What does it mean when someone has high emotional intelligence?
In 1995, psychologist and science journalist Daniel Goleman published a book introducing most of the world to the nascent concept of emotional intelligence. The idea—that an ability to understand and manage emotions greatly increases our chances of success—quickly took off, and it went on to greatly influence the way people think about emotions and human behavior.
But what does emotional intelligence look like in everyday life?
For the past two years, I’ve explored that question in researching my book, EQ, Applied. In doing so, I’ve identified a number of actions that illustrate how emotional intelligence appears in the real world.
Here are 19 of them.
(Note: In this article, we cover positive uses of emotional intelligence. But it’s important to realize there’s also a dark side to emotional intelligence.)
1. They think about feelings.
Emotionally intelligent people are able to identify emotions and understand the role they play in influencing a person’s thoughts, words, and actions.
They do so by quietly observing both themselves and others, reflecting on those observations, and (at times) sharing their conclusions. This enables them to see what’s happening “below the surface,” so to speak…and to identify the reasons behind our behavior.
2. They pause.
A person with high emotional intelligence will realize that emotions are fleeting, and that often making impulsive decisions leads to regrets. Therefore, they try to pause and think before speaking or acting—especially when they find themselves in an emotionally charged moment.
In short, their goal is to never make a permanent decision based on a temporary emotion.
3. They control their thinking.
Most emotions are experienced instinctively, meaning you can’t control how you feel in any given moment.
But emotionally intelligent people recognize they can control how they react to those feelings—by focusing on their thoughts. In doing so, they avoid becoming a slave to their emotions.
4. They learn from “emotional hijacks.”
The truth is, none of us can control our emotions perfectly. We all make mistakes, and we’ll continue to do so. Show me an “expert” in emotional intelligence, and I’ll show you another person who loses their temper or makes an emotionally faulty decision—under the wrong circumstances.
But those with true emotional intelligence endeavor to learn from mistakes. They study their behavior, identify their triggers, and cultivate the habits they need to successfully keep their emotions in balance.
5. They demonstrate humility.
Many people today view humility as weakness.
Many of those with high emotional intelligence value humility. They are quick to accept criticism, using it to grow. They realize being humble doesn’t mean that they lack self-confidence or that they never stand up for their opinions or principles. Rather, it involves recognizing that they don’t know everything—and being willing to learn from others.
6. They practice honesty.
Emotionally intelligent people do more than say what they sincerely believe; they also avoid half-truths and strive to present information in a way that won’t be misinterpreted.
The highest emotional intelligence helps them realize that focusing on technicalities, loopholes, and escape clauses may win them a trial in court, but it won’t win them others’ trust.
7. They’re authentic.
Those with high emotional intelligence realize authenticity doesn’t mean sharing everything about yourself, to everyone, all of the time.
Rather, they endeavor to always say what they mean, mean what they say, and stick to their values and principles above all.
8. They show empathy.
Instead of labeling others or freezing them in time, a person who has high emotional intelligence works hard to demonstrate empathy, the ability to see things through another person’s eyes, and to share their feelings.
They listen, not to form judgments. Rather, they listen to understand—which leads to deeper, more connected relationships.
9. They commend others.
Emotionally intelligent people look for the good in others. Then, they share specific praise.
They also focus on nurturing others’ potential. By doing so, they create positive, self-fulfilling prophecies—persons who become the best versions of themselves, because others believe in what they can become.
10. They deliver necessary feedback effectively.
Negative feedback has great potential to cause hurt feelings.
Realizing this, someone who has the highest emotional intelligence reframes criticism as constructive feedback, so the recipient sees it as helpful instead of harmful.
11. They apologize.
“I’m sorry” can be the most difficult words to say.
But emotionally intelligent people realize the power of those words. They also know that saying sorry doesn’t always mean you’re wrong—just that you value your relationship more than your ego.
12. They forgive and forget.
Hanging on to resentment is like leaving a knife inside a wound. While the offending party moves on with their life, you never give yourself the chance to heal.
But by forgiving and forgetting, emotionally intelligent persons move on—and prevent others from holding their emotions hostage.
13. They keep their commitments.
We live in a world where it’s become commonplace to “bail,” “ghost,” or simply flake out.
But emotionally intelligent people realize that keeping their word–in things big and small—establishes a strong reputation for reliability and trustworthiness.
14. They tell good stories.
Everyone loves a great story.
Realizing this, emotionally intelligent people use anecdotes and narratives to bring numbers, facts, and key ideas to life. Through illustrations and real-life examples, they touch others and motivate them to act.
15. They help others.
One of the best ways to inspire someone is to help them.
By extending a supportive hand, emotionally intelligent people help others to become the best version of themselves.
16. They know when to relax.
Those with high emotional intelligence realize they needn’t understand every feeling as they experience it, or dissect every event as it happens.
Rather, they search for deeper understanding when beneficial. And simply enjoy the moment when not.
17. They safeguard themselves from emotional manipulation.
Emotionally intelligent people realize that there’s a dark side to EQ–like when individuals use deception to manipulate, or pursue selfish goals at the expense of others.
And that’s just one reason they continue to sharpen their own EQ, so they can protect themselves and others.
18. They embrace diversity.
Emotionally intelligent people recognize that EQ comes in all different packages, shapes, and sizes. Man or woman. Quiet or loud. Brash or meek. Leader or follower.
As they become aware of their own emotional tendencies and weaknesses, they endeavor to learn from those who are different–realizing it is these persons from whom they can learn the most.
19. They recognize the power of emotions.
Our emotions influence practically everything about our lives.
They help us decide which career path we take, for which jobs we apply. They determine whether or not we enjoy a movie, a song, or a piece of art. They impact our decisions as to where we will live and for how long. They help us determine with whom we choose to spend our time, whom we fall in love with and marry…and whom we leave behind.
Emotions can cause us to make a split-second decision, with consequences that will follow us for the rest of our lives. At times, they make us feel like we’re stuck in a black hole with no way out—even if in the eyes of the rest of the world we’ve got it made. But they can also provide light at the end of the tunnel, making the most dire of circumstances more bearable.
It is for all these reasons that emotional intelligence is so invaluable.
A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.