Some of the smartest and most talented people never succeed because they lack emotional intelligence.

Conversely, some people with little talent somehow succeed at everything they do. This is because they read people well, and people like them.

emotional intelligence

Like it or not, the success you find in your career or business will largely depend on other people.

That’s where emotional intelligence comes in.

This post will cover the research behind:

  • Why emotional intelligence is important, particularly in the workplace
  • Why “being liked” isn’t the same as being emotionally intelligent
  • The most common signs of emotional intelligence
  • How you can further develop your emotional intelligence

If you want to find more success at work, spend a bit of time reading this article, and then follow the actionable steps below.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

The term “emotional intelligence” was first seen in 1964 in a paper written by Michael Beloch, but it didn’t quite take hold.

It wasn’t until psychologist Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence was released in 1995 that the term rose to popularity.

The definition of emotional intelligence is:

Emotional Intelligence
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The ability to understand your own emotions, and the emotions of other people and how they impact the way we interact. It also includes the ability to use that knowledge to adapt interactions with others to achieve goals.

How Can Emotional Intelligence Help You in Work or Business?

Emotional intelligence in the workplace has been heavily studied in the last few decades.

In 1999, McClelland found that lost-time accidents in a manufacturing plant were cut in half, and workplace grievances went down by 80% after supervisors received emotional competency training.

Egon Zehnder studied a sample of 515 senior executives and measured their emotional intelligence. They found that regardless of the country, those with the highest emotional intelligence were most likely to be successful, regardless of experience or IQ.

Finally, research from The Carnegie Institute of Technology showed that approximately 85% of an individual’s financial success came from skills in human engineering, communication, personality, and leadership. These are skills that emotional intelligence covers. Conversely, the remaining 15% of success came from technical ability.

Think of your own experience. Your favorite co-workers are most likely people that you like, trust, and feel that you understand.

How to Test Emotional Intelligence

There are two main ways you can test how emotionally intelligent you are.

First, you can self-assess how well you display certain skills. This is what we’re going to be doing together in the next section of this post.

You can also download a concise version of this test in downloadble PDF format to print or share.

The usefulness and accuracy of this depends on how honest you can be with yourself.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) Testing

The second type of test is a more in-depth test that creates a profile of your emotional intelligence. Some of these tests are free, like this one from Psychology Today (45 minutes).

Some tests charge a fee; these are typically purchased by businesses to assess employees and help them be more effective in their roles. For example, the MSCEIT is a test designed by Yale University President Peter Salovey and colleagues.

5 Signs of High Emotional Intelligence

There are several models of emotional intelligence, and there’s no consensus on which one is best. In this guide, we’re going to focus on these five areas:

    1. Self-expression
    2. Self-perception
    3. Interpersonal Skills
    4. Decision Making
    5. Stress Management

I’m going to go over how you would assess yourself for each category, one by one.

Try to be as honest as possible while assessing yourself, and write down your scores for each category and subcategory so you can compare them after.

5 Signs of High Emotional Intelligence


Self-perception refers to how accurately you understand yourself and evaluate yourself.

Ironically, you need to be good at self-perception to accurately perform this self-assessment. Otherwise, you should stick to formal tests.

This category is broken down into three subcategories to judge yourself on:

  • Self-regard: How much you care about and respect yourself.
  • Self-awareness: How objective you can be at assessing your own emotions, strengths, weaknesses, and motivations. It also measures how well you understand your impact on others.
  • Self-actualization: Are you living up to your potential (in the workplace, in life)?

To assess yourself in each subcategory, you need to rate yourself on a scale of 1-10 for the statements, based on how strongly you agree with them.

Here are statements you should ask yourself and rate yourself on: (With 10 meaning that you strongly agree, and 1 being strongly disagree.)

Subcategory Question #1 Question #2 Question #3
Self-regard I easily accept compliments. I don’t berate myself if I make a mistake. I take time off when I’m feeling run-down.
Self-awareness I often think about my feelings. I often think about the feelings of others. I apologize when I’m wrong.
Self-actualization I generally like who I am. I am content when working alone. I am generally relaxed and carefree.

At this point, you can make an average for each subcategory, and then move on to the next section. We’ll go over improving weaknesses after.


If you are highly self-aware, you understand your thoughts and feelings well. But many people who do this, don’t act on those thoughts and feelings.

Self-expression refers to how well you express yourself. There are good ways and bad ways to do this.

Again there are three subcategories to break self-expression down further:

  • Emotional expression: How well you deal with negative emotions, and how well you express positive ones.
  • Assertiveness: How well you stand up for yourself when your emotions urge you to.
  • Independence: How well you can assess your desires when alone and decide on the best course of action.

Rate the following statements from 1-10, with 10 being strongly agree and 1 strongly disagreeing.

Subcategory Question #1 Question #2 Question #3
Emotional expression I don’t let negative emotions affect my mood for long. I don’t act on negative emotions. I show gratitude and praise when someone does something good.
Assertiveness I speak my mind when I believe in something. I don’t act against my values and principles. I actively speak up when I have something to contribute.
Independence I don’t rely on others to make important decisions for me. I’m comfortable getting input from others without accepting it. I don’t use others to fulfill emotional needs.

Interpersonal Skills

Having high emotional intelligence means that you’re able to interact with others effectively. It doesn’t mean you have to be an extrovert, only that you can understand and work well with others.

This category is broken down into these subcategories:

  • Empathy: The ability to understand how others think and feel.
  • Interpersonal relationships: The ability to form and maintain relationships with others.
  • Social responsibility: The willingness to contribute to the well-being of others. Not just empathizing with others, but the action of helping them.

As before, rate yourself on a scale with 10 being strongly agree and 1 strongly disagreeing.

Subcategory Question #1 Question #2 Question #3
Empathy I respond to angry coworkers by trying to understand them. I often think about how others are feeling. When I disagree with someone, I try to get to know them better instead of ignoring them.
Interpersonal   relationships  Most of my coworkers like me. I rarely have any conflicts when working in a team. I bring people together when they can help each other.
Social responsibility I help coworkers when they are struggling. I speak up when I think I can help my team. I make sacrifices when my company is under a tight deadline.

Decision Making

Decision making is all about making the best decision you can. Some people may be aware of their own emotions, excelling in self-perception, but act on the wrong ones. That’s a sign of weak decision making.

Decision making can be broken down into three sections:

  • Problem-solving: How well you control emotions when making decisions.
  • Reality testing: How objective you are when it comes to facts.
  • Impulse control: How well can you control impulses?

Just like before, rate yourself on a scale from 1 to 10 with 10 being strongly agree and 1 strongly disagreeing.

Subcategory Question #1 Question #2 Question #3
Problem-solving I evaluate whether or not logic or emotion is driving a decision. I don’t get discouraged by doubt when trying to solve a problem. I don’t let emotions distract me (e.g., causing daydreaming) when solving a problem.
Reality testing   I consider multiple viewpoints before making decisions. I regularly evaluate the results of my decisions to determine if my decision was objective. I don’t easily accept new facts just because it agrees with my viewpoints.
Impulse control I often pause before speaking and acting. I take extra time to make important decisions. I think of long and short-term consequences when making a decision.

Stress Management

The final piece of the puzzle is stress management, which refers to how well you handle adversity. Again, there are three subcategories:

  • Flexibility: Are you able to adapt to changing circumstances?
  • Stress tolerance: How stress impacts your performance and well-being.
  • Optimism: How well you can keep moving forward, even when times are tough.

Rate yourself once again on these final set of questions. Remember, 10 is strongly agree and 1 is strongly disagree.

Subcategory Question #1 Question #2 Question #3
Flexibility When asked to fulfill an unusual role, I’m happy to try. I don’t get stressed out if my work hours temporarily change. If I’m moved to a new position or team, I’m excited to adapt and try something new.
Stress tolerance I remain mindful during tasks, even during high-pressure situations. During deadlines, I’m still able to be happy in general. Negative feedback doesn’t stress me out.
Optimism I don’t over-react to challenges, because I’m confident I’ll make it through them. I understand both positive and negative viewpoints on a situation and choose to be positive. I review negative feedback as a chance to learn.

Now you can tally up your individual scores for each of the five sections. This should help make your strengths and weaknesses obvious. (psssst: we also have a downloadable PDF version of this test).

  • >15 points = You scored as weak in this area, and should aim to improve.
  • 15-35 points = You are below average and should look to strengthen yourself in this area.
  • 35-65 points = Good start, but you still have have work to do in this area.
  • 65-80 points = You are strong in this area, but have some room for improvement.
  • 80-90 points = Congrats. You score as highly emotionally intelligent in this area.

Keep these scores, and repeat this assessment in a few months to see if you’ve improved.

Now we’ll look at improving any weak areas.

How Do You Develop Emotional Intelligence?

Most experts believe that emotional intelligence is a skill, or rather, a collection of skills.

If you practice them, you will get better.

Many skills that will help you become more emotionally intelligent are obvious from the above questions. For example, being assertive relies on getting into the habit of being assertive, but there’s nothing special to learn it other than practice.

I’ll cover a few methods to improve each of the five categories of emotional intelligence here.

How to Improve Self-Perception

There are three ways to improve self-perception if that’s a weak area for you:

  1. Be nicer to yourself: If you find you’re too critical of yourself, there are several books on this topic. I’d recommend starting with this excellent TED talk.
  2. Plan to take time off: If you’re working so much that it’s hurting your happiness or health, schedule your vacations far ahead of schedule. This will ensure that you get enough time for yourself and don’t sacrifice too much for work.
  3. Journal: Most of us don’t take enough time thinking about our feelings. Creating a habit of journaling on a daily basis will help you understand your feelings better.

How to Improve Self-Expression

We all know how to express ourselves, but we often don’t.

Why? Mostly because of fear. Fear of looking dumb, or thinking that no one cares about your opinion and feelings.

Overcoming fears and negative thoughts are not easy to do, but it is possible with practice.

A small thing you can do is look for just one opportunity to speak up. Afterward, compare what actually happened to what you were scared would happen. Most times you’ll find that your expectations were way off.

Repeating this can help align your expectations with reality.

Other ways to improve self-expression include participating in some sort of art, dance, acting or other expression-full class. Does this sound horrible? Maybe that is a good sign that you can learn something from this sort of activity.

How to Improve Interpersonal Skills

Empathy in interpersonal skills requires you to interact with others and try to create a bond.

You don’t need to become best friends, but being generally liked by co-workers will help your career and make you happier.

If you don’t have chances to be social with coworkers, you have to make them.

Here are three common ideas that open up conversations:

  • Eat lunch with coworkers, even if you have to eat at a different time.
  • Leave food (try candy!) on your desk for coworkers.
  • Volunteer when someone needs to stay late. Coworkers will understand that while you may not be the most social, you care about them.

You don’t have to go from zero to the life of the office overnight. We’re looking for a change, so even incremental improvements are good!
Also, see our full guide for practical and unique ways to improve interpersonal communication skills.

How to Improve Decision Making

In the context of emotional intelligence, decision making is about controlling emotions and seeing things objectively.

There are three easy ways to do this better:

  • If you act impulsively, get in the habit of pausing before acting.
  • If you regret big decisions, postpone your big decisions for a day or week and see if you still feel the same way.
  • Review problems with others. Talk through the problem with a friend or coworker and see if they see the situation the same way you do. If not, you may not be being objective.

How to Improve Stress Management

Some people are carefree, while others are a tightly-wound bundle of nerves. It’s a skill that can be learned, but usually involves changing your thoughts and habits, which is hard.

Research has shown certain techniques are effective for stress management. They include:

  1. Take breaks and relax: Even if it’s just for a few minutes, it can grant you some much-needed stress relief. Here’s a great list of 40 ways to relax, you’ll be able to find at least a few that appeal to you.
  2. Exercise: Research keeps proving that exercise provides many long-term benefits, including stress relief. If you’re stressed at the office, go for a walk during lunch.
  3. Talk to your social support: Bottling up your stress means you will always be stressed. Talking with a friend, family member, or even posting online can be a therapeutic release.
  4. Meditate: Ever seen a Buddhist monk who was stressed? Meditation helps you be mindful and let go of the things that are stressing you out. Here’s the first day of a popular meditation series for beginners.


We’ve highlighted five main categories of emotional intelligence skills. Once you assess yourself using the questions above, pick one or two of your weaknesses and start working to improve them.

In a few months, come back and re-assess yourself to see if you’ve grown.

Finally, if emotional intelligence is crucial for you, consider seeing a therapist, who can help you identify and overcome many of these issues.