions, each workplace has its own culture and expectations of behavior. In some organizations, an interaction with some edge to it is seen as the norm, and people rarely take offense. In another company, the expectation is that a critique or correction will be voiced with sensitivity and compassion. If you’re the new manager in an organization, or you’re managing a new employee, you may have erred on the side of directness when your team member was expecting more caution. I’ve often had to help a manager see that his or her definition of “calling it as I see it” equates to an employee’s sense of being unfairly attacked.

Personal life intersecting with professional life:

How many office conversations begin and end with:

“Good morning! How are you?”

“Fine; how about you?”

“Doing well, thanks.”

People don’t always reveal at work the challenges they’re facing in their lives outside of work. The person who started to cry when you mentioned that the quarterly results weren’t met may not have been hopelessly despondent about the fiscal outcome, but may have felt that everything in his or her life was currently going awry. Maybe your employee was given a diagnosis of a serious illness, experienced the loss of a close friend or family member, or was trying to absorb some other recent personal setback. Your simple observation or comment may have felt like the straw that broke the camel’s back.


Regardless of the source of your employee’s tears, it’s important to try to understand what happened. Here’s how:

First, listen. Find a safe but private place, such as an unoccupied conference room or office where you can speak quietly. Ask him what happened and listen as he tells you. It may take a while for him to formulate just what he’s feeling, so be patient. I’ve heard from formerly tearful employees that their manager’s willingness just to listen to their side restored the trust in their relationship and brought everyone to a more productive level of understanding.

Be empathic and willing to learn. Even if you don’t fully understand why your report or colleague would be upset over whatever it was that triggered the tears, your openness to consider the other’s feelings will help you work with that person more effectively and may help you to become a better manager in general.

Offer an apology if it’s appropriate. If your behavior was sub-par or could be viewed that way, let it be known that you regret your words or actions and the impact they had on your employee.   If it turns out that the tears were primarily due to a personal struggle outside of work, acknowledge that pain and extend your best wishes.

Help them save face. Female or male, few people want to be seen blinking back tears at work. It can be humiliating. You can’t take back the incident that’s already occurred, but you can pledge not to be the cause of someone else’s tears ever again. If the incident was viewed by others, and your employee agrees to it, you can make a public apology and request that your employees let you know if you’re ever again keeping people on edge this way.

Take note if this employee is particularly sensitive by nature or going through a difficult time. Then, be specific about your objectives for this particular person and strive to catch her doing something right. That effort is always a key element in keeping people motivated, instead of hopeless, through challenging times.

Look at the big picture. You’ve talked over the situation with your employee, you’ve apologized if you contributed to that person’s distress, and addressed how you can change your own behavior. You’ve also considered the stressors that your employees may experience. If you realize that you need to listen more, create new means to express your faith in your employees, or change the organizational culture, start working on it. Demonstrate to your team that this is a workplace where no one needs to shed tears, ever.

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