When identifying low emotional intelligence, we first need to understand what emotional intelligence is and is not. According to Psychology Today, emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage one’s emotions, as well as the emotions of others. Emotional intelligence has four emotional skills: self-awareness, social awareness, empathy, and emotional regulation. People with low emotional intelligence do not have mastery over one or more of these skills.
Absence of Self Awareness
Self-awareness is understanding your emotions, thoughts, and actions and analyzing how they make you feel. When emotionally self-aware, you can name your emotions as you experience them. Emotional granularity means having a rich vocabulary of emotions to describe your feelings. Emotional self-awareness allows you to become more in control of your emotions and truly take a step back when overwhelmed by them.
In a survey of over 7,000 people, when asked about their common emotions, the majority were only able to say “I feel happy.” “I feel sad.” Or “I feel pissed off!” These responses demonstrate low emotional self-awareness and low emotional intelligence.
The absence of emotional self-awareness can appear in different ways. Low self-awareness manifests in reactivity, emotional defensiveness, emotional unavailability, emotional shut-down, or passive-aggressiveness. When someone isn’t self-aware, they revert to unconscious childhood programming rather than reflecting on the situation and responding appropriately. These behaviors all indicate low emotional intelligence.
Low emotional intelligence doesn’t mean you’re a terrible person; it’s just an indicator that you aren’t paying close attention to your emotions. For example, you may perceive what someone says to you as a personal attack when that was not the speaker’s intention.
Another indicator of low emotional self-awareness is the constant need for approval from others. One example is being afraid to speak out for what you believe in and instead just going along with what everyone else does. You’re unconsciously avoiding the emotion of anxiety by not creating waves. This creates low emotional intelligence.
People with low emotional self-awareness tend to blame things on others or on something else rather than taking personal responsibility. After some self-reflection, you may realize that it has affected relationships with friends and family.
Low emotional self-awareness does not mean you’re a terrible person. You have never been taught to be self-aware. Emotional self-awareness isn’t something we are born with. Instead, it is a skill we have to learn.
How Can I Learn Emotional Self-Awareness?
Because emotional self-awareness is a skill, taking a class is the fastest way to develop it. The best online course is the Developing Emotional Competency course on this website.
The longer way will work too.
Observe your emotions and label them. For example, once every hour, assess your feelings. Keep a journal and write them down. Notice that emotions come in groups. You might be bored, and if you look further, you will find that you are annoyed, irritated, feel ignored, unappreciated, anxious, worried, and concerned. Don’t stop with the first emotion that comes to mind. List everything you are feeling, no matter how slight or trivial.
When you experience strong emotions, label them. For example, if you get stuck in traffic and will be late for a meeting, identify your emotions out loud. “I am pissed, frustrated, angry, and anxious. I feel like I have no control, and I am worried I will be embarrassed and criticized for being late.” The more conscious you become of your moment-to-moment emotions, the more emotionally self-aware you will become.
As you expand your awareness of other people’s emotional experiences, you will be on the path to elevating your low emotional intelligence.
Difficulty Recognizing How Others Feel
Social awareness, while similar to self-awareness, is about how you perceive other people’s emotions.
One example of low social awareness is the inability to read the room. You may find yourself saying inappropriate things at the wrong time or place. Low social awareness is another indicator of low emotional intelligence.
If you tend to talk over people or insert your opinion where it isn’t wanted, you are suffering from low social awareness. We like to relate to other people’s experiences, but if we’re not socially aware, we can come off as conceited or narcissistic.
The inability to interpret context clues can also indicate low social awareness. For example, if you do not pick up on body language cues during a conversation, you may miss the discomfort or anger.
Improving Your Social Awareness
Start learning how to identify others’ emotions. One way to develop this skill is to turn down the sound of a movie or series, watch the actors, and write down all the emotions you see them portraying. When you are out shopping, observe the people around you. What emotions are they experiencing? Take notes because your brain will encode the information as you write down what you see.
Pay close attention to nonverbal communication. Watch facial expressions, eyes, and body language. What emotions are they conveying? Write them down as you observe them to encode them.
Another way to work on this is to practice reflective listening. Unlike discredited and useless active listening, reflective listening uses “you” statements. For example, if someone is angry, you would say, “You are angry.” When you begin reflective listening, you will soon recognize the right time to speak and avoid being insensitive and interrupting others.
Lack of Empathy Equals Low Emotional Intelligence
Empathy is the ability to read, assimilate, interpret, and reflect the emotions of another person. There are two types of empathy: cognitive and affective. Cognitive empathy occurs when you see another person’s emotions and consciously label them. Affective empathy occurs when you feel another person’s emotions and consciously label them. You develop affective empathy as you become skilled in cognitive empathy.
Empathy does not come naturally; it is a skill that has to be learned, practiced, and mastered. If you do not have the skill of empathy, you will have low emotional intelligence.
Be aware of common indicators that showcase a lack of empathy.
One sign that you may be lacking empathy is if you find yourself being overly critical of others. You may find yourself silently judging people in public for things that either are or aren’t in their control. You may judge or criticize people for their differences.
How to Build Empathy
In the Developing Emotional Competency online course, we introduce the skill of affect labeling to develop cognitive empathy. You build empathy by learning how to read emotional data fields and reflecting back emotions to the speaker. Most students master this in four to six weeks of practice. Conventional wisdom says that it takes years and much practice to develop the skill of empathy. We have demonstrated in the Prison of Peace project that even life inmates can learn empathy in weeks, not years.
Affect labeling is the skill of reflecting a person’s emotional experience with a “you” statement. Emotions come in layers as in this illustration.
You start with the obvious emotion, then move through the layers. You are complete when the speaker gives you a head nod, a verbal response (“Exactly!), a shoulder drop, and sigh of relief.
Brain scanning studies show that affect labeling inhibits emotional reactivity while activating the right ventro lateral prefrontal cortex ( the executive function of the brain). The result is a nearly instantaneous calming effect.
After you practice for several weeks, it will start becoming natural. You will soon see people in a different light. Their emotions will be an open book to you and you will know exactly what to say, how to say it, and when to say it, no matter the intensity of the situation.
Unable to Regulate One’s Emotions
Emotional regulation means that you are able to act against what your emotions are screaming at you to do. In addition, you’re able to tolerate strong negative emotions without being reactive. When we aren’t able to control these intense feelings, we may end up reacting inappropriately.
Typical examples of emotional dysregulation are outbursts, tantrums, and violent behavior. These are typically caused by unregulated emotions and often aren’t how we consciously want to react. The lack of emotional regulation can also cause us to suffer from stress, anxiety, and even depression. How To Have A Relationship Without Arguments or Fights-3 Amazing Steps To Take Now
When we don’t control our emotions, we risk our mental health. Self-harm and substance abuse are two side effects of people trying to regulate their emotions by external means.
Practical Ways to Regulate Your Emotions
Respond, don’t react. Start paying attention to events and memories that trigger your emotional reactions. This can help you avoid emotional reactions or outbursts that don’t truly represent how you want to respond.
This reflecting time can be quick in some situations, only requiring a short pause or deep breath, but in other situations may take hours or even days. The last thing you want is let your emotions get the best of you without allowing yourself time to reflect and craft a response that better represents how you feel.
You may also seek out a therapist. This can be a great resource for people that struggle with this often or even just occasionally. They will help you identify your triggers and give you personalized tips and tricks to help you regulate your emotions.
Lastly, you may just need to work on your mental health. Start engaging in positive self-talk and you may find that over time you will start to love yourself and better understand who you are as a person. This will help you not only with controlling your emotions but will make you a happier individual.
As you learn emotional self-regulation, you go from low emotional intelligence to higher emotional intelligence. How to Honor Your Emotions With This 1 Powerful Tool
Actionable Steps to Improving Overall Mental Health
Mental health goes hand in hand with emotional intelligence, and working on one will help the other. There are some specific things you can do that will help you out in both areas. Sleep, eating a healthy diet, and exercise are all things you can work on daily that will give you great results not only mentally but physically too.
Diet can be tough, but ensuring you are getting the right amount of nutrients for your body is key to having a happier life. Your doctor can typically help you identify things you may be lacking and even give you foods that will help in those areas. In addition to that, drinking plenty of water daily is also going to help.
Curing Low Emotional Intelligence Is Not Hard
In our prison fieldwork, we have found that raising low emotional intelligence in incarcerated populations is simple, fast, and effective. Start with reflective listening with an emphasis on affect labeling (reflecting emotions with a “you” statement). Watch movies and streaming series with the sound off and write down all the emotions you detect in a two-minute sequence. Observe the emotions of others when you are out and about. Finally, to accelerate your growth from low emotional intelligence to high emotional intelligence, enroll in the Developing Emotional Competency online video course.