9 Habits of Emotionally Intelligent People
For many, emotions are bewildering -- they can be misread, affect judgment, trigger unexpected and perplexing behavior and sometimes completely overwhelm you. Emotionally intelligent people, however, are less challenged by feelings. Those with high emotional intelligence are able to recognize and express emotion, incorporate it into intellect and manage emotions in themselves and in others. In short, emotional intelligence is the ability to read feelings and respond in an appropriate way, says Tina B. Tessina, psychotherapist and author of “It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction.” So how can you spot those with high emotional intelligence 1? The following are nine habits of emotionally intelligent people that help them excel in various aspects of their lives. So follow their lead and see where it takes you.
1. They Are Self-Aware
People with high emotional intelligence (EI) know the difference between emotions and intellect, says psychotherapist Tina B. Tessina. They use their critical-thinking skills to moderate their feelings without ignoring them or quashing them. Those with high EI are able to look at themselves honestly and see themselves realistically, Tessina says. “They know their strengths and weaknesses. They have realistic positive self-regard, which means they have reasonable standards for their own good behavior,” she says. “This self-awareness is an essential foundation of EI.” On his website, Daniel Goleman, author of New York Times best-seller “Emotional Intelligence,” suggests mindfulness as a way to build self-awareness, noting that it teaches a person to detect subtle yet important signals and recognize thoughts and feelings as they arise instead of being overwhelmed by them 2.
2. They Practice Self-Regulation
“Also known as self-control and impulse control, self-regulation is the ability to control emotions and impulses,” explains psychotherapist Tina B. Tessina. Those who self-regulate generally don’t allow themselves to become overly emotional. “They don’t have temper tantrums or hysterical outbursts, and they don’t make impulsive, careless decisions,” Tessina says. “They think before they act or react.” Some characteristics of self-regulation are thoughtfulness, comfort with change, integrity and the ability to say no. Those who know how to self-regulate “are good at delayed gratification, understanding that waiting for what they want may bring better results,” Tessina says. The self-regulation skills emotionally intelligent people possess can benefit them in both business and social situations, allowing them to remain calm, keep a clear head and focus on the issues at hand.
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3. They Are Externally Aware
Those with emotional intelligence are keenly aware of those around them. “When high-EI people are working or talking with someone, they’re not just thinking about themselves,” says Cara Day, educational and behavioral therapist and the CEO of Daychild.org 3. They recognize and understand the feelings of others. Emotionally intelligent people typically know when to allow someone a bit of space and when to offer support and sympathy. They are able to use the information they’ve gathered to “connect and succeed in a myriad of situations, especially those involving high emotions or risk,” Day says.
4. They Practice Empathy
“Empathy is the ability to identify with and understand the wants, needs and viewpoints of those around you,” explains psychotherapist Tina B. Tessina 1. “People with empathy are good at recognizing the feelings of others, even when those feelings may not be obvious.” Consequently, those with empathy typically understand and relate well to others. “They avoid stereotyping and judging too quickly, and they live their lives in a very open, honest way,” Tessina says. When people are aware of the feelings of those around them, they tend to also understand how their own actions affect others. As such, they are more likely to “exhibit generosity and benevolence and a positive attitude towards others,” Tessina adds.
5. They Are Curious
Emotionally intelligent people are curious. They ask respectful questions to glean information that can assist them and others in their needs, says Janet Zinn, psychotherapist and consultant in private practice 4. “For instance, at work they may find out what’s most important to their bosses so they can make sure to accomplish that first.” Also because they are curious, those with high emotional intelligence tend to listen to those around them. “And they want to listen,” adds Ramani Durvasula, licensed clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at California State University, Los Angeles 5. They are perpetual students, always learning from others, she says, “from the plumber who comes to their house to a philosopher at a cocktail party. And this can go a long way to building stronger connections -- and alliances -- with others in both personal and professional arenas.”
6. They Are Motivated and Motivate
Because they recognize and understand emotions so well, emotionally intelligent people can often encourage and intensify feelings -- such as interest, enthusiasm, optimism and loyalty -- in themselves and others. “People with a high degree of EI are usually motivated,” says psychotherapist Tina B. Tessina 1. “They’re willing to defer immediate results for long-term success.” They tend to be very productive, they love a challenge and they are usually very effective in whatever they do, she adds. “They understand that motivation comes from celebration and appreciation and are willing to motivate themselves and others when appropriate.”
7. They Maintain Boundaries
Emotionally intelligent people know how to set boundaries, which creates a healthy, happy and well-balanced work life and social life, says Shaelyn Pham, licensed psychologist and bestselling author of “The Joy of Me.” People with high emotional intelligence can read a situation and determine how to react in an appropriate manner, says clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula 56. “As a result, they’re less prone to inappropriate contact with co-workers, clients or others in their circle,” she says. With strong boundaries, those with high EI know “how close to get and honor the appropriate rules of engagement in a given situation,” she says.
8. They Allow for Difficult Emotions
Emotionally intelligent people are familiar with emotions -- including the difficult ones. They “recognize when they are anxious or exhausted and put off important decisions until they are calmer and better rested,” says Dave Popple, psychologist and president of Psynet Group 7. Those with high EI know to allow for difficult emotions and accept them as a part of life. “Allowing negative feelings to surface fully into awareness, with acceptance and non-judgment, supports self-knowledge and an enhanced sense of purpose,” says Tina Gilbertson, psychotherapist and author of “Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them.” Moreover, the emotionally intelligent person allows for and accepts negative emotions in others as well 28.
9. They Manage Their Emotions
Because those with high EI recognize and understand their emotions, they’re more capable of handling them. “Most of the bad behavior we engage in is because we don’t know how to handle our feelings,” says clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula 5. As a result, we might turn to harmful methods of dealing with them: food, risky sex or activities, drugs or alcohol. The ability to manage emotions -- their own emotions as well as those of others -- is why emotionally intelligent people tend to not lose ground or harm others when they are experiencing difficult emotions, leading to an overall better quality of life at work and at home, Durvasula says. Those who are capable of managing emotions competently may also be less likely to suffer from difficult ones manifesting as physical issues, such as headaches or ulcers.
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What Do YOU Think?
What is your opinion on emotional intelligence? Can you think of some habits of the emotionally intelligent that were not included here? Do you -- or does someone in your life -- have high EI? Or do you not have emotional intelligence but wish you did? Share your thoughts with the community in the comments below.
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- Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. ("Dr. Romance"); Psychotherapist and Author of "It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction"
- Cara Day, M.A.; Educational and Behavioral Therapist, CEO at Daychild.org
- Janet Zinn, LCSW; Psychotherapist and Consultant in Private Practice; New York
- Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D.; Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Professor of Psychology, California State University, Los Angeles; Los Angeles
- Shaelyn Pham, Ph.D.; Licensed Psychologist, Speaker and Consultant, Bestselling Author of "The Joy of Me"; Los Angeles
- Dave Popple, Ph.D.; President, Psynet Group; New York
- Tina Gilbertson, LPC; Psychotherapist and Author, "Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them"; Portland
- Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images