13 subtle signs someone lacks emotional intelligence

Have you ever had a chat with someone and felt like something was a bit off?

Maybe they didn’t seem to understand how you were feeling, or they didn’t respond in the way you expected.

This could be a sign that they’re not very good at understanding and dealing with emotions, their own or others’. This is what we call emotional intelligence.

Now, emotional intelligence isn’t about being great at maths or knowing lots of facts.

It’s all about emotions – noticing them, understanding them, and responding to them in the right way.

It’s really important for getting along with other people. But not everybody is good at it.

Wondering how you can tell if someone is struggling with emotional intelligence?

It’s not always obvious. But don’t worry!

We’ve got a list of 13 subtle signs that might give you a clue. 

1. They Struggle to Express Their Feelings

Ever met someone who gets all tongue-tied when asked how they feel?

Or maybe they just dodge the question altogether with a quick change of subject.

This could be a sign that they’re not very good at understanding their own emotions.

People with high emotional intelligence are comfortable talking about their feelings.

They understand their emotions, and they can put them into words easily.

But if someone often says things like “I don’t know” or “It’s hard to explain” when you ask about their feelings, it might be because they lack emotional intelligence.

Of course, everyone has moments when they find it hard to express themselves.

But if this is a regular thing, it’s something to watch out for.

After all, understanding our own feelings is the first step in understanding the feelings of others.

2. Lack of Empathy

Empathy is all about understanding and sharing the feelings of others.

It’s like stepping into their shoes and feeling what they’re feeling – whether that’s joy, sadness, or anything in between. But not everyone finds this easy.

If someone often seems confused or indifferent when you’re feeling strong emotions, this could be a sign that they lack emotional intelligence.

For example, if you’re really excited about something and they barely react, or you’re upset and they don’t seem to notice.

People with high emotional intelligence are able to pick up on other people’s emotions and respond in a caring way.

They’ll share your excitement, offer comfort when you’re upset, and generally show that they understand how you’re feeling.

But if someone doesn’t do this, it could be because they’re not very good at understanding emotions – their own or others’.

3. They’re Quick to Judge

Remember that time when I shared with a friend about my difficult day at work and instead of offering a listening ear, they immediately jumped into offering solutions?

Yeah, that wasn’t the best. It left me feeling like my feelings weren’t valid or important, and it wasn’t the support I needed at that moment.

People with high emotional intelligence know that sometimes, we just need someone to listen and validate our feelings rather than jumping straight into problem-solving mode.

They understand that rushing to judgment or advice can make the other person feel unheard and undervalued.

If you notice someone is always quick to judge or offer solutions without really acknowledging your feelings, it might be a sign they’re struggling with emotional intelligence.

The ability to hold back judgment and just listen is a key part of understanding and responding to emotions in a healthy way.

4. They Have Difficulty Building Deep Relationships

Did you know that emotional intelligence plays a crucial role in forming deep and meaningful relationships?

Now, if you notice someone has a string of shallow or short-lived relationships, it might be a sign they lack emotional intelligence.

They might have plenty of casual friends or acquaintances but struggle to make those deep connections.

People with high emotional intelligence are good at understanding and responding to other people’s feelings, which helps them build strong bonds.

They’re able to offer the empathy, understanding, and emotional support that’s needed for a close relationship.

But if someone often seems to be on the outskirts of their social group, or they don’t have many close friends, this could be a sign they’re struggling with emotional intelligence.

5. They Struggle with Change

Life is a roller coaster of ups and downs, twists and turns, and plenty of change – some expected, some out of the blue. It’s how we deal with these changes that really show our true colors.

Some people find change really hard to deal with. It shakes them up, throws them off balance, and they can react in ways that seem over the top or out of place.

This could be because they’re not very good at understanding and managing their emotions – a key part of emotional intelligence.

People with high emotional intelligence are able to recognise and understand their feelings about change.

They can manage these feelings in a healthy way, adapting to new situations without getting overwhelmed by emotion.

So if you notice that someone often reacts strongly to change – whether it’s getting overly upset, angry, or even just completely shutting down – it might be a sign that they’re lacking in emotional intelligence.

And remember – it’s not about judging them, but understanding where they’re coming from.

6. They Often Misinterpret People’s Feelings

I remember one time when a friend of mine seemed a bit down.

I asked if everything was okay, and he replied with a simple “I’m fine.” But it wasn’t the words that bothered me, it was his tone and body language.

You know when you can just feel that something’s off? It was one of those moments.

But I had another friend with us who completely missed it. She thought he was just tired and brushed it off, ignoring the signs that he might not be okay.

This is where emotional intelligence really comes into play. It’s about picking up on the subtle signals people send out – the tone of voice, the look in their eyes, the way they hold themselves.

These can all give us clues about what someone is really feeling.

If you notice that someone often misinterprets these signals or just doesn’t notice them at all, it might be a sign they’re not very good at understanding emotions.

Emotional intelligence is all about noticing, understanding, and responding to feelings – not just words.

7. They’re Often the Last to Know How They Feel

You know what’s really rough? When someone doesn’t even understand their own feelings.

It’s like they’re walking through a fog, unable to see clearly. They can’t pinpoint exactly what they’re feeling or why they’re feeling that way.

Sometimes, they might even react in ways that don’t make sense to others because they themselves don’t understand what’s going on inside them.

One moment, they might be all sunshine and rainbows, and the next, a stormy cloud of anger or sadness without any clear reason.

People with high emotional intelligence have a solid understanding of their emotions.

They can identify what they’re feeling and why – whether it’s happiness, anger, sadness, or something else.

But if someone often seems confused or surprised by their own emotions, it could be a sign that they’re struggling with emotional intelligence.

It’s a tough spot to be in, and it just goes to show how important emotional intelligence really is – for understanding ourselves as much as understanding others.

8. They Struggle to Handle Criticism

People with high emotional intelligence are better at handling criticism. That’s because they’re able to understand and manage their emotions, instead of letting them take over.

Now, nobody likes being criticized. It’s not fun to hear that we’ve done something wrong or that we could be doing better.

But how we react to criticism can say a lot about our emotional intelligence.

If someone often gets defensive or angry when they’re criticized, it could be a sign that they’re not very good at managing their emotions.

They might take the criticism personally, seeing it as an attack on their character rather than helpful feedback.

On the other hand, people with high emotional intelligence are able to stay calm and collected when they’re criticized.

They see it as a chance to learn and improve, rather than a personal insult. So if someone often reacts poorly to criticism, it might be a sign that they’re lacking in emotional intelligence.

9. They Struggle to Forgive and Forget

I remember a time when a close friend of mine made a mistake that hurt me.

It wasn’t easy to deal with, but I knew that holding onto the pain and resentment wouldn’t help either of us.

So, after some time and heart-to-heart conversations, I forgave her and we moved on.

This ability to forgive and forget is closely related to emotional intelligence.

It’s about understanding your feelings of hurt or betrayal, managing them in a healthy way, and then letting them go.

It’s not easy, but it’s important for our own peace of mind and for our relationships.

If you notice someone always holds grudges, constantly brings up past mistakes, or finds it hard to let go of negative feelings towards others, they might be struggling with emotional intelligence.

After all, forgiveness is often more about our own emotional health than it is about the person who hurt us.

10. They Struggle to Control Their Emotions

Emotions can be like a wild horse, hard to control and sometimes taking us places we don’t want to go.

People lacking in emotional intelligence often struggle to rein in these emotional horses.

One minute they’re calm, the next they’re lashing out in anger or breaking down in tears.

People with high emotional intelligence are able to feel their emotions without becoming their emotions.

They can feel angry without lashing out, feel sad without breaking down. They know that emotions are temporary and they don’t have to dictate our actions.

11. They Lack Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is like having a mirror for your soul. It lets you see your strengths, your weaknesses, your quirks, and all the things that make you uniquely you.

But for some people, this mirror is foggy or even completely missing.

These people often struggle to understand why they do the things they do or why they feel the way they feel.

They might not recognize when they’re being unreasonable or when they’ve hurt someone’s feelings.

This lack of self-awareness can make it difficult for them to improve or change negative behaviors.

12. They Often Feel Misunderstood

Feeling misunderstood is incredibly frustrating. It’s like screaming into a void and hearing nothing back but your own echo.

People who lack emotional intelligence often feel this way because they struggle to express their emotions effectively.

They might say one thing but mean another, or not say anything at all, expecting others to read their mind.

This can lead to misunderstandings and confusion, leaving them feeling isolated or disconnected from others.

13. They Struggle with Stress

We all deal with stress in one way or another – it’s part of life! But how we manage it can say a lot about our emotional intelligence.

People who struggle with emotional intelligence often have a hard time dealing with stress. They might panic, feel overwhelmed, or shut down completely.

They struggle to understand and manage their stress in a healthy way, which can impact their mental and physical health.

On the other hand, people with high emotional intelligence are able to recognize when they’re feeling stressed and find healthy ways to cope.

They see stress as a challenge to overcome, rather than a threat to flee from.

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Picture of Lachlan Brown

Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the editor of Ideapod and founder of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you to want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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