The power of emotional intelligence: 10 traits that set high EQ people apart

No doubt human beings are highly emotional creatures. We have a tendency to react to situations without thinking about it. 

Sometimes our emotions get the best of us and we might regret something we’ve said in the heat of the moment. It might also take us a long time to get over an emotionally-charged episode. 

When we develop our emotional intelligence, however, this creates a sense of self-awareness. 

We’re equipped with the tools to be able to identify and name our emotions instead of automatically reacting. We can manage our behavior better and show up as our best selves no matter what the situation. 

Emotional intelligence instills us with the ability to choose and regulate our responses rather than being at the mercy of habitual reactions and triggers. 

A high EQ also allows us to better understand the emotions of other people and resolve conflict more quickly.

Here are a number of ways a high EQ to regulate and control their emotions. 

1) They have a sense of self-awareness

The thing about emotionally intelligent people is that they’re in tune with their emotions at a deeper level, say psychologists. 

This sense of self-awareness isn’t a gift bestowed on the lucky few; the truth is that emotionally aware people work on monitoring their emotions. 

Being self-aware also doesn’t mean that emotionally intelligent people don’t have negative reactions and are always positive. They just recognize—because they’ve spent time observing their behavior— what their triggers are. They’ve learned what will elicit a negative reaction from them. 

Because of this self-awareness, emotionally intelligent people are able to take preventative measures to avoid unhealthy reactions. 

For example, this might look like keeping conversation with a critical parent or sibling to pleasantries and surface level. As soon as the conversation starts to turn deeper, they might make an excuse and say they have to hang up the phone. 

It can also mean having a conversation with that person saying that certain subjects are off limits and if the boundary is crossed, you’ll get up and leave. 

2) They are able to regulate their emotions and reduce stress 

Psychologist Daniel Goleman, who received his Ph.D. from Harvard University, and who popularized the concept of emotional intelligence, says that a high EQ requires a person to be able to regulate and manage their emotions.

“This doesn’t mean putting emotions on lockdown and hiding your true feelings, it simply means waiting for the right time and place to express them. Self-regulation is all about expressing your emotions appropriately.”

People who are well-versed in self-regulation are mindful of their thoughts and feelings and they know that they have a choice as to how they’re going to respond to a situation. 

Also: instead of suppressing their emotions, they actively work on accepting them.

3) They are able to diffuse conflict

Those who are skilled in self-regulation tend to be flexible and adapt well to change. They are also good at managing conflict and diffusing tense or difficult situations.

A big part of this is self-control, says Dr. Goldman, as well an emphasis on a positive outcome. 

Dr. Goldman says that since drama isn’t productive there should be a focus on diffusing it as quickly as possible. 

“One of the major obstacles stemming from a lack of self-control is unfiltered anger,” he says. “Anger is a normal, human emotion. But it needs to be expressed in a healthy way. There’s a place and time for appropriate anger, and we all have to learn how to manage it, or it will manage us. Self-control takes care of that,” says Marcel Schwantes, Founder of Leadership from the Core. 

4) They are more empathetic

People with strong self-regulation skills also tend to be highly conscientious. 

This means that they are thoughtful about how they influence others and that they take responsibility for their own actions.

Daniel Goldman also says that as someone who strives to become more emotionally intelligent, it’s important to take the time to understand different perspectives.

“This requires empathy and adaptability to recognize different viewpoints and to be able to adjust your own outlook to consider alternatives,” he says.

Seeing someone else’s side of the “argument” can make you react more thoughtfully rather than impulsively. 

5) They take calculated risks and aren’t afraid of “failure”

the power of emotional intelligence 1 The power of emotional intelligence: 10 traits that set high EQ people apart

Emotionally intelligent people look at challenges as new opportunities, and they’re not put off by failures and disappointments. They know this must mean that something better and more suited to them is around the corner. 

They’re also emotionally intelligent enough to understand that there is no such thing as failure, for failure is but a stepping stone on the journey to their destination. 

They even get more motivated when so-called failure happens because it is a sign that there is movement and something is happening. They just have to fine-tune and persist in their goals. 

That’s why it’s easier for them to take risks—not impulsive risks per se—but risks that are well-thought-out. So they’ll risk approaching the person they’ve had their eye on for the past month, or they’ll send out that email asking the celeb to bring attention to a cause they’re passionate about. 

6) They know that progress takes precedence over perfection

Emotionally intelligent people are out to live a perfect life. They know that life can be uncertain, unpredictable, and downright messy. 

But they also know that they are giving themselves the tools to handle any situation and mitigate intense reactions and drama. 

They’re also determined to learn the lesson in every situation. Is there a pattern here that’s repeating itself? Is there an emotional skill that needs to be developed more? 

Emotionally intelligent people are a work in progress and they’re just fine with that. 

7) They don’t take things personally 

Unlike those who are emotionally immature, people with a high EQ aren’t activated by perceived criticism, says Dr. Nicole LePera, aka The Holistic Psychologist. “They don’t feel the need to defend themselves.”

Emotionally intelligent people don’t feel a need to deflect and they are able to be vulnerable. They are able to handle their own discomfort. 

Dr. LePera says those with a high EQ can reframe criticism. For example: If your partner says that they feel hurt when you don’t check in with them, you might be hearing, “You are a bad person because you don’t check in with me.”

She says to notice when you take things as a personal attack.

Ask a follow-up question instead of defending yourself or shutting down.

A question could be: “Are you asking me to check in more? Would that help feel more connected?”

8) They’re totally fine with receiving feedback 

In her book, Thanks for the Feedback, Sheila Heen says that emotionally intelligent people aren’t threatened by receiving feedback or constructive criticism. 

One way they do this is that they separate the message from the person. 

“As people, we can’t help but view the messages we receive through the lens of our relationship with the person delivering the message,” she says. “This is natural but it isn’t always helpful.”

Sheen says that to be better at receiving feedback from people with whom you have a complicated relationship, try to take the feedback messages away and reflect on them separately. She says to also do this away from the person who provided them.

“Remember, even people we don’t get on with or respect may speak the truth and have value to add, at least some of the time.”

9) They are able to embrace change

Emotionally intelligent people don’t automatically react negatively when they are presented with a change.

For example, let’s say they’re told they’ll have to move to another country for their job. While it may be easy to get upset at say, the timing, the inconvenience, not to mention the leaving of friends, and family, an emotionally intelligent person will take time to process their feelings. 

They may come to the realization that this could be the change they were subconsciously looking for. Maybe they had felt stuck for a very long time and this opportunity could give them a sense of adventure to shake things up in their world. 

Emotionally intelligent people know that it is naive to assume that things will always stay the same, and that every season and station of life is but a passing season. So even though they may have reservations, be nervous, and even feel sad about leaving, they are open to what the change could mean for their life.

Of course, the person could also ultimately decide not to go. This could make them take stock of things another way. Perhaps this could be seen as an opportunity to leave the job and look for something else more suited to the person they are now. 

Either way, emotionally intelligent people embrace change because they know that things happen for a reason and that there is always a bigger picture. 

10) They’re able to build high-quality relationships

Emotionally intelligent people have relationships that stand the test of time, but they also understand that some relationships are in our lives just for a season. 

Respect, trust, integrity, and loyalty are at the heart of the romantic and platonic relationships. Being a true companion and confidant is very important to them.

Emotionally intelligent people are also able to communicate their thoughts, needs, and feelings in a healthy way.

“Their conversations don’t regularly display signs of criticism or contempt, and they typically do not start off abruptly,” says psychologist Dr. Angela Bisignano

Dr. John Gottman, a psychologist who conducted research on couples, found that conversations generally ended poorly when they start out harshly. 

“In fact, the first three minutes of a conversation often determine its outcome. Emotionally intelligent couples generally speak to one another in a respectful manner, conveying this respect through tone, intonation, and intent.”

Picture of Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur is a Toronto-based journalist whose work has been published by The Globe & Mail, ELLE USA, ELLE Canada, British Vogue, Town & Country, and others.

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