10 Signs You Lack Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is how well you understand and react to feelings, whether they’re your own or those of other people. Someone with high emotional intelligence finds it easier to see their own weaknesses and empathize with others, while those with low emotional intelligence are more likely to be bitter and find themselves distanced from others simply because they find it more difficult to relate to them.

Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory is an example of someone with a high IQ but a low Emotional Intelligence (EI). He might be brilliant on paper, but when it comes to people, he has to rely on what he’s been taught rather than what comes naturally. Whether you’re better off with a higher EI or a higher IQ is debatable, but it can depend on your line of work; a salesperson with a high EI is likely to be more successful.

So, how can you tell if you lack emotional intelligence?

1. You have difficulty forming relationships

Both professional and romantic relationships are tricky for people with low emotional intelligence. They lack the people skills to gain (and show) respect and have people enjoy being around them, and the inability to understand and empathize with what a partner is going through can create irreparable issues.

An interviewer who wants to judge your emotional intelligence might ask you for extra references. The more you can name, and the more quickly you can name them, the higher your emotional intelligence. If you can’t think of many, then that suggests you didn’t connect as well with your coworkers as you thought.

2. You don't like change

Many people don’t like change, but the more you dislike it, the more it may be to do with your emotional intelligence. People with low EI like to have structure and rules in their lives and are resistant to anything that forces them to make changes, from relocating to a new office to having to deal with a friend’s new spouse or child.

3. You lack empathy

People who are empathetic are able to understand how other people feel and how their words and actions affect others. Someone with low emotional intelligence can unintentionally become a bully with "jokes" that the other person doesn’t see them as such. If you find it difficult to anticipate others’ needs, or sometimes find that people get angry with you and you don’t understand why, consider that it might be because of something you said – learn to pause before speaking and think about how it might be received.

4. Your success doesn't match your ability

You don’t have to be loved by everyone to be successful, but it doesn’t hurt either. Have you ever been up for a promotion and someone else was chosen instead? It could be that you were equally qualified and able, but the final decision came down to which of you worked better with others... and you lost. Those with high emotional intelligence are better able to recognize their weaknesses and work on them, and so are more likely to climb higher and faster.

5. You're rash and defensive

People with low emotional intelligence are more likely to react rather than respond – the difference being that a reaction is immediate and explosive, while a response is more calm and measured. Ask yourself:

Do you interrupt people who are "wrong"? Do you get defensive at the slightest hint of negativity about your idea? 

If yes, try to learn to let them finish before you respond, even if you spend the time thinking rather than listening. Get into the habit of listening and you might even discover that they make a good point.

6. You lack self-motivation

It can be hard for anyone to get themselves motivated, but people with low emotional intelligence can find it especially hard without the promise of something external, like a promotion or a bonus. It’s hard to make other people happy before you’ve made yourself happy, so try to put aside your negativity and self-doubt, and trust that if you motivate yourself to do the work, the rewards will follow.

7. You're not curious

Consider this. When you meet someone new, do you:

  1. Ask them lots of questions about themselves and build quick rapport?
  2. Nod politely while thinking about what you’re going to say next?

If you identify more with the latter and you’re thinking "but too many questions can look nosy", then you lack the empathy of someone with a high EI. Asking questions that are too personal or irrelevant to the situation can become an interrogation, yes, but a little to and fro is a natural part of meeting someone new; it’s a conversation, not a speech.

An interviewer may test you by mentioning a new project they’re about to start working on. One of the golden rules of interviews is to show an interest in everything you’re told, so if you happen to have low emotional intelligence and answer with "Oh, that’s nice", it could hurt you.

8. You let the opinions of others affect you

You’re right: everyone does – except some people let it affect them more than others. People with low emotional intelligence find it harder to separate logic and emotions: they allow others to ruin their good mood and they take such offense at constructive criticism that they can then hold a grudge because of it. In contrast, if someone with high emotional intelligence is happy, they’re happy and they’re not going to let anyone bring them down.

9. You can't talk about your feelings

Many people don’t like to talk about their feelings. Those with low emotional intelligence may find it difficult to even identify what they’re feeling. This can lead to misunderstandings and an inability to narrow down the cause, leaving them wallowing in their depression while their high EI counterpart identifies that they’re feeling downtrodden, works out why, and figures out what to do to about it.

10. You seek perfection

Whether it’s in yourself or others, if you’re trying to capture it then you likely have low emotional intelligence. Those with high intelligence are able to accept that perfection is impossible and avoid the pitfalls that come from trying to obtain it. Telling people they’re failing, especially if it’s only because you’re setting too-high standards, is all a part of not working well with others and not realizing – or caring – when you’re making them feel bad.

See also: How to Understand and Relate to Other People

Can you relate to any or all of these points? Do you identify more with Sheldon’s high IQ and low EI or Joey from Friends and his high EI and low IQ? Let us know what ways you’ve found to combat your low EI!

Harvard Business Review