19 Signs You're Emotionally Intelligent (And Why It Matters for Your Career)

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Lindsay Kolowich Cox
Lindsay Kolowich Cox



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Why do some of the smartest people hit a wall in their careers where they can't seem to move up any further? And why do people who aren't as knowledgeable or experienced in a field become extremely successful leaders in organizations?

What sets people apart from their peers isn't cognitive intelligence or a specific skill set. It's their emotional intelligence: their ability to identify and monitor emotions -- their own and others' -- and to develop and manage productive relationships.

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In fact, decades of research have shown that emotional intelligence is linked more closely with workplace success than cognitive intelligence, especially in management. While emotional intelligence becomes more important the higher a person rises in an organization due to their widening influence on the daily work of more people, studies have shown that this "skill" is linked to success at all levels.

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

The term "emotional intelligence" was coined in 1990 by two scientists, Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer. They described it as "a form of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action."

Sound a little touchy-feely? Well, that's because it is. It's all about feelings and emotions -- being aware of them, understanding them, having control over them, recognizing them in others, and being able to help others sort through them.

However, there is no correlation between being emotionally intelligent and having a high IQ -- or cognitive intelligence -- according to one study by Dr. Richard E. Boyatzis

This is how Darren Horrigon from CIO differentiated the two:

Cognitive intelligence is the ability to understand information, imagine possibilities, use intuition, solve problems, and make decisions.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand the needs and feelings of oneself and other people, manage one’s feelings, and respond to others in appropriate ways.

Once Salovey and Mayer started a dialogue around what they called "emotional intelligence," they initiated a research program to dig into what emotional intelligence was, to find a way to measure it, and to explore its significance and impact on real-life scenarios.

Their research was picked up by a Harvard-trained psychologist named Daniel Goleman, a science writer for The New York Times at the time, who would end up spending years of his life studying emotional intelligence and its place in the workplace.

Goleman was particularly interested in the issue of how narrow the traditional tests of cognitive intelligence were. The IQ test, he argued, tells us very little about what it takes to be successful in our careers and in life. -- and emotional intelligence is the much more critical factor.

It was Goleman who expanded the definition of emotional intelligence into a set of competencies that would signal someone is emotionally intelligent. These competencies represent a person's ability to recognize, understand, and then use emotional information about themselves and others to be more effective and perform better both at work and in their personal interactions.

19 Signs of Emotional Intelligence

After building on and integrating years and years of research on emotional intelligence, here's the model Goleman and Boyatzis came up with. The model has competencies arrayed in four "clusters": self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.

As you read through these, keep in mind that a part of being emotionally intelligent isn't just having these competencies; it's understanding them, managing them, and using them to perform. Intent is a big part of it. (And read this blog post for tips on how to become more emotionally intelligent.)


1) Emotional Self-Awareness: You have a solid understanding of your own feelings and emotions, your strengths and weaknesses, and what drives them.

2) Accurate Self-Assessment: You understand your values and goals and where you are going in life.

3) Self-Confidence: You understand your own strengths and limitations. You operate from competence and know when to rely on someone else on the team. You're willing to talk about yourself in a frank, non-defensive manner. (For instance, you might employ self-deprecating humor.)


4) Emotional Self-Control: You feel bad moods and impulses just like everyone else, but you don't act on them; in fact, you can control them. For example, instead of blowing up at people when you get angry, you let them know what’s wrong and what the solution is. You have the ability to wait until your emotions past so you can respond from a place of reason.

5) Achievement: You're interested in moving yourself forward toward some vision, goal, or strategy.

6) Initiative: You're self-motivated, and you keep moving toward distant goals even when you experience setbacks.

7) Transparency: You're honest and transparent about your progress, goals, and emotions.

8) Adaptability: You're resilient. You stay calm under pressure and recover quickly when something goes wrong. You don't panic in the face of a crisis; instead, you're calm. And you don't brood, point fingers, or hold grudges.

9) Optimism: You have a positive outlook for the future.

Social Awareness

10) Empathy: You're willing to share your own worries and concerns and openly acknowledge others' emotions.

11) Service Orientation: You're a good listener. You pay full attention to others and take the time to understand what they're saying and what they mean without interrupting or speaking over them.

12) Organizational Awareness: Because you understand other perspectives, you can explain ideas in a way that your colleagues will comprehend. And you welcome their questions.

Relationship Management

13) Inspirational Leadership: You provide a vision that motivates others. You use your emotional intelligence to create and nurture resonant relationships with others through mindfulness, hope, and compassion.

14) Influence: You're a compelling communicator. You articulate your points in persuasive, clear ways so that people are motivated about expectations.

15) Conflict Management: You use your emotional intelligence to improve relationships, negotiate, and lead. You can settle disputes, differences of opinion, and misunderstandings.

16) Change Catalyst: You're not resistant to change; on the contrary, you recognize the need for change, and you support the process.

17) Developing Others: You provide feedback effectively and are good at helping others build their skills and knowledge.

18) Teamwork: People feel relaxed working with you. One sign of this might be that they laugh and share things easily around you.

19) Collaboration: You create and maintain networks, and you build effective teams.

Is It Correlated With a Specific Personality Type or Demographic?

At this point, it's clear emotional intelligence has a lot to do with a person's personality and how they express themselves among others. That had me wondering: Does a high level of emotional intelligence have any relationship with a specific personality type or demographic?

With A/B Personality Type?

Is there a relationship between emotionally intelligent people and the Type A or Type B personality type? Actually, a study of bank employees in Greece found that, contrary to what was hypothesized, people with a mixture of both Type A and B were higher in emotional intelligence. They also found that Type B was positively correlated with social skills competencies.

With Introversion or Extroversion?

Boyatzis' study found that extroversion was significantly correlated with all four clusters of emotional intelligence listed above.

With Age?

Boyatzis' study found that older participants rated themselves and were rated by others as having higher levels of emotional intelligence. The study also found that particular life experiences are associated with higher scores of emotional intelligence, too.

With Gender?

As for gender, the results are still inconclusive. While Boyatzis' study found that females rated themselves and were rated by others (males and females) as having higher emotional intelligence than males rated themselves or were rated by others. However, there are some studies that have found no differences between men and women, and some that have found differences on particular competencies.

Why Emotional Intelligence Can Be More Important Than Raw Skill

While there's still disagreement on exactly how much emotional intelligence contributes to career success, even the most skeptical studies find that it is "probably as valuable as your intellectual and technical skills."

Meanwhile, there are a number of compelling studies that link the framework of emotional intelligence to a theory of action and job performance.

For example, research by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) found that the three main reasons for failure at the executive leadership level are difficulty in handling change, inability to work well in a team, and poor interpersonal relations. 

Here's another example: Research from the Carnegie Institute of Technology showed that 85% of people's financial success was thanks to skills in "'human engineering,' personality, and ability to communicate, negotiate, and lead," wrote Harvey Deutschendorf for Fast Company"They found that only 15% was due to technical ability. In other words, people skills or skills highly related to emotional intelligence were crucial skills."

The way I see it, a lot of it boils down to likeability. Emotionally intelligent people ask questions, listen deeply to others, and are genuine and honest -- all characteristics of a well-liked person. After all, we have Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman's famous finding that people would rather do business with someone they like and trust instead of someone they don't -- even if that less likeable person is offering a better product at a lower price.

The most effective people in the workplace have high levels of both emotional and cognitive intelligence, of course. It's ideal to be great at the technical part of your job while still exhibiting those signs of emotional intelligence.

The good news is that while you can't do too much to increase your IQ, there are things you can do to increase your emotional intelligence. Some of those 20 signs of emotional intelligence are controlled behaviors resulting from discipline, like taking initiative; others are people skills you can work on and improve, such as empathy, listening skills, and communication skills. Learn not to dwell on problems, but instead to listen to and empathize with others and manage your emotions.

Of course, there are plenty of examples of people who've risen to the top without the help of emotional intelligence. Take Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, and Mark Zuckerberg, for example: They're just a few of the most highly accomplished entrepreneurs of our time, and yet, they're known for being somewhat volatile leaders.

There are many ways to become a highly accomplished manager and co-worker. By increasing your emotional intelligence, you can become a more collaborative teammate, a more empathetic marketer, and a better leader.

If you'd like to find out how emotionally intelligent you are and get strategies on how to improve, click here to take our Emotional Intelligence Test.

What role do you think emotional intelligence plays in the workplace? Continue the discussion in the comments. 

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