Several years ago, I received an email from someone who had taken our Emotional Intelligence Test on Queendom. He wasn’t very happy that he had scored low on the test, and expressed his discontent by cursing us out and calling us names that I will not reiterate in detail here, as this is generally a PG blog. However, it was something along the lines of, “How could I score low on your test? You know nothing about me, you bleepity bleep bleep bleep.” As I read through the email and felt the unrestrained hostility leap off the page, all I could think was, “But aren’t you just proving your results right by behaving this way?” And that’s the thing: Emotional intelligence isn’t just about knowing how to deal with your emotions or other people’s emotions. It ties into many different aspects of our attitude, our behavior, and our life. In the case of this person, his difficulty dealing with his emotions, along with his inability to recognize his strengths and accept his limitations are reflections of the fact that his EQ needs improvement. And I am not talking from my high horse here either. I know that there are many aspects of my own emotional intelligence that need improvement, including my inability to deal with conflict, to cope with hardship and stress, to assert myself, and to deal with emotionally charged situations.
“Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power, and is not easy.”
So while there are obvious signs of underdeveloped emotional IQ (e.g. discomfort with emotions, inability to empathize with others, awkwardness in social situations), there are other less evident “symptoms” too. Here are some of them, according to our data:
People who score below average in emotional intelligence are more likely to…
- Struggle to bounce back from rejection, failure, and hardship.
- Expect the worst from situations or from other people.
- Insult themselves or verbally beat themselves up when they make mistakes.
- Feel an overwhelming sense of helplessness and ineptness.
- Be ashamed of how they look or behave.
- Hate change.
- Be pessimistic or to avoid getting their hopes for fear of disappointment.
- Have compulsive habits that they struggle to break.
- Quit a goal if it doesn’t come easily to them.
- Back down from challenges.
- Find it difficult to accept compliments.
- Lack ambition.
- Feel like they don’t deserve success.
Our statistics also revealed that people who score low on emotional intelligence are less likely to self-monitor, or to take the time to consider the consequences of what they say and do. For example, some of the low scorers felt that there was nothing wrong with:
- Telling a depressed person to toughen up.
- Arguing in public.
- Telling a homeless person to get a job.
- Offering overweight strangers tips on how to lose weight.
- Asking a woman when she’s due if she looks pregnant.
They were also more likely to have difficulty picking their battles, and often reacted with unrestrained hostility to even the smallest annoyances, including:
- Being stuck in a cab during rush hour.
- Waiting at the doctor’s office.
- Dealing with bad weather.
- Seeing someone in the “8 items or less line” with more than 8 items.
“Our emotions need to be as educated as our intellect. It is important to know how to feel, how to respond, and how to let life in so that it can touch you.”
I am a firm believer that all forms of intelligence can be improved with dedication and practice. Here are some EQ tips:
- Recognize emotions for what they are. We have been taught that emotions are reactions, often uncontrolled, to situations or people around us. This isn’t the case. Your emotions are a signal; they are messages that have the potential to offer you important information if you’re willing to take the time to reflect on what you are feeling. So when you get upset with your partner because he/she doesn’t wash the dishes, or with your colleagues when the printer is always missing paper, stop and ask yourself: “Is my anger really related to the dishes/paper, or something more?” Maybe you’re upset because deep down you feel disrespected, or feel that people take advantage of you. Maybe you’re using the dishes/paper situation to vent your anger about a more serious, unresolved issue. The point is, don’t let negative emotions simmer (or boil over) unchallenged. Milk them for information.
- Emotions and logic are not enemies. Many people believe that emotions have no place in the decision-making process, but the truth is, your emotions (or intuition, gut instinct, etc.) and your logic can provide useful information when making a decision. The bottom line is that emotions and logic are two sides of the same coin: Emotions are a message, while logic is the means in which we interpret that message. Moreover, your emotions may offer information to you that is inaccessible to your logical mind. After all, how many times did you get a gut feeling that something was wrong and it ended up being on target?
- Let your emotions out. A study on life satisfaction and negative life events revealed that people who wrote out what was bothering them or who talked things out with someone showed an improvement in mental health and life satisfaction. So when something is bothering you, don’t keep it locked up inside. A problem can often feel less intense when we can share that burden, so to speak. Release all your negative feelings and thoughts in a journal. Talk to a trusted friend, a spiritual leader, a therapist, or join an online community that focuses on helping others get through personal and emotional difficulties. There is always help out there.
- Don’t fall victim to the “Fundamental Attribution Error”. We as humans are forever trying to figure out the causes of other’s actions. All too often, we attribute bad behavior on the part of others to dispositional rather than situational factors. For instance, writing someone off as a jerk for snapping at you rather than looking for external causes (e.g. being sick, having been fired that day, hearing bad news, etc.). As a result, we are less forgiving than many situations call for. Try to understand that others are under just as much pressure and stress as you are and as a result, their behavior may not always represent who they are as people.
- Refuse to be a victim. Martin E.P. Seligman, renowned author and noted expert on positive psychology, states that the feeling of being a victim leads to learned helplessness. Basically, if you blame your problems on other people or circumstances, you will avoid taking personal responsibility for your life. While it may be true that there are things beyond your control, the majority of what happens in your life is up to YOU. Life may throw you curve balls, but you decide how to react to them.
- Pick the right coping skill. Start by evaluating the source of your stress: Is it something that you can control? If the problem is something that you can change, then problem-based coping methods can be useful (e.g. seeking information to help you deal with the issue; negotiating with others, like your boss or spouse, to help reduce the stressor, etc.). If the problem is really out of your hands, it may be better to learn to live with it by using emotion-based coping methods, such as seeking social support, changing the way you think about the problem, distracting yourself, or finding ways to express your emotions. Remember, healthy coping skills will only be of use to you if you practice them on a regular basis.
- Pick your battles wisely. Don’t allow yourself to get upset over minor annoyances or situations that you can’t change – it’s a waste of time and energy and likely won’t accomplish anything. If you’re not sure whether to bring up a specific grievance or not, ask yourself the following questions: “Will this issue matter to me next week, next month, or next year? Is this situation negatively impacting my happiness or my daily functioning to a significant degree?” If you answer yes to both questions, then bring up the problem with the relevant party. If not, accept the situation and let it go by reminding yourself that in the grand scheme of things, this issue really doesn’t matter.