When you meet someone, it's often easy to tell if they're emotionally intelligent simply by their vibe and how they carry themselves. Folks with high emotional intelligence tend to have several habits in common, all of which add up to make them easy to get along with. These traits also tend to earn them all sorts of respect. And as a result, they're usually highly likable and super successful.
In short, emotional intelligence is "the ability to identify and manage ... emotions, as well as effectively react to others' emotions," therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW tells Bustle. Being emotionally intelligent is something some people come to innately, while the rest of us may need to work on it overtime. And that's perfectly fine.
"Emotional intelligence is a muscle," psychotherapist and life coach Dr. Perpetua Neo tells Bustle. "And working out that muscle can seem tough at first ... But as you shrink the muscles of limiting mindsets ('I am bad at social interactions/self-knowledge') and habits ... you create the conditions for emotional intelligence to grow."
It also doesn't hurt to know what emotional intelligence looks like, through observing other people. Here are a few habits they tend to have in common, so you can copy their good energy, and adopt it for yourself.
1They Actively Listen
There's a big difference between appearing like you're listening to someone, and actually hearing what they say. And emotionally intelligent people are all about the latter.
"You'll know if you're talking to someone with high emotional intelligence, because whatever you are talking about, you get the feeling that they just 'get' you," relationship counselor Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C, director of the Baltimore Therapy Center, tells Bustle. "They know how to respond, their body language reflects their interest and care — you just feel emotionally connected with them."
This is a skill we can all learn and practice, but it definitely takes work. Most of us wait for our turn to talk, instead of actively listening. And yet it's possible to drop this habit by being aware of it, and making an effort to change.
2They're Highly Self-Aware
One of the cornerstones of emotional intelligence is a high level of self-awareness. "This means, being deeply aware of one's strengths and weaknesses, where we can celebrate and leverage our strengths ... and adopt skills/mindsets to supercharge our strengths to thrive socially," Dr. Neo says. "When someone can do this, they can be fully engaged with the person they are interacting with, rather than lost in their head and second-guessing themselves."
3They Embrace Change
People with high emotional intelligence know that their world is always changing. And they're OK with that. "A person with emotional intelligence doesn't let themselves get bogged down by the painful things in the world or their past," Dr. Neo says. "These may fuel them, but it does not handicap them."
To do so, they may live by the phrase, "change what you cannot accept; accept what you cannot change," she says. "It's about changing everything we find unacceptable — knowing we have the power, control, and responsibility. And then there are things we cannot change — somebody else, tough situations (e.g. economic cycles, systemic geopolitical issues), our past — that we can only learn to accept that [it] has happened, so we can live unencumbered by it."
4They Aren't Afraid To Say "No"
It can be nerve-racking to say no, but emotionally intelligent people value their time enough to say it anyway, know that it's actually OK to say, and are fine with it because they want others to respect their boundaries.
"When we cannot say no (or don't believe in our no's), it doesn't make us kinder or nicer people," Dr. Neo says. "It means we have weak boundaries that can easily be eroded, leading us to be vulnerable to bullying, toxic people, and empathy burnout — and on top of that, we blame ourselves! Knowing the power of our no's and being able to express gives us the resources (mental space, time, energy) to dedicate ourselves to the things and people that matter."
5They Stay Away From Toxic Situations
You'd be hard-pressed to find an emotionally intelligent person in the middle of a super toxic situation. And that's because they're able to read people, judge them in a healthy way, and discern whether or not they want them in their life.
"They know that discernment does not make you a bad person," Dr. Neo say. "And to be able to discern negative/toxic situations and people makes you wise, not evil. That can protect you and supercharge your growth instead."
6They Read The Room
Emotionally intelligent people are in tune with their own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. So they have a knack for reading a room, and they know when to say when.
"For instance, when you want to make a request, you don't do it when the other party is frazzled," Dr. Neo says. "You also learn how to make it easy for them to say yes, or difficult to say no — meaning, you remove the obstacles and make the process seamless."
In doing so, emotionally intelligent people often get what they want — which is why they're often highly successful, to boot.
7They Keep Their Lives Balanced
Thanks to their habit of keeping toxicity at bay, these folks tend to have good interpersonal relationships, "both personally and professionally," Dr. Nicole Washington, a board-certified psychiatrist, tells Bustle. "Some of this is due to the fact that they are good at setting healthy boundaries, able to admit when they are wrong, and able to approach conflict from the perspective of others."
But it's also because they're great at saying no. "They are ... good at accepting that they can't do everything and wise enough not to keep trying anyway," Dr. Washington says. "This is key because none of us can give 100 percent of ourselves to our careers and personal lives at the same time ... this takes balance."
8They Regulate Their Emotions
While it's always OK to occasionally get steaming mad, or super upset, it's a sign of high emotional intelligence when you know how to rein it back in and return to a happy middle ground.
"Individuals who have high levels of emotional intelligence are keenly aware of shifts in their internal emotional balance," psychologist Dr. Michele Barton, director of Psychology Life Well, tells Bustle. "The awareness is used as a self-regulation thermometer. The pendulum of an emotionally intelligent individual doesn’t swing too far in either direction so it has less to rebound from, also easier to keep regulated and maintain composure and balance."
Emotional intelligence comes naturally for some people. For the rest of us, it's definitely something that can be worked on. If you want to improve your emotional intelligence, being aware of what it looks and feels like can be a step in the right direction.