Recently, I identified three toxic phrases that some people use, and that show they have very little emotional intelligence.
But the truth is that some people can demonstrate a lack of emotional intelligence regardless of what they say -- sometimes without even opening their mouths.
They might mean well; they might want to develop rapport. But they either don't know how, or they haven't worked on developing the mental muscles necessary to relate to people better.
Comb through some of the literature, you'll find some common themes. From there, it's fairly easy to identify some common, counterproductive behaviors that people with low emotional intelligence reflexively adopt. For example:
1. They assume the worst in people.
We make most of our decisions with incomplete information, which means we have to make assumptions to close the gap. When that "incomplete information" includes other people's motivations, however, people with low emotional intelligence automatically assume that other people will act selfishly or even with malice.
They wind up projecting the worst tendencies of their own nature on other people.
2. They assume things, period.
Some people automatically assume that their experiences are typical, and that therefore they can extrapolate to fill in the gaps of what other people have gone through.
So, if they grew up with certain types of families, they assume (perhaps subconsciously) that everyone else did, too. If they have strong feelings about political topics or moral issues, they assume every other "right-thinking" person must feel the same way.
And then they're surprised, embarrassed, or even angry when they find out not everyone agrees.
3. They forget names.
Nobody remembers names perfectly, but people with low emotional intelligence barely make the effort.
Since remembering names is one of the easiest and most effective ways to build rapport with other people, flat-out failing at this over and over is a simple way to telegraph that you don't really care what other people think and feel.
4. They turn conversations toward themselves.
Sociologist Charles Derber explained that in almost any interpersonal communication, you have the option of offering a "shift response" or a "support response."
Emotionally unintelligent people have a bias toward "shift responses." (Examples: "That reminds me of something that happened to me," or, "I had the same experience last year.")
People with higher emotional intelligence will be more likely to offer a "support response." Example: "Tell me more about what happened to you."
5. They speak more than they listen.
A boss (not mine) at a company where I once worked was known (behind his back, sorry) as the Mound of Sound. Bottom line: Man, did he ever like to hear himself talk.
My colleague Scott Mautz recently wrote about a powerful life lesson Warren Buffett taught using a 15-minute egg timer. The article is well worth reading, but in summarizing part of it, Mautz advised using a brilliant mnemonic device: "the WAIT principle," in which "WAIT" stands for "Why am I talking?"
It's a brilliant way of putting it -- and a question emotionally unintelligent people rarely ask themselves.
6. They multitask.
I'm not against multitasking. Heck, I'm multitasking even as I write this article, and we live in an era during which focused attention can seem like a luxury reserved for the few and the wealthy.
But emotionally unintelligent people multitask during conversations and interactions with other people. They're looking toward the next meeting, checking their phones, paying clear attention to anything else.
Not far behind failing to learn people's names, nothing shows a lack of interest or respect for another person than being unable to focus on them.
7. They have nothing to add.
I know this might seem like the opposite of numbers 4 and 5 above, but that's too easy. People who have low emotional intelligence can manifest it by being domineering, but they can also do it by being completely passive.
I'm sure you've had this experience -- trying to keep an awkward conversation going, either out of politeness or social convention, or maybe because you have to professionally.
Heck, maybe you've worked for a boss like this.
Regardless, if the people you're supposedly having a conversation with practically need to treat you like a hostile witness to get you to engage, it could be a sign that you need to do some work on your emotional intelligence.