5 Signs of Low Emotional Intelligence - How to Boost Your EQ

Healthy Living

Tammy George

Two friends with high emotional intelligence laughing together in the park.

Emotional intelligence, also known as emotional quotient (EQ), is the ability to perceive emotions in yourself and others which can help guide thoughts and actions. Understanding and managing your emotions is needed to assist with relieving stress, communicating and empathising with others, as well as handling conflict. Some consider EQ to be more important than a high IQ in succeeding in life.

When a person has a low EQ, they struggle to perceive emotions in themselves and others, and use the information to appropriately guide their thoughts and actions. It can have an impact on most facets of their life from relationships, to mental and physical health.

5 Signs of Emotional Intelligence

The five main components of emotional intelligence are: 

  • Empathy

  • Self regulation

  • Self awareness

  • Motivation

  • Social skills

Two people holding hands across a table, talking about emotions and showing empathy for each other.

#1 Lack of Empathy

When a person lacks empathy, they can say and behave in a way that others find to be insensitive. A person with a low EQ may use the wrong words or say something at an inappropriate time. Even when another person points out their lack of empathy, they will often disagree and brush it off as other people being insensitive. They may struggle to interpret and respond appropriately to the emotional tone and atmosphere.  

#2 Poor Self Regulation

When the going gets tough, a person with a low EQ may struggle to stay in control. They may verbally attack another person without taking the time to think about the consequences of their behaviour. When a person struggles to understand and control their emotions, they are inclined to lash out in an emotionally-charged outburst. The outburst can be set off by something so small that would hardly register with someone who has a higher EQ. The outburst can also continue for much longer because they find it difficult to move on. Witnessing another person experiencing strong emotions can be too much for a person with low EQ to cope with, so they may move away.

A man standing by the window and drinking tea while thinking about becoming self aware.

#3 Lack of Self Awareness

A person with poor self awareness struggles to recognise their strengths and weaknesses, so they can’t create situations that highlight their strengths and play down their weaknesses. They often don't take feedback well. They may make excuses, lash out, be passive aggressive or try to control others. 

#4 Lack of Motivation

A person with low EQ will often lack motivation. They may not have the persistence they need to push through difficulties or obstacles to keep working towards a goal. Once they encounter a setback, they’re pessimistic and find it hard to move on. They may not reflect the effort and determination needed to succeed. 

#5 Poor Social Skills and Relationships

A person with a low EQ may struggle in love and friendships. When conflict arises in a relationship, they don’t manage it well. They often can’t see a problem from another person’s point of view, only their own. Their poor communication skills exacerbate the problem because they have difficulty expressing their opinions and asserting themselves. Furthermore, their lack of empathy and inability to read social cues means they struggle to maintain friendships. 

Relationship breakdowns are blamed on the other party and their lack of self awareness means they have difficulty growing and changing in their next relationship.

A couple arguing and having an angry outburst because they have low emotional intelligence.

What Factors Contribute to Low Emotional Intelligence? 

Many factors can influence how low emotional intelligence develops.

Parenting Style

A child and adolescent who displays signs of a low EQ can improve if a parent picks up on them and helps their child change their behaviour. If this does not happen, it may be due to the parents having low EQ. Instead of picking up on their child’s emotions, they may go unnoticed and therefore ignored. The child doesn’t realise that their feelings are real or important. They don’t learn to talk about or express their emotions. In other situations, the parents have average EQ but either don’t see the signs, or refuse to believe there is a problem with their child. They don’t notice the child’s irrational outbursts, defensiveness, lack of self-awareness and empathy, so they don’t try to improve their child’s behaviour and EQ. 

Mental Health

Mental health disorders such as depression, borderline personality disorder and substance abuse often have emotional issues as a result of their poor mental health. Their mental health will make it difficult for them to regulate their emotions.

A father and son sitting in their living room and talking about their feelings to increase their emotional intelligence.


Alexithymia is associated with an inability to express feelings so others see them as being out of touch or apathetic. Alexithymia is often a secondary diagnosis to pre-existing mental health conditions and disabilities, including depression and autism. The condition may be treated with medication, cognitive behaviour therapy or group therapy for a mental health condition.

What’s More Important - EQ or IQ?

Many have debated whether emotional quotient or intelligence quotient is more important for leading a successful, happy life. Often people are strong on one and not the other. Both have their pros. A high IQ will provide opportunities early in life such as succeeding in school, completing a degree and gaining a potentially higher paid job than someone who has an average or low IQ. A young child is more forgiving of a peer with low EQ than an adult. Children are less likely to be offended by another child’s lack of empathy or insensitive comments, so a child with a low EQ can keep friendships going more than an adult with a similar EQ.

Later on in life, EQ becomes more important than IQ. Adult colleagues, family members and friends could take offense at any poorly timed, insensitive comments. They have less tolerance for a person’s emotional outbursts over trivial matters. A person with a low EQ, but high IQ may be smarter than their colleagues, but their traits can prevent them from becoming effective leaders, so they could be passed over for promotion. A poor EQ can make for an unhappy life if they struggle with maintaining healthy relationships and friendships.

School children reading together in a group to increase both their EQ and IQ.

How to Boost Your EQ

What if you could improve your emotional intelligence? Try these tips to help boost your EQ.

Regulating Emotions

One of the hardest things to do is keep your emotions in check, but if you can, the benefits can be great. Before acting out in a fit of rage, stop and think if it’s justified. Try to see the situation from the other person’s point of view, no matter how difficult that may be. Rather than reacting immediately, try to walk away from a situation to calm down.

If you can control your outbursts, others are less likely to know you have a low EQ.

RULER is the acronym for the five skills of social and emotional learning. It’s taught in schools to build the skills of emotional intelligence but can be used at any age to boost EQ.

  • Recognise emotions in yourself and others.

  • Understand what causes emotions and the consequences.

  • Label emotions.

  • Express emotions appropriately according to cultural norms.

  • Regulate emotions with helpful strategies.

Be Aware of Non-Verbal Communication

You’re not alone if you struggle to read someone’s nonverbal communication, but it’s a highly valuable skill to have. Check if the person is making facial expressions, if their voice sounds warm or strained, if their body is stiff or relaxed, if they seem disinterested, cool or melodramatic, and if you hear sounds that indicate that they’re interested in the conversation. The more you practice, the better you will become.

Listen Actively

Everyone likes to be heard. If you can show that you have listened attentively to someone and continue on with a thoughtful conversation, you’re on your way to a higher EQ.

A mother and daughter sitting in their living room and talking about their feelings to increase their emotional intelligence.

Think Before You Speak or Act

Consider if your comment may be interpreted the wrong way. If there’s any chance that it may offend, change it. Before you launch into a tirade, think about whether you see people act the same way when faced with a similar situation. If not, try to rethink your reaction and tone it down so your response is seen as rational and fair.

Watch what other people do and say and try to mirror their behaviour. While it’s impossible to know what they are thinking or feeling, you can pick up on their cues and model your behaviour. When something doesn’t go your way, try to put it out of your mind so you don’t dwell on it or hold a grudge.

None of these tips are easy, because it requires you to live differently to how you may have done all your life. However, your persistence will be rewarded with a higher EQ and the benefits that come with it.

Tammy George

Please note: Tammy's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic please consult your healthcare professional.

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