When emotional intelligence (EQ) first appeared to the masses, it served as the missing link in a peculiar finding: people with average IQs outperform those with the highest IQs 70% of the time. This anomaly threw a massive wrench into the broadly held assumption that IQ was the sole source of success.
Decades of research now point to emotional intelligence as being the critical factor that sets star performers apart from the rest of the pack. The connection is so strong that 90% of top performers have high emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence is the “something” in each of us that is a bit intangible. It affects how we manage behavior, navigate social complexities, and make personal decisions to achieve positive results.
Despite the significance of EQ, its intangible nature makes it very difficult to know how much you have and what you can do to improve if you’re lacking. You can always take a scientifically validated test, such as the one that comes with the Emotional Intelligence 2.0 book.
Unfortunately, quality (scientifically valid) EQ tests aren’t free. So, I’ve analyzed the data from the million-plus people TalentSmart has tested in order to identify the behaviors that are the hallmarks of a high EQ. What follows are sure signs that you have a high EQ.
You Have a Robust Emotional Vocabulary
All people experience emotions, but it is a select few who can accurately identify them as they occur. Our research shows that only 36% of people can do this, which is problematic because unlabeled emotions often go misunderstood, which leads to irrational choices and counterproductive actions.
People with high EQs master their emotions because they understand them, and they use an extensive vocabulary of feelings to do so. While many people might describe themselves as simply feeling “bad,” emotionally intelligent people can pinpoint whether they feel “irritable,” “frustrated,” “downtrodden,” or “anxious.” The more specific your word choice, the better insight you have into exactly how you are feeling, what caused it, and what you should do about it.
You’re Curious about People
It doesn’t matter if they’re introverted or extroverted, emotionally intelligent people are curious about everyone around them. This curiosity is the product of empathy, one of the most significant gateways to a high EQ. The more you care about other people and what they’re going through, the more curiosity you’re going to have about them.
You Embrace Change
Emotionally intelligent people are flexible and are constantly adapting. They know that fear of change is paralyzing and a major threat to their success and happiness. They look for change that is lurking just around the corner, and they form a plan of action should these changes occur.
You Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Emotionally intelligent people don’t just understand emotions; they know what they’re good at and what they’re terrible at. They also know who pushes their buttons and the environments (both situations and people) that enable them to succeed. Having a high EQ means you know your strengths and you know how to lean into them and use them to your full advantage while keeping your weaknesses from holding you back.
You’re a Good Judge of Character
Much of emotional intelligence comes down to social awareness; the ability to read other people, know what they’re about, and understand what they’re going through. Over time, this skill makes you an exceptional judge of character. People are no mystery to you. You know what they’re all about and understand their motivations, even those that lie hidden beneath the surface.
You Are Difficult to Offend
If you have a firm grasp of whom you are, it’s difficult for someone to say or do something that gets your goat. Emotionally intelligent people are self-confident and open-minded, which creates a pretty thick skin. You may even poke fun at yourself or let other people make jokes about you because you are able to mentally draw the line between humor and degradation.
You Let Go of Mistakes
Emotionally intelligent people distance themselves from their mistakes, but do so without forgetting them. By keeping their mistakes at a safe distance, yet still handy enough to refer to, they are able to adapt and adjust for future success. It takes refined self-awareness to walk this tightrope between dwelling and remembering. Dwelling too long on your mistakes makes you anxious and gun shy, while forgetting about them completely makes you bound to repeat them. The key to balance lies in your ability to transform failures into nuggets of improvement. This creates the tendency to get right back up every time you fall down.
You Don’t Hold Grudges
The negative emotions that come with holding onto a grudge are actually a stress response. Just thinking about the event sends your body into fight-or-flight mode, a survival mechanism that forces you to stand up and fight or run for the hills when faced with a threat. When the threat is imminent, this reaction is essential to your survival, but when the threat is ancient history, holding onto that stress wreaks havoc on your body and can have devastating health consequences over time. In fact, researchers at Emory University have shown that holding onto stress contributes to high blood pressure and heart disease. Holding onto a grudge means you’re holding onto stress, and emotionally intelligent people know to avoid this at all costs. Letting go of a grudge not only makes you feel better now but can also improve your health.
You Neutralize Toxic People
Dealing with difficult people is frustrating and exhausting for most. High EQ individuals control their interactions with toxic people by keeping their feelings in check. When they need to confront a toxic person, they approach the situation rationally. They identify their own emotions and don’t allow anger or frustration to fuel the chaos. They also consider the difficult person’s standpoint and are able to find solutions and common ground. Even when things completely derail, emotionally intelligent people are able to take the toxic person with a grain of salt to avoid letting him or her bring them down.
You Don’t Seek Perfection
Emotionally intelligent people won’t set perfection as their target because they know that it doesn’t exist. Human beings, by our very nature, are fallible. When perfection is your goal, you’re always left with a nagging sense of failure that makes you want to give up or reduce your effort. You end up spending your time lamenting what you failed to accomplish and what you should have done differently instead of moving forward, excited about what you’ve achieved and what you will accomplish in the future.
Taking regular time off the grid is a sign of a high EQ because it helps you to keep your stress under control and to live in the moment. When you make yourself available to your work 24/7, you expose yourself to a constant barrage of stressors. Forcing yourself offline and even—gulp!—turning off your phone gives your body and mind a break. Studies have shown that something as simple as an e-mail break can lower stress levels. Technology enables constant communication and the expectation that you should be available 24/7. It is extremely difficult to enjoy a stress-free moment outside of work when an e-mail that will change your train of thought and get you thinking (read: stressing) about work can drop onto your phone at any moment.
You Limit Your Caffeine Intake
Drinking excessive amounts of caffeine triggers the release of adrenaline, and adrenaline is the source of the fight-or-flight response. The fight-or-flight mechanism sidesteps rational thinking in favor of a faster response to ensure survival. This is great when a bear is chasing you, but not so great when you’re responding to a curt e-mail. When caffeine puts your brain and body into this hyper-aroused state of stress, your emotions overrun your behavior. Caffeine’s long half-life ensures you stay this way as it takes its sweet time working its way out of your body. High-EQ individuals know that caffeine is trouble, and they don’t let it get the better of them.
You Get Enough Sleep
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of sleep to increasing your emotional intelligence and managing your stress levels. When you sleep, your brain literally recharges, shuffling through the day’s memories and storing or discarding them (which causes dreams) so that you wake up alert and clearheaded. High-EQ individuals know that their self-control, attention, and memory are all reduced when they don’t get enough—or the right kind—of sleep. So, they make sleep a top priority.
You Stop Negative Self-Talk in Its Tracks
The more you ruminate on negative thoughts, the more power you give them. Most of our negative thoughts are just that—thoughts, not facts. When it feels like something always or never happens, this is just your brain’s natural tendency to perceive threats (inflating the frequency or severity of an event). Emotionally intelligent people separate their thoughts from the facts in order to escape the cycle of negativity and move toward a positive, new outlook.
You Won’t Let Anyone Limit Your Joy
When your sense of pleasure and satisfaction are derived from the opinions of other people, you are no longer the master of your own happiness. When emotionally intelligent people feel good about something that they’ve done, they won’t let anyone’s opinions or snide remarks take that away from them. While it’s impossible to turn off your reactions to what others think of you, you don’t have to compare yourself to others, and you can always take people’s opinions with a grain of salt. That way, no matter what other people are thinking or doing, your self-worth comes from within.
Bringing It All Together
Unlike your IQ, your EQ is highly malleable. As you train your brain by repeatedly practicing new emotionally intelligent behaviors, it builds the pathways needed to make them into habits. As your brain reinforces the use of these new behaviors, the connections supporting old, destructive behaviors die off. Before long, you begin responding to your surroundings with emotional intelligence without even having to think about it.
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, as I learn just as much from you as you do from me.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr. Travis Bradberry is the award-winning co-author of the #1 bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and the cofounder of TalentSmart, the world’s leading provider of emotional intelligence tests and training, serving more than 75% of Fortune 500 companies. His bestselling books have been translated into 25 languages and are available in more than 150 countries. Dr. Bradberry has written for, or been covered by, Newsweek, BusinessWeek, Fortune, Forbes, Fast Company, Inc., USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Harvard Business Review.
The Formula 1 season will begin later this month, pitting the most talented drivers in the most finely honed machines against one another.
The image of a car designer sitting at a computer, working on a complex 3D visualization, is consistent with our perception of a ‘creative person’, but you may not immediately think about the act of driving a Formula 1 car as a creative process.
In fact, drivers are continuously finding inspired ways to take full advantage of every opportunity provided by their car, the conditions and their competitors. The world of Formula 1 represents a fascinating laboratory for exploring human creativity through drivers and their teams.
We can think about human creativity in the context of four components:
Components of creativity
The creative person
I was speaking to a colleague recently about the Finnish Formula 1 driver Kimi Räikkönen. We were reflecting on reports of the 2007 World Champion’s exceptional ability to ‘conceptualise three-dimensional space.’ Theoretically, if a driver can simulate a race circuit in their brain in ‘higher-definition’ than another driver, they can imagine more possible scenarios, and take advantage of them.
Kimi has demonstrated a creative approach to his driving from a young age. There is a legendary story from his days racing karts as a youngster. One race weekend in Monaco, Kimi’s kart was knocked over the barrier in a collision. The kart ended up completely off the circuit. The barrier was much too high, and the kart much too heavy, to lift it back over. Undeterred, Kimi continued driving alongside the circuit, on the wrong side of the barrier, until he ran out of road. At this point, Kimi was able to lift the kart onto the track. Kimi jumped back into his kart and worked his way through the pack, eventually finishing third.
Creativity in knowledge work
Creativity is vital in racing, for teams and for drivers, and it’s becoming increasingly important in the context of knowledge work.
Where the goal of work was once to extract the maximum amount of physical energy from a worker, and transform it into a tangible product, most knowledge work completely disrupts this equation. Knowledge work organisations transform mental energy into ideas and insights – something that will become even more critical as automation replaces many repeatable, process-based tasks.
Last year, the World Economic Forum’s ‘Future of Jobs’ report identified complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity as the top three skills required to thrive in the 4th industrial revolution. Both complex problem solving and critical thinking require imagination, innovation and the ability to perceive multiple perspectives. Arguably, this makes creativity the foundation for the ‘podium of future skills’.
Efficient, productivity-orientated tasks are easy to reproduce by another human, or even a machine. Creativity is rare. Creativity is the antidote to the poison of efficiency over effectiveness. It’s the solution to sending endless e-mails and making meaningless presentations, because it allows us to perceive the new opportunities that are unfolding in front of us. While the specific factors that provide the optimal circumstances for creativity are debated, a brute force approach, based on clocking the hours, is not amongst them.
All humans have the capacity to be creative
All humans have the capacity to be creative and many of us could unlock more of our creative potential with the right process and conditions. I have heard many people label themselves as “not very creative” but creativity can be expressed in many different ways. For example, creativity may manifest itself as we think of solutions to challenging situations at work, or resolve conflicts, rather than being defined as a tangible creative output.
Previously, it’s been assumed that creativity declines with age. However, in domains that draw on knowledge and expertise, such as writing, philosophy and medicine, research suggests that creative achievement can peak in the early 40s, and declines at a relatively slow rate.
The creative process
Contrary to popular belief, providing someone with a blank slate does not appear to optimise the creative process. Unbounded choice and opportunity can quickly overwhelm the limited resources of attention, executive function and working memory.
We crave new information and we are rewarded for searching out novelty. In the digital age we have access to a fire hose of content to titillate the reward centres of our brain, but if we don’t have rules and boundaries in place, we can easily become distracted and create little real value.
Creativity thrives when there is some pressure and limitation, but not too much. We could plot the creative process as an inverted-U.
A hospitable environment for innovation
Too much time pressure impairs creative cognitive processing, but some pressure can fuel our creativity. Eliminating pressure entirely can suffocate the creative process and create an inhospitable environment for innovation.
Our response to pressure is individual; some people thrive when their backs are against the wall; others prefer a more relaxed approach. For certain individuals, a prize can drive them to produce their most innovative work; others are more motivated by intrinsic rewards. For most of us, it is a combination of the two.
Conditions for creativity
Creativity thrives in three conditions:
1. When we apply and combine old ideas in new ways.
Boundaries force us to look deeper within ourselves, to sift through our experiences for something that could be useful and pool our cognitive resources. Boundaries create the conditions that encourage us to combine what we already know, as well as the new ideas we can come up with.
2. When we feel enough pressure and incentive to encourage flexible thinking.
If we don’t have any pressure or incentive, we can talk forever without actually creating anything. When a clock is ticking, when a reward is waiting and we need to find an answer, our minds are more open to new ways of looking at a problem and we become more cognitively flexible.
3. When we don’t get too comfortable.
When we’ve finally developed an idea that we’re proud of, it’s easy to feel self-satisfied in the afterglow of creative breakthrough. This is one of the greatest risks in the creative process because we can easily become attached to an idea and miss further opportunities for improvement. One way to avoid this state is to regularly move boundaries and change rules (as is the case in Formula 1). This disruption creates a ‘shelf-life’ for your solutions and forces fresh rounds of innovation and creativity.
The creative situation
The development of a Formula 1 car is a good example of what can happen if you provide boundaries and creative conditions for knowledge workers. Team structures combine a breadth and depth of experience that promote the combining of old ideas in new ways. The World Championship competition provides pressure and incentives. Rule changes on an annual basis prevent anyone from becoming too satisfied with their ideas.
A Formula 1 car has thousands of separate elements that must fit together perfectly. A race season could see 30,000 design changes being made to the car, 1,000 per week, as components are tweaked and improved to maximise performance.
The development of a Formula 1 car also illustrates one of the myths of the10,000 hours rule. Achieving excellence is not the result of countless cycles of mechanical repetition. It works more like a neural network, processes are repeated, but parameters are deliberately adjusted after each cycle of learning, to get closer to the desired result.
Default mode and creativity
Crafting a ‘creative situation’ isn’t just about setting up boundaries for work; it can also involve allocating space for creative reflection. Our brains have a distinct network of interacting brain regions that become active in periods of wakeful rest, such as when we daydream or let our minds wander. This default mode network (DMN) activates whenever we are not involved in a task. Consequently, it’s sometimes described as a ‘task-negative’ state.
Entering ‘default mode’ has strong associations with creative and divergent thinking, comprehension, remembering the past and planning for the future. Some evidence has also observed a positive correlation between creative performance, across all measures of creativity, and the physical volume of the grey matter that makes up the default mode network.
The creative product
The technical story of Formula 1 describes the importance of quality over quantity and the triumph of creative solutions over brute force. In the 1906 Grand Prix, Mercedes fielded a car with a Maybach designed 11 litre engine. Its beastly engineering produced a mere 78kW of power. 110 years later, Mercedes is still competing and winning Grand Prix. In the 2016 Formula 1 season, Mercedes’ F1 W07 Hybrid cars featured a power unit that produced nearly 10 times the power of the Maybach engine, with 1/7th of the capacity of its ancestor. Brains have replaced brawn with precision, sophistication and consistent creativity.
It is interesting to note that some of the most significant developments in engine design have taken place in the previous four years. Endless cycles of development, testing and refinement, with a hefty dose of ingenuity, mean that today’s Mercedes PU106C power unit delivers at least 47% efficiency, versus 29% in 2013 and around 20% in 1906. These innovations have been instrumentals to the Mercedes’ AMG F1 teams’ three consecutive Constructor’s Championship victories.
There have been greater improvements in the efficiency of internal combustion engines in the last four years than in the last century. When you provide boundaries, resources, and a clear objective, then release people to do their best work, great things are possible.
Three questions to consider
1. Have you considered what level of pressure facilitates your most creative moments?
2. How can you engineer your environment to construct a more hospitable environment for creativity?
3. When did you last enjoy a ‘task-negative’ state and allocate some time for creative reflection?
How to create the digital workplace your employees need
After a year of depressing headlines, you’d be forgiven for questioning your faith in humanity. So maybe this piece of good news will help: more people than ever before are carrying out random acts of kindness towards strangers. Those are the uplifting findings of the latest CAF World Giving Index, an annual report that tracks levels of generosity around the world.
“For the first time, more than half of those surveyed say they helped a stranger – a testament to the innate human desire to help others whenever they are in need,” the report notes.
An even more interesting picture emerges when the results are broken down by country: those people living in some of the most dangerous, unstable places in the world are also the most likely to offer help to a stranger.
Of the global top 10, four countries are towards the top of the Fragile States Index. And in the two leading countries, Iraq and Libya, citizens have had to endure years of conflict, terrorist attacks and general unrest.
Even before war erupted, both countries had a strong culture of community support, BBC reporters based in the region point out. If anything, though, the suffering citizens have been exposed to in recent years has strengthened that resolve to help others. Before the civil war in Libya, 72% of people in the country said they’d helped a stranger. Today that number stands at 79%.
While we might expect a collective crisis to bring out the worst in people – think opportunistic collaborators or war-time looters – it seems that most people rally round and support others. “It appears that increasingly fragile civil societies, coupled with greater need among the population, encourages more people to be responsive out of sheer necessity,” the CAF report argues.
This optimistic take on human nature is more than just wishful thinking: there’s some scientific evidence to back it up.
In 2012, researchers from the University of Freiburg found that contrary to received wisdom, stressful group situations actually bring out the best in people: “Stress exposure increased trust, trustworthiness and sharing behaviour in social interactions,” the study concluded. Another reason to feel that little bit more optimistic, in spite of the negative headlines.