Emotional Intelligence: Do We Need it for Success?

When emotional intelligence (EQ) first appeared in discussions, it seemed to serve as the missing link in an unusual finding: people with average IQs outperform those with the highest IQs 70 percent of the time. This strange anomaly threw a massive wrench into the broadly held assumption that IQ was the sole source of success.

Following many decades of research, it now appears that emotional intelligence is definitely the critical factor that sets star performers apart from the rest of the pack. The connection is so strong that 90 percent of top performers have been shown to have high emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is that certain “something” in each of us that is a bit intangible. It affects how we manage behavior, navigate social complexities, and make personal decisions to achieve positive results.

Despite the significance of EQ, its intangible nature makes it difficult to measure and to know what to do to improve it if you are lacking in it.

Here are some sure signs of a high EQ:

  1. A robust emotional vocabulary.

Everyone experience emotions, but only a select few can accurately identify them as they occur. Research shows that only 36 percent of people can do this, which is problematic because unlabeled emotions often go misunderstood, which often leads to irrational choices and counterproductive actions.

People with high EQs master their emotions because they understand them, and they use an extensive vocabulary of feelings to do so. While many people might describe themselves as simply feeling “bad,” emotionally intelligent people can pinpoint whether they feel irritable, frustrated, downtrodden, or anxious. In fact, the more specific your word choice, the better insight you have into exactly how you are feeling, what caused it, and what you should do about it.

  1. Curious about people.

It doesn’t matter if they are introverted or extroverted, emotionally intelligent people are curious about everyone around them. This curiosity is the product of empathy, one of the most significant elements of a high EQ. The more you care about other people and what they are experiencing, the more curiosity you will have about them.

  1. Embrace change.

Emotionally intelligent people are flexible and are constantly able to adapt. They know that fear of change is paralyzing and a major threat to their success and happiness. They anticipate that change may be lurking just around the corner and formulate a plan of action should those changes actually occur.

  1. Know one’s strengths and weaknesses.

Emotionally intelligent people don’t just understand emotions; they know what they are good at and what they struggle with. They also know who pushes their buttons and the environments (both situations and people) which enable them to succeed. Having a high EQ means you know your strengths and how to lean into and leverage them to your full advantage while keeping your weaknesses from holding you back.

  1. A good judge of character.

Much of emotional intelligence is really about social awareness; the ability to read other people, know what they are about, and understand what they are experiencing. Over time, this skill makes you an exceptional judge of character. People are no mystery to you. You know what they are all about and understand their motivations, even some of those that lie hidden beneath the surface.

  1. Difficult to offend.

If you have a firm grasp of who you are, it is difficult for someone to say or do something that offends you. Emotionally intelligent people are self-confident and open-minded,  and those traits create a pretty thick skin. You may even poke fun at yourself or let other people make jokes about you because you are able to mentally draw the line between humor and degradation.

  1. Know how to say no (to yourself and others).

Emotional intelligence means knowing how to exert self-control. You can delay gratification and therefore avoid impulsive action. Research conducted at the University of California, San Francisco, shows that the more difficulty that you have saying no, the more likely you are to experience stress, burnout, and even depression. Saying no is a major self-control challenge for many people, but “No” is a powerful word that you should be unafraid to wield when it is appropriate. When it is the right time to say no, emotionally intelligent people avoid phrases such as “I don’t think I can” or “I’m not certain.” Saying no to a new commitment honors your existing commitments and gives you the opportunity to successfully fulfill them.  There is no point in putting more onto an already full plate of responsibilities. Emotionally intelligent people realize this and are honest with whoever is asking them to do something they feel they cannot add to their current list.

  1. Let go of mistakes.

Emotionally intelligent people distance themselves from their mistakes but do so without forgetting them. By keeping their mistakes at a safe distance, yet still handy enough to refer to, they are able to adapt and adjust for future success. It takes a refined self-awareness to differentiate between dwelling on an error and remembering it so that you do not repeat it. Dwelling too long on your mistakes makes you anxious and nervous while forgetting about them completely makes you bound to repeat them. The key to balance lies in your ability to transform failures into nuggets of improvement because mistakes are opportunities to learn.

  1. Give and expect nothing in return.

When someone gives you something spontaneously, without expecting anything in return, this leaves a most powerful impression on the receiver. For example, you might have an interesting conversation with someone about a book, and when you see them again a month later, you show up with the book in hand. Emotionally intelligent people build strong relationships because they are constantly thinking about others.

10.Do not hold grudges.

The negative emotions that result from holding onto a grudge are actually a stress response and just thinking about the event can send your body into the fight-or-flight mode, a survival mechanism that forces you to stand up and fight or run for the hills when faced with a threat. When the threat is imminent, this reaction is essential to your survival, but when the threat is ancient history, holding onto that stress wreaks havoc on your body and can have devastating health consequences over time. In fact, researchers at Emory University have shown that holding onto stress contributes to high blood pressure and heart disease. Holding onto a grudge means you are holding onto stress, and emotionally intelligent people know to avoid this at all costs. Letting go of a grudge not only makes you feel better now but can also improve your health.

11.Neutralize toxic people.

Dealing with difficult people is frustrating and exhausting. However, high-EQ individuals control their interactions with toxic people by keeping their feelings in check. When they need to confront a toxic person, they approach the situation rationally. They identify their own emotions and don’t allow anger or frustration to fuel the chaos. They also consider the difficult person’s standpoint and are able to find solutions and common ground. Even when things completely derail, emotionally intelligent people are able to take the toxic person with a grain of salt to avoid letting him or her bring them down.

  1. Do not seek perfection.

Emotionally intelligent people won’t set perfection as their target because they know that it generally does not exist. Human beings, by our very nature, are fallible. When perfection is your goal, you are always going to be disappointed and setting yourself up for failure. This approach can reduce your efforts of achievement and you can end up just lamenting that failure. Better to excited about what you have achieved and what you will accomplish in the future.

13.Appreciate what one has.

Taking time to contemplate what you are grateful for isn’t merely the right thing to do; it also improves your mood and reduces the stress hormone cortisol (in some cases by 23 percent). Research conducted at the University of California, Davis, found that people who work daily to cultivate an attitude of gratitude experience improved mood, energy, and physical well-being.  Lower levels of cortisol likely play a major role in this.

  1. Able to disconnect.

Taking regular time off is a sign of a high EQ because this strategy helps you to keep your stress under control and to live in the moment. When you make yourself available to your work 24/7, you expose yourself to a constant barrage of stressors. Forcing yourself offline and even turning off your phone gives your body and mind a break. Studies have shown that something as simple as an email break can lower stress levels. Technology enables constant communication and the expectation that you should be available 24/7. It is extremely difficult to enjoy a stress-free moment outside of work when an email with the power to bring your thinking back to work can drop onto your phone at any moment.  We all need a break!

15.Limit caffeine intake.

Drinking excessive amounts of caffeine triggers the release of adrenaline, which is the primary source of a fight-or-flight response. This mechanism sidesteps rational thinking in favor of a faster response to ensure survival. This is great when a bear is chasing you, but not so great when you are responding to a curt email. When caffeine puts your brain and body into this hyper-aroused state of stress, your emotions overrun your behavior. Caffeine’s long half-life ensures that you stay this way because it takes quite a while to be metabolized. High-EQ individuals realize that caffeine is trouble, and they don’t let it get the better of them.

16.Get sufficient sleep.

It is difficult to overstate just how important sleep is for increasing your emotional intelligence and managing your stress levels. When you sleep, your brain literally recharges, working through the day’s memories and storing or discarding them (which causes dreams) so that you wake up alert and clearheaded. High-EQ individuals know that their self-control, attention, and memory are all reduced when they don’t get enough sleep. So, they make a good sleep a top priority.

17.Stop negative self-talk.

The more you ruminate on negative thoughts, the more power you give them. Most of our negative thoughts are just that, thoughts, not facts. When it feels like something always or never happens, this is just your brain’s natural tendency to perceive threats (inflating the frequency or severity of an event). Emotionally intelligent people separate their thoughts from the facts in order to escape the cycle of negativity and move toward a positive, new outlook.

18.Do not let anyone limit joy.

When your sense of pleasure and satisfaction are derived from the opinions of other people, you are no longer the master of your own happiness. When emotionally intelligent people feel good about something they have done, they will not let anyone’s opinions or snide remarks take that away from them. While it is impossible to turn off your reactions to what others think, you do not have to compare yourself to others, and you can always take people’s opinions with a grain of salt. That way, no matter what other people are thinking or doing, your self-worth comes from within.

If you exhibit and employ these traits and behaviours you have a high EQ and are likely a very happy, positive, and successful person in all aspects of your life.  If not, now that you know what constitutes a person with high  EQ, perhaps you can start adjusting your attitudes and behaviours to improve yours.


Sandy Chernoff
Sandy Chernoff
SANDY'S 30 years of didactic and clinical teaching in study clubs and continuing dental education, coupled with her almost 40 years of Dental Hygiene practice bring a wealth of experience to her interactive soft skills workshops. With her education background she easily customizes interactive sessions to suit the specific needs of her clients. Her energetic and humorous presentation style has entertained and informed audiences from Victoria to New York City. Sandy’s client list includes law firms, teaching institutions, volunteer and professional organizations and conferences, businesses, and individuals. Her newest project is turning her live workshops into e-learning programs using an LMS platform. Her teaching and education background have helped her to produce meaningful and somewhat interactive courses for the learners wanting the convenience of e-learning options. As the author of 5 Secrets to Effective Communication, Sandy has demonstrated her ability to demystify the complexities of communication so that the reader can learn better strategies and approaches which will greatly improve their communication skills and ultimately reduce conflict, resentment, disappointment, complaining, and confusion. As a result, the reader will be able to increase productivity, efficiency and creativity, improve all the relationships in their lives and ultimately enjoy a happier, healthier existence! Sandy blogs regularly on her two websites on the various soft skills topics that are featured in her workshops and e-learning programs.

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  1. Good points. When I demonstrate why high EQ looks like, I explain it in terms of how someone would dance with an individual and group of people. I see high EQ as being good at “seduction” — not the naughty side but the side that perks up people’s interest in you.

    • Kind of like the ability to influence. I have not read the whole book, just parts. It is an interesting read.

    • I have all these sales books on my book shelf. I should just read them. But after working so closely with sales guys, I have picked quite a bit of the books’ content through social learning. 😉

    • Not necessarily a bad way to pick up tips, Chris. We don’t always have the time to read all the books. I find I never leave the house without taking a book or my kindle along, depending on what I am currently reading, just in case I end up with some time on my hands.