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5 ways to display emotional intelligence (even if it’s not your strong suit)

Science-based lessons to help you boost your EQ.

5 ways to display emotional intelligence (even if it’s not your strong suit)
[Source photo: Rawpixel; amtitus/Getty Images]

Emotional intelligence (EQ), the ability to manage yourself and others, is a useful performance enhancer in a wide range of jobs, ranging from doctors, to police officers, and leadership roles.

Contrary to popular belief, EQ does not matter more than IQ, which is the best known measure of learning potential and a stronger predictor of job performance than EQ in a wider range of jobs and careers.

However, EQ is always a useful complement to IQ, particularly when dealing with people, which most jobs require. Moreover, as I argue in my latest book, with the continued advancements in AI, such as ChatGPT, the unique value of humans will likely derive from successfully solving people-problems rather than logical or knowledge problems, which AI will do better than human intelligence.

With that, here are five science-based strategies to help boost your EQ.


Since the most important thing is how emotionally intelligent others think you (rather than what you think of yourself), you must learn to come across as pleasant, likable, and emotionally balanced. Some people are blessed with a calm and cool-headed personality, so not much effort will be required. But for the rest of us, which includes the vast majority of people in the world, we must make an effort to not just be ourselves, but the best possible version of us.

This means hiding our negative feelings and emotions, not giving away any aggressive or unpleasant feelings, and maintaining a professional image that comes across as genuine and believable. As a new book by Rose Hackman illustrates, much of what we call EQ today is essentially emotional labor. It is about seeming authentic when you are not, and ensuring that your authentic self is adequately censored.


One of the most important things to control is your mood swings. Indeed, the main behavioral characteristic of high EQ people is that they are not emotionally reactive. They seem unfazed in the presence of challenging or stressful events, even when they may be worried or anxious internally.

Likewise, high EQ people don’t get carried away with positive or exciting events. Their trademark disposition is to be composed, balanced, and predictably calm to others. This gives them an edge when it comes to managing people, as most people appreciate having a stable and predictable boss (even if it means having a boring boss), compared to someone who is an agent of uncertainty, chaos, and stress.


As our research has shown, a universal pillar of EQ is to be rewarding to deal with, which is basically the opposite of being difficult or engaging in arguments. In the words of Oscar Wilde: “Some cause happiness wherever they go, others, whenever they go” (and the former tend to have higher EQ than the latter).

Of course, it is not always easy to avoid arguments, especially when dealing with difficult (and low EQ) people. But we can all become better at it, and will reap the rewards of wasting less time fighting others, especially when the hope is to persuade people that we are right and they are wrong—something that occurs quite rarely.

Dale Carnegie said: “the only way to win an argument is to avoid having an argument.” And if you think this will make you a fraud or diminish your authenticity, remember that those who go around genuinely expressing their dissent and superiority with others tend to be perceived as obnoxious rather than emotionally intelligent. The choice is yours (well, within reason).


To be seen as emotionally intelligent, you must demonstrate empathy, that you’re able to tune into other people’s thoughts and feelings. This can only happen if you stop focusing on yourself.

Focusing on others is also the best way to increase your self-awareness. This may sound counterintuitive, but the best way to understand yourself better, is to understand what other people think of you. Meaning always comes from others, including meaning about who we are, what we are good at, and what we are not.

In other words, self-awareness is truly about other-awareness and requires us to spend less time thinking about ourselves, and more time thinking about others. An additional benefit would be that if a large number of people followed this rule, society would be a lot less self-obsessed, narcissistic, and selfish.


Arguably the hardest thing high EQ people do is to influence others’ behaviors and feelings, even without their awareness. In reality, the easiest thing to learn is to help people do what they wanted to do in the first place. This will make you their psychological ally, and do what no AI will be able to do: actually give a damn about people. Importantly, boosting your influence skills needs a great deal of practice, and requires you to master the other points listed here in the first place.

A final caveat: while it is important to harness our reputation for being emotionally intelligent, there are many factors other than EQ than contribute to high levels of job performance and career success.

The correlation between EQ and performance or success rarely exceeds 0.3, which implies just 9% overlap between them (meaning, 91% of performance and career success is independent of your EQ). In fact, many extraordinary achievers and talented individuals in artistic, creative, and entrepreneurial jobs are not known for being emotionally stable or empathetic, rather than self-centered (Elon Musk, Nina Simone, Kanye West, and J.K. Rowling are just some examples).

What matters most is not to come across as emotionally intelligent, but to learn to control and improve your personality: learning new adaptations, developing new skills, and inhibiting rather than unleashing your dark side tendencies.

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