Signs of Low Emotional Intelligence

Low emotional intelligence refers to the inability to accurately perceive emotions (in both yourself and others) and to use that information to guide your thinking and actions.

You may know someone who never seems to be able to control their emotions or understand the feelings of others. Perhaps they are constantly doing or saying the wrong things, at the wrong time. Or maybe they're always judging others, but have a hard time accepting criticism. If this describes someone you know, chances are high that this person struggles with low emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence (sometimes referred to as "emotional quotient" or "EQ") is essential to basically every aspect of life. In fact, many experts now believe that EQ may actually be more important than IQ in determining overall success in life. As such, having low EQ or low emotional intelligence can negatively impact not only your interpersonal relationships but also your mental and physical health.

When someone has a low EQ, there are many ways it can present itself. Below are nine classic signs of people with low emotional intelligence.

signs of low emotional intelligence
Verywell / JR Bee

They Always Have to Be 'Right'

You probably know someone who always seems to get into arguments with others. Friends, family, co-workers, and even random strangers find themselves embroiled in disputes with these argumentative individuals.

People with low EQ will often argue a point to death while refusing to listen to what anyone else has to say. Even if you provide them with proof that they are wrong, they will argue that your facts are wrong.

They have to win at all costs and find it impossible to simply "agree to disagree." This is particularly true if other people are critical of how the individual does not understand what others are feeling.

They're Oblivious to Other People's Feelings

Many people with low EQ are seemingly oblivious to other's feelings. They may be genuinely surprised that their partner is angry at them or that their co-workers don't like them. 

Not only that, but they get annoyed when others expect them to know how they are feeling.

They Behave Insensitively

For the most part, people with low EQ don't know the right thing to say. They may also fail to comprehend appropriate versus inappropriate timing of saying things.

For example, they might say something insensitive at a funeral or make a joke right after a tragic event. If you react to their out-of-line response, they act as if you're being overly sensitive.

Because they have difficulty understanding the emotions of others, it's no surprise that they are unable to interpret and appropriately respond to the emotional tone and atmosphere.

They Blame Others for Their Problems

People with low EQ have little insight into how their emotions might lead to problems. The one thing a person with low emotional intelligence won't do is hold themselves accountable for their actions.

When something goes wrong, their first reaction is to find someone or something else to blame. They might suggest that they had no other choice for what they did and that others simply don't understand their situation.

For example, if they read through your texts, it's your fault for leaving your phone unlocked. If they fail an assignment, break a window, don't get the job, or burn dinner, somehow, someway they will make it someone else's fault.

They Have Poor Coping Skills

An inability to cope with emotionally-charged situations can be an indicator of low EQ. Strong emotions, whether their own or those of others, are difficult to comprehend for those with low emotional intelligence.

These individuals will often walk away from these situations to avoid having to deal with the emotional fallout. Hiding their true emotions is also very common.

They Have Emotional Outbursts

The ability to regulate emotions is one of the components of emotional intelligence. People with low EQ often struggle to understand and control their emotions. They might lash out reactively without understanding what they are really feeling or why they are so upset.

A person who lacks EQ might also have unexpected emotional outbursts that seem overblown and uncontrollable. The smallest things set them off into a tirade that can last for minutes, even hours.

They Struggle With Relationships

People with low EQ often have very few close friends. This is because close friendships require a mutual give-and-take, sharing of emotions, compassion, and emotional support, all characteristics low-EQ individuals typically lack. Instead, people with low EQ often come off as abrasive and unfeeling.

They Turn Conversations Toward Themselves

Emotionally unintelligent people tend to dominate the conversation. Even if they are asking questions and appear to be listening intently, they always find a way to shift everything back to them. Usually, they have to prove that whatever you're experiencing, they've had it better or worse.

No matter what you say, they've been there, done that. You've been in a car accident? They have too...and their dog died. Going to climb Mount Kilimanjaro? They climbed Mount Everest four years ago. They can send you a list of tips if you want!

A Word From Verywell

Low emotional intelligence can cause problems in many areas of your life. Fortunately, there are things you can do to increase your emotional intelligence. Sharpening your skills can improve your personal and professional relationships.

1 Source
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Salovey P, Mayer JD. Emotional intelligence. Imagin Cogn Pers. 1990;9(3):185-211. doi:10.2190/DUGG-P24E-52WK-6CDG

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."