The emergence of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) as a commonly understood concept marked a watershed in our understanding of the mix of elements governing overall chances of success.
For many years, it was widely assumed that a combination of high IQ and nebulous qualities such as “gumption” or “drive” were responsible for people climbing to the top of their chosen field.
The arrival of EQ as a separate area of study gave us a way of intelligently talking about the critical role of soft skills and emotional awareness in achieving excellence.
There are, of course, a number of different overarching theories of exactly what makes up EQ and its constituent parts. There is even some dispute over the name itself with some parties preferring EQ and some going for EI as a shorthand – in this article we’ll refer to it as EQ throughout.
As for a commonly agreed on definition, Wikipedia offers a nicely succinct summary of what emotional intelligence is generally taken to mean:
The ability to recognize one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.
In this article, rather than get bogged down in attempts to quantitatively measure an inherently fluid set of abilities, we’ll concentrate instead on fifteen core characteristics typically exhibited by high EQ individuals.
The good news is that, while some people may naturally exhibit these qualities more than others, none of them are intrinsically innate and all can be cultivated over time with mindfulness and practice.
It’s worth making the effort to do so as well. Workplace studies show that over 90% of top performers exhibit signs of high emotional intelligence so making a note of where you are weak could be a shortcut to future success.
Let’s get going!
EQ Success Characteristic 1: A Rich Emotional Vocabulary
You’re doubtless familiar with Peter Drucker’s classic management maxim: What gets measured gets done. There is a corollary in the world of emotions: that which can be described can be dealt with.
Many people are simply incapable of distinguishing between subtle ranges of psychological states due to their lack of an emotional vocabulary. Rather than being, for example, “peeved” they go straight to “angry” because they lack the words to adequately describe their internal emotional landscape.
The end result, for themselves and others, is a tendency towards emotionally extreme positions that encourage unnecessary friction and discord.
EQ Success Characteristic 2: A Natural Curiosity About People
Regardless of where they sit on the introvert/extrovert spectrum, people with high levels of emotional intelligence have a tendency to be curious about the lives, inner emotions and outlook of other people.
It’s a natural outgrowth of one of the key characteristics of emotional intelligence – empathy.
EQ Success Characteristic 3: Welcoming Change
A certain type of internal flexibility is at the core of EQ. Successful practitioners have long since made their peace with the fact that the only constant in life is change itself.
People with limited EQ tend to cling to rigid structures as a substitute for emotional support. They often react negatively to the inevitable appearance of change rather than welcoming it as an opportunity for learning and growth.
EQ Success Characteristic 4: A Commitment To Dispassionate Self-knowledge
Being objectively aware of both your strengths and weaknesses is a combination very few people manage to pull off. It requires a level of ego management and internal mental discipline that can take considerable time to build up.
It’s in your interests to do so however. The ability to carry out an independent assessment of your plus and minus points allows you the opportunity to iteratively improve your areas of natural ability while constantly chipping away at your weak points.
The reward for walking down this road is almost inevitably success.
EQ Success Characteristic 5: The Ability To Judge Character
Judging external markers of success such as income, wealth or societal position is a relatively easy trick to pull off once you’re familiar with the lay of the land that surrounds you.
The ability to draw a bead on a person’s character after just one or two encounters is a far rarer and more useful skill.
People with a high EQ quotient have mastered the arts of pattern recognition and information chunking; two skills which allow them to make accurate assessments of overall character on the basis of just a few interactions.
It’s the type of skill that can save a fortune in time and money over even a short period as it enables you to sidestep negative situations and potential banana skins entirely rather than getting dragged in on good faith.
EQ Success Characteristic 6: A Thick Skin
Following on from point four, objective familiarity with their own strengths and weaknesses gifts people with a high EQ the ability to react dispassionately to criticism.
If the criticism is justified, they take it on board and actually do something about it. If it is a random ad hominem attack, they are content to brush it off without a second thought.
Those with less EQ skill are typically negatively side-tracked by criticism of any type and burn through acres of valuable time dealing with their own emotional reactions rather than using it constructively.
EQ Success Characteristic 7: They Have No Problem Saying No
“No” can be an extremely difficult word to either utter or hear. Those two little letters tap directly into an epic amount of emotional and self-worth issues for many people.
A scarcity mindset or underlying sense of lack often lies behind people’s inability to offer a simple no as an answer when it is appropriate.
People with high EQ are able to say no simply and without equivocation and thereby avoid a significant risk factor for stress, depression and burnout over the long haul.
EQ Success Characteristic 8: Mistakes Are A Thing Of The Past
There’s no getting away from it – everyone makes mistakes. By their very definition however, mistakes are past events. Whatever went wrong has already happened. The question now is how to deal with the consequences.
People with a high EQ recognise that what matters is the next step rather than the last one as it’s the only one that is under their control.
Their habit of acknowledging their own emotions allows them to process any regret, guilt or shame that might arise from a mistake and move quickly on to dealing with things proactively in the present moment.
EQ Success Characteristic 9: The Avoidance Of Invisible Strings Of Obligation
When giving or receiving a favour or gift of any sort – either personally or professionally – it is all too easy to get dragged into a psychologically worrying web of implied obligation that can strain even the most comfortable of relationships.
People with a high EQ steer clear of these traps by giving with a clear heart and expecting no reciprocity. They accept gifts, favours or compliments with equal equanimity.
EQ Success Characteristic 10: Not Holding Grudges
The long-term nursing of obscure past grudges is a guaranteed fast-track to internal emotional dissonance and overall negativity.
By actively holding a grudge you are effectively constantly reliving the events that caused you to be upset in the first place – a recipe for adding injury to perceived insult.
EQ Success Characteristic 11: Have No Truck With Toxic People
It’s an unpleasant truth but some people are simply not well-intentioned and should be avoided as much as possible.
There is one simple test you can use to guide yourself in this regard. Over a period of time, make a note of whether you feel more positive and empowered or somehow diminished and weakened after each encounter with a particular person.
If it is the latter, remove them from your life as soon as you can.
EQ Success Characteristic 12: Avoiding Perfection Paralysis
Perfect is the enemy of good and an outcome that you can never truly attain. Concentrate on steady, measurable improvements and learn to accept that perfection is a goal that can never be reached.
Another trap to look out for is that the last 5-10% of improvement that would lead to theoretical perfection often involves a truly disproportionate amount of effort that simply may not be worth it in order to reach your goals.
Vocabulary acquisition in a secondary language provides a useful illustration of this principle.
Learning 1000 words of a language gives you comprehension of around 70% of a standard written text. 2000 words gets you to 80%. Start trying to get up to 90% and beyond though and your vocabulary requirements mushroom to over 12,000 words.
EQ Success Characteristic 13: Be Thankful For What You’ve Got
Gratitude is not simply a cliched characteristic pushed by the greetings card industry. Study after study shows that cultivating a feeling of gratitude guards against depression and contributes strongly to performance and overall mental health.
EQ Success Characteristic 14: Knowing How To Switch Off
Being able to step away from work is a sign of strength rather than weakness. It’s also an excellent way of letting your brain work creatively on a problem at the deeper levels of the subconscious.
By refusing to grab mental or physical downtime, you are effectively redlining your engine and sooner or later you’re going to have to come in for repairs as a result.
EQ Success Characteristic 15: Managing Your Coffee Intake
Coffee is a deceptive drug. At lower doses it’s a pleasant way to give yourself a minor energy boost early in the day and has proven abilities to sharpen focus.
Up your consumption level too much though and you can stumble into a damaging cycle of unsustainable energy peaks and crashes that can negatively affect your mental and emotional well-being.
These fifteen characteristics are just the tip of the EQ iceberg of course but they constitute an excellent starting point for levelling up your life and steering your ship towards the shores of long-term success. We wish you all the best in taking them on board!