The ability to manage our emotions, as well as be aware of the emotions of others, are critical skills to master if we want meaningful relationships in our lives. Where IQ was always touted as the key to success in life, what we now know from years of research, is that emotional intelligence (aka Emotional Quotient or EQ) is one of the most important ingredients to a happy, healthy, and connected life.
What is emotional intelligence (EQ)?
EQ is the ability to understand, use, and manage our own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict. “People with well-developed emotional skills are more likely to be content and effective in their lives, mastering the habits of mind that foster their own productivity,” says Daniel Goleman, in his book Emotional
Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Goleman argues that “People who cannot marshal some control over their emotional life fight inner battles that sabotage their ability for focused work and clear thought.”
How does a person with low emotional intelligence show up?
Generally speaking, people with low EQ cannot accurately perceive emotions in themselves and others. They are quick to blame, make excuses, judge others, and are ultimately self-destructive, particularly in the context of relationships. They can be challenging to get along with both at an individual and social level and difficult to work with because they cannot respond to even the most well-intended and constructive criticism.
Are we born with emotional intelligence?
The short answer is no. Research shows that we are not born with emotional intelligence; instead, we learn these essential skills through lived experience. Foundational blocks are laid in our childhood and our primary carers, usually, our parents, play a massive role in teaching us these skills. If you came from a loving family with emotionally intelligent parents, the likelihood is that you developed these skills growing up. However, if this was not the case, you may have struggled to navigate your emotions growing up, and the ability to forge close relationships has been a struggle most of your life. People don’t seem to get you and you them.
What do people with low emotional intelligence have in common?
Several behaviors flag a low EQ. This list is by no means exhaustive but will give you an insight into the struggles these people face. Perhaps as you read through each one, have a think about whether any resonate in your life and if yes, what you can do to change them.
1. They don’t develop meaningful relationships
Think of someone in your life that struggles to make friends. Perhaps it may be you? What we know with certainty, is that humans are DNA wired for connection. We all need meaningful relationships to thrive, be happy and live long, healthy lives. Strong and lasting bonds are formed through the mutual exchange of ideas, showing empathy, being compassionate, and offering support to the people we care about.
However, when we lack essential EQ skills, we tend to go through life alone because we find it very difficult to form friendships, especially meaningful and lasting ones.
Not only are we unaware of our own emotions and behaviours and their impact on others, but we are unable to calibrate the other person’s feelings and therefore often ‘put our foot in it.’ If the friend is courageous enough to give us feedback, we have the opportunity to make it right. However, most friends will say nothing, and instead ‘drift’ away from the friendship over time. The end result is that we miss out on the opportunity to forge meaningful relationships, which leads to self-imposed isolation.
We can, however, break this pattern by getting to know other people better through resisting the temptation to talk more than we listen. If a person feels heard, they are more likely to share more details about their life. This results in meaningful exchange and the opportunity to build trust in the relationship.
2. They are not self-aware
Last week I witnessed a road rage incident. Two drivers in front of me literally got out of their cars and had a fistfight. I was stunned, as were most of the drivers stuck at the traffic lights. I instinctively locked my doors. Neither men showed any awareness of their behaviour and eventually, after what seemed to be ages, got back into their cars and drove off.
This is an example of a lack of emotional awareness and the impact we are having on others. In addition, the inability to self-regulate is a key indicator of low EQ. With low self-awareness, we sometimes cannot identify our own emotions and what is coming up for us, and therefore consequently lack understanding of our own behaviour. Emotional eruptions of frustration, irritation, and anger are common, and we tend to react in the moment without thinking about what we are saying.
Emotionally intelligent people have a genuine and realistic understanding of themselves, their emotions, how they are showing up in life and the impact they have on other people. They are in tune with how they feel, but they do not let their emotions rule their lives. They respond to situations rationally rather than react with emotion and often when they feel their feelings becoming more intense, they push the pause button to allow themselves a bit of breathing space and get their emotions under control. They are mindfully present when responding to any situation.
Genuine introspection and getting to know ourselves can help us develop self-awareness, compassion, and social intelligence.
3. They are self-focused
Have you ever spoken to someone, and the minute you start sharing something about your life they immediately take over and start talking about themselves? Perhaps they have a better example than you or a more exciting story to tell? Because people with low EQ are unable to process or understand the emotions of others, and the need to give them space to share, they tend to draw every conversation, circumstance, and situation back to themselves. Regardless of what we talk about, they seem to have a valid reason to steer every topic of conversation back to them. A sure way for the other person to feel unheard and shut down.
Not only do they steer the conversation to their world, but they also tend to take over the conversation, asking rhetorical rather than open-ended questions. This type of questioning is usually intended to grab or keep your attention, but not hear our response. The kind of question also doesn’t allow us the opportunity to respond.
People with low EQ cannot truly open themselves up to being fully available to others, but usually will not allow others to open up, either. They are often emotionally manipulative, calculating, and inherently controlling.
This pattern can be broken by honing our skills of actively listening, instead of listening to talk. Allowing the other person to speak until they have nothing more to say, before we interject with our opinion, our story, or our point of view.
4. They are never wrong
I cannot help but think of my older brother Grant when it comes to this point. I remember once he said with a cheeky smile, “I am never wrong. Once I thought I was wrong, but I was mistaken.” Most of us probably know someone who has an opinion about everything, and they often think they have the only idea that matters and cannot possibly be wrong. And if they are found to be incorrect, they struggle to apologize and admit their mistake. In fact, they often argue with others in an attempt to force or sway them to their point of view. And if the other person doesn’t come to the party, they simply ignore them and their position as irrelevant. They usually show little sympathy, cannot empathize with others, and can sometimes be perceived as bullies.
This pattern can be broken by learning to see, hear, and feel the emotions of others and by learning to shape our own responses and reactions accordingly. Acknowledging that we cannot always be right and that sometimes other people know more than we do is crucial to building trusting relationships.
5. They are never at fault
Does this ring a bell? Do you know someone that regardless of the issue is never at fault? A low score in an exam is the fault of the instructor or something wrong with the exam. A difficult conversation with a client is often the client’s fault for not listening. A project that misses a deadline is the fault of someone else in the team.
People with low EQ struggle to accept blame for anything. They cannot see mistakes as an opportunity to learn and grow. Their inability to admit a mistake, also means they can never learn from their mistake and therefore are likely to make a mistake again. At which time they will probably blame the same scapegoat over and over again.
Receiving feedback at the best of times is difficult. Our primitive brains feel threatened when we receive feedback and tend to become defensive. Being aware of this natural inclination to become defensive is a starting point to managing feedback. Seeing feedback as an opportunity to learn something, identify a gap that you were not aware of or do something differently is gold.
We can break the pattern by acknowledging the mistake, figuring our part in it, and identifying the lessons to be learnt.
Where to from here?
The first step in developing emotional intelligence is knowing that we lack it in the first place. The good news is that emotional intelligence can be learnt and the ability to do so is entirely within our control. So if you think that perhaps your EQ needs some attention, why not start today. Maybe take the bold step of asking a loved one if any of the above behaviours pertain to you. Yes, I know it will be a hugely courageous step but do it anyway. Or perhaps you see within yourself what your floors are and that this is an area you need to spend more time focusing on.
At the end of the day, most of us want to go through life having relationships that are happy and resourceful. Healthy relationships are also critically important for our mental and emotional wellbeing.
Author: Dr. Leanne Wall