12 Common Habits of People With High Emotional Intelligence, According to Psychologists

Two women with high emotional intelligence are sitting and having a conversation

You can't go far without hearing something about artificial intelligence these days—whether it's "the robots are coming for our jobs" or tips on how to use it to better your career. Basic intelligence, often measured in IQ test scores, is something else people tend to focus on. However, some experts argue another type of intelligence called emotional intelligence is equally if not more important. 

Back up. What exactly is emotional intelligence? And what are some high emotional intelligence habits, according to psychologists?

"Emotional intelligence, or EI, is an integral part of forming and developing meaningful human relationships," explains Dr. John Huber, Ph.D., a psychologist and chairperson for Mainstream Mental Health. "EI can help maintain long-term relationships and help people to deal with intense situations. An example would include working in a high-stress job such as a salesperson, doctor, lawyer or social worker."

See? Career success isn't all about test scores. Humanity matters too. And, unlike IQ, EI is easier to improve.

"Basic intelligence is strongly influenced by genetics and relatively static after childhood," says Dr. Kristin Daley, Ph.D., FSBSM, a licensed psychologist and founder of BASE Cognitive Behavioral in Charlotte, North Carolina. "Emotional intelligence is malleable throughout the lifespan and actually can contribute more to overall life satisfaction."

How do you know if you have high emotional intelligence, and how can you improve yours? Experts shared 12 common habits of highly emotionally intelligent people. 

Related: 11 Common Behaviors of Authentic People—and One Thing They *Never* Do, According to Therapists

What Does It Mean To Have High Emotional Intelligence?

People with high emotional intelligence can evaluate, control and use their emotions to communicate with others effectively, explains Dr. Tara Lindahl, PsyD., a psychologist with Mindpath Health.

"People with high EI are keen to learn about themselves and apply it to the world around them," Dr. Lindahl says.

How Can You Tell if Someone Has High Emotional Intelligence?

It's easy to spot. Dr. Lindahl explains that people with high emotional intelligence stand out.

"They are cool in times of high stress," Dr. Lindahl says. "It’s that person who never seems flustered and always knows 'just what you need' when encountering a bump in the road. They are easy to get along with and seem interested in getting to know you. They apologize, accept responsibility for mistakes and can speak freely and calmly during a conflict."

12 Habits of Highly Emotionally Intelligent People

1. Self-regulation

One of the hallmark signs of a highly emotionally intelligent person is the ability to self-regulate. These types have made self-regulation so habitual that they can use these skills even in the most challenging circumstances, like the need to pivot on a dime at work.

"They manage their thoughts and emotions well by being in tune with their mind and body," Dr. Lindahl says. "They do not suppress feelings but rather feel them in the moment and then let them go.

2. Effective communication

Dr. Lindahl says that highly emotionally intelligent people know how to read a room and use it to shape their words and actions. They pick up on non-verbal cues in others, like body language, and combine this awareness with regulation to bring calm to situations that would otherwise get heated, like a disagreement over finances with a romantic partner.

"They are aware of their emotions and others' and navigate difficult conversations with facts, not feelings," says Dr. Lindhal.

3. Meaningful work

People with high EI regularly perform work that means something to them, whether volunteering or pursuing a passion project.

"Emotional regulation requires feelings of success and mastery, and most of us will find work—paid or unpaid—will satisfy this drive," Dr. Daley says. "For some people, mastery comes from learning new skills or recognizing the successes that we have in the work we already perform."

4. Boundaries

People with high emotional intelligence don't say yes to everything—they know their limits and set boundaries to protect their peace.

"Highly emotionally intelligent individuals continue to monitor their boundaries so that they know when they have enough emotional bandwidth to continue managing a situation versus when they may feel overwhelmed and need to take a break," says Dr. Marty A. Cooper, Ph.D., LMHC, NCC, a psychologist and associate professor at SUNY Old Westbury. 

This habit helps with emotional regulation.

Related: 35 Phrases To Set Boundaries Firmly and Fairly, According to Mental Health Pros

5. Listening to constructive criticism

Highly emotionally intelligent people are regulated and self-aware enough to handle criticism like a pro.

"They can admit to weaknesses and see criticism as instructions on how and where to improve," Dr. Lindahl says.

6. Embracing the possibility of failure

Failure is an option for people with high emotional intelligence—and not necessarily a bad one.

"They take the experience and learn from their mistakes," Dr. Huber says. "They do not take one failure as a representation of who they are or how any situation will end."

7. Waking up at the same time every day

Ever find you're more emotional when you're exhausted? "Regulation starts with being well-rested," Dr. Daley says.

Tap into your body's natural circadian rhythm by getting into a morning routine with one key consistent feature.

"Sleep is most regulated by having a consistent wake-up time every day," Dr. Daley says. "You cannot force yourself to sleep, but you can commit to a consistent wake time each day." 

Related: 15 Phrases to Respectfully Disagree Without Lying

8. Exercise

Emotionally intelligent types build more than strength, speed and endurance when they get physical activity.

"Exercise is protective from depression, dementia and a whole host of psychological and physical ailments," Dr. Daley says. 

However, Dr. Daley says emotionally intelligent people don't overdo it. You won't find them running marathons they don't want to run.

"Emotionally intelligent people exercise enough to regulate themselves but are not addicted to their exercise," Dr. Daley says. "They know how to take breaks from a good thing and recognize that over-indulgence, whether it’s food, wine, video games or running, can create emotional challenges."

9. Sitting still

Quiet can feel confrontational, but highly emotionally intelligent people seek out the calm

"Whether it is a formal practice of meditation or just the capacity to sit still and take in a sunrise, emotionally intelligent people know how to be active and inactive," Dr. Daley says. "I often challenge my clients that their head needs to be a safe place in which to exist, and we can only appraise our comfort with ourselves by taking space from distractions and busyness."

10. Always learning

Emotionally intelligent people are lifelong learners.

"They love learning about other ways of thinking—new ideas and concepts are their bread and butter," Dr. Lindhal says. "They ask specific questions while listening actively to answers."

This desire to learn extends to other people.

"Highly emotionally intelligent people are curious about other people," Dr. Huber says. "They listen and reflect feelings with others while taking an active part in others life through this reflection.:

11. Reflection

Emotional intelligence starts with internal work.

"During self-reflection, people with high emotional intelligence ask themselves the hard questions," Dr. Huber says. "They work on identifying weaknesses and areas that they need to improve on."

Dr. Huber says these questions include “Am I honest with my feelings?” and "Do I need to change my attitude toward my employees or boss?"

12. Seeking in-person connection

Dr. Daley notes that humans aren't meant to do this life thing alone, something we got a sobering reminder of during pandemic restrictions. 

"They connect with others. We have plenty of evidence that the human species was not designed to be alone, and we all benefit from having deep social ties," Dr. Daley says. "Phone and Zoom are fine, but we get more dopamine and serotonin in face-to-face interactions with people." 

Related: 10 Phrases To Effectively Start a Conversation, According to Psychologists

What To Do if You're Struggling To Build Emotional Intelligence

First, give yourself some grace. You likely didn't learn algebra in a day. You won't build emotional intelligence in one, either.

"If you feel like your emotional intelligence is low, the first thing to do is to commit to a slow and continuous process to increase this," Dr. Cooper says.

Dr. Cooper suggests doing an evening check-in a few times per week.

"Ask yourself what events in the day felt significant," Dr. Cooper says. How many different ways did you feel about the event? How did your emotions in the moment influence your behavior? Can you imagine what your ideal process might have looked like in that moment?"

Ideally, Dr. Cooper says you'll keep a journal or continuous note in your phone, allowing you to see progress over time. That said, prepare for some regression.

"Change is hard, and sometimes we revert to our previous behavior," Dr. Cooper says. "The important thing is to return to your process of reviewing your emotions and working toward being the emotionally intelligent person you want to be."

During setbacks, remember: People with high EI embrace learning from failure. 

Next: 12 of the Best 'I Statements' To Use in Arguments, According to Psychologists