In the classic movie ET, a young American kid called Elliott finds himself coming to terms with his parents’ divorce while simultaneously helping the titular extra-terrestrial to return home.
Elliot is a great example of emotional intelligence in action, because he displays a wisdom beyond his years while simultaneously understanding how his parents (and his newfound alien friend) are feeling. He also understands how any actions that he takes might affect them.
That, in a nutshell, is what emotional intelligence is all about.
Conversely, people with low emotional intelligence tend to struggle to understand both their own emotions and the emotions of others. They’ll throw temper tantrums when they don’t get their way and will struggle to tell whether they’ve upset someone with their words and actions.
But how exactly can we tell whether someone has low emotional intelligence?
Well, other than them failing to help an extra-terrestrial, we can look out for any of the nine traits we’re about to talk about.
One of the major hallmarks of people with low emotional intelligence is that they’ll overreact to the situations they find themselves in.
That’s because they don’t have the required emotional intelligence to process those situations and to find appropriate responses to them. It can seem as though they’re acting like children because they can cycle through moods so quickly.
For example, when someone with low emotional intelligence stubs their toe, they might start by swearing to themselves but then they’ll quickly pick up a mug and smash it against the wall or start shouting abuse at the people they live with.
2) Frequent mood swings
Not everyone who has mood swings has low emotional intelligence, but almost everyone with low emotional intelligence has mood swings.
That’s because the mood swings come about as a result of their inability to process their emotions in a healthy way. They’ll go from happy to sad to happy again in the blink of an eye, and it can be difficult for the rest of us to keep up.
Now, it’s easy for us to blame the person with low emotional intelligence for their mood swings, but we have to remember that they don’t have the skills they need to avoid them. It would be like blaming someone with depression for feeling down.
3) Struggles with processing non-verbal cues
Depending upon who you ask, it’s said that non-verbal cues make up as much as 93% of all communication.
The problem is that people with low emotional intelligence find it difficult to process and understand those non-verbal cues, and they’ll often just take people at their word. Things like sarcasm and irony can pass them by.
They can also struggle to tell whether someone’s upset unless they come out and say it, and that can lead to them making bad situations worse. Which brings me on to my next point.
4) Lack of empathy
People who display empathy find it easy to put themselves into another person’s shoes and to understand how they’re feeling.
As you can imagine, people with low levels of emotional intelligence tend to struggle with empathy because it’s emotional intelligence that makes empathy possible in the first place.
Like I said in the previous point, someone with low social intelligence might struggle to tell whether someone’s upset unless they outright tell them. That’s because their lack of empathy won’t allow them to understand why they’re upset.
5) Difficulty expressing themselves
Expressing ourselves can be difficult enough to begin with, but it’s even harder for people with low emotional intelligence.
Interestingly, this can lead to people developing a new superpower. Because they struggle to express themselves with their words, they often turn to music, writing and other art forms.
True, they’ll still struggle to express themselves, but they’ll find it a little easier. However, if you take a look at their art, you might also be able to spot their lack of emotional intelligence.
For example, a writer with low social intelligence will struggle to craft believable characters, and musicians might make great music but it will seem to lack soul to the listener.
6) Cultural insensitivity
This is another point where just because you display cultural insensitivity, it doesn’t mean that you have low social intelligence.
However, people with low social intelligence will often be culturally insensitive, and it’s another case of them just not knowing any better.
It’s a reminder that we need to understand the context in which people speak, because these days we often cancel people first and ask questions later.
Again, it can help to think of people with low emotional intelligence as being like children. When one of my friends was a kid, he pointed at a man wearing a turban and asked his parents why the man had a bandage on his head.
He didn’t mean to be offensive or culturally insensitive. He just didn’t know any better because he was young and his emotional intelligence was still developing.
7) Difficulty responding to criticism
Let’s face it, no one likes responding to criticism.
I’m a writer, and so I have to deal with it more than most. From clients asking for revisions to Amazon and Goodreads reviews of my books, I’m confronted with people’s opinions on my art on a daily basis.
Luckily, I don’t struggle with my emotional intelligence and so I appreciate that criticism is usually constructive and rarely personal.
Book reviews are for readers and not for authors, and if someone gives me a one-star review then I read it, see what I can learn and then move on with my day.
People with low emotional intelligence are the opposite. They’ll get hung up on every piece of criticism they receive and will often fire back, automatically getting defensive and often spewing abuse at the critic.
8) Frequent misunderstandings
As you can imagine from everything else that we’ve said about the lack of emotional intelligence, it leads to a lot of misunderstandings.
That’s because people struggle to comprehend the emotions that other people are feeling. Picture a child who doesn’t understand why her parents are stressed because they can’t afford to pay the latest installment of their mortgage.
These misunderstandings come about because the person in question can only see part of the picture. They say that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, and that’s true for people with low emotional intelligence.
After all, they have low emotional intelligence – not none at all.
9) Difficulty listening actively
Active listening is a style of listening in which you closely engage with what someone is saying so that you can better understand them.
When most of us are in conversation with people, we spend a lot of the time while they’re talking thinking about what we’re going to say next. We’re not actually listening to them; we’re just waiting for our turn.
Active listening is hard enough as it is, but it’s even harder for people with low amounts of emotional intelligence. They just don’t have the requisite skills to be active listeners. It’s like expecting a goldfish to drive a car.
Now that you know the traits to look out for if you want to spot people with low emotional intelligence, you’re ready to put what you’ve learned into practice.
The real question is what comes next, and that’s entirely up to you. The problem is that if someone has low emotional intelligence, they’re not going to be too interested if you try to tell them.
Instead, I’d recommend distancing yourself from anyone in your circle who consistently displays low amounts of social intelligence, unless they’re members of your family. When that’s the case, you should do what you can to help them to develop their emotional intelligence
And of course, if you recognize some of these symptoms in yourself, it’s time for you to start actively trying to improve yourself. Good luck!