7 non-obvious signs that someone is emotionally intelligent

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Ever meet someone and think, “Wow, they just get it?” 

During a painting retreat, I had the pleasure of getting to know someone who had this almost magical ability to connect on a deep level.

It wasn’t just that they were smart or funny, but something more. It was as if they could see right through you — in the best way possible.

This got me thinking: what sets this person apart?

The answer? Emotional intelligence.

But how do you really know if someone is emotionally intelligent? It’s not always obvious. 

So, let’s dive into 7 non-obvious signs that show someone truly understands the language of emotions.

1) They listen actively

We all know listening is important, but this person takes it to the next level. When you talk to them, you feel like you’re the only one in the room — even if you’re surrounded by a bustling crowd. 

They lock eyes with you, nodding and smiling, completely tuned into what you’re saying. Not once do they interrupt you to insert their opinion or to check their phone. 

In fact, when something does catch their attention, they actually apologize before shifting their focus, then circle back to ensure you finish your thought. 

That’s exactly what the woman I met at the painting retreat did. We were having a conversation when someone who had just arrived came up to her to greet her. 

I’m used to people turning away and tuning me out in the middle of my sentence in this scenario. But this woman politely interrupted me, apologized with genuine concern in her eyes, and once she greeted the person immediately asked me to please continue.

It was such an amazing feeling to have someone’s attention so open to not just my words, but also my emotions. 

This is the essence of active listening, and it’s a clear sign of emotional intelligence.

2) They’re humble

Ah, humility. It’s such a rare gem in today’s “look at me” world. 

I remember a moment during the painting retreat when everyone was showing off their finished works. Naturally, many of us were fishing for compliments, expecting applause for our artistic endeavors — which is totally natural and understandable.

But when the spotlight turned to the woman I mentioned, she didn’t bask in the glory of her admittedly stunning piece. 

Instead, she took a moment to share how inspired she was by everyone else’s art, and how much she felt that influenced and improved her own work.

She also mentioned how thankful she was for the opportunity to paint in such an inspiring environment. There was no air of “I’m better than you” or even a slight undertone of superiority. 

Just a sincere gratitude and respect for everyone’s unique contribution.

Do you know how refreshing that is? To be around someone who doesn’t just take up space with their ego but fills the room with a sense of shared humanity? 

It’s as if they’re saying, “I’m just a piece of this wonderful puzzle, and so are you.”

3) They adapt to the room

The ability to adapt to the room is like having an emotional Swiss Army knife. It’s not just about conforming or being a chameleon, it’s about sensitivity to the group’s dynamic and energy. 

Someone who’s emotionally intelligent can walk into a room and almost immediately get a read on its emotional temperature.

Are people excited? Anxious? Relaxed? 

Based on that, they adjust their own behavior to either fit in or help elevate the mood. 

For example, during group activities at the retreat, some moments required serious concentration, while others were more laid-back. 

This woman had an uncanny knack for shifting her demeanor accordingly. 

During serious discussions, she was focused and present, contributing thoughtfully. And when the mood lightened, she was right there with a witty comment or an infectious laugh. 

This skill goes beyond mere social agility. It’s a deep awareness of the interplay between individual and collective emotions, and the wisdom to act in a way that is beneficial to the group as a whole. 

4) They are not reactive

Emotionally intelligent people are often masters of their own emotions, which means they don’t react impulsively to situations or comments that may catch others off guard. 

Instead of reacting immediately with anger or defensiveness, they take a step back to process the situation.

This pause allows them to respond thoughtfully, constructively, and, more often than not, kindly.

I remember a situation at the retreat where someone inadvertently made an insensitive comment. 

While others in the group seemed taken aback, this woman calmly continued the conversation without escalating the situation. Later, she took the person aside and had a gentle but straightforward talk, diffusing any potential tension.

The ability not to react hastily provides room for empathy, open dialogue, and constructive conversations. 

It’s a sign of someone who has not only mastered their own emotional responses but also understands the importance of creating emotionally safe spaces for others. 

5) They are selectively vulnerable

Vulnerability isn’t about spilling your deepest secrets to everyone you meet; it’s about knowing when to open up and with whom. 

People with high emotional intelligence understand this balance. They have a keen sense for when to share and when to listen, creating an environment of trust and mutual respect. 

They don’t just broadcast their feelings or challenges; they share them strategically with those who have earned their trust.

At the retreat, I noticed this woman was not immediately open about her personal life. However, as the days passed, she gradually shared more with those she felt a genuine connection with. 

It was like watching a flower bloom; her vulnerability seemed to come forth naturally and at the appropriate time for her.

Selective vulnerability is a nuanced art form, one that requires a deep understanding of human nature and emotions. 

When someone demonstrates this kind of selective openness, it’s a subtle yet powerful indicator that they are emotionally intelligent. 

6) They empathize without absorbing your feelings

Empathy is often touted as a hallmark of emotional intelligence, but there’s a subtlety that often goes unnoticed: the ability to empathize without becoming consumed by another person’s emotions. 

People with high emotional intelligence can sit with you in your sadness, joy, or confusion, offer emotional support, and yet not lose themselves in the process. 

They’re able to maintain this emotional boundary that keeps them effective as a listener and supporter.

I remember discussing a personal issue with the woman at the retreat. She listened attentively and offered insightful responses, making me feel understood and valued. 

But what struck me was how she remained composed. Her empathy didn’t veer into over-identification or emotional overwhelm; she maintained her emotional equilibrium.

This is a rare quality that’s often underappreciated because it allows the person you’re confiding in to provide effective emotional support without getting swept up in the drama or intensity. 

When you encounter someone who can walk this fine line between deep empathy and emotional balance, it’s a sign that they’ve mastered an intricate aspect of emotional intelligence.

7) They reciprocate in their relationships

Relationships are give and take, but someone with high emotional intelligence understands this balance in a nuanced way. They not only give emotional support, advice, or time but also know when to receive it.

This prevents them from falling into the trap of one-sided relationships, where they’re either always the giver or the taker. They intuitively know how to keep the emotional ledger balanced, ensuring that both parties feel valued and respected.

At the retreat, the woman who I got to know demonstrated this in a small but impactful way. She accepted compliments with grace and returned them sincerely, without making the conversation all about her. 

When she needed help rearranging some of the painting supplies, she asked without hesitation and also wasn’t shy to give back by offering tips on mixing colors when someone asked.

This kind of reciprocation creates a sense of mutual respect and appreciation that is vital for any meaningful relationship. It shows that the person is tuned in not just to their own needs, but also to the needs of those around them. 

It’s this balanced approach to giving and receiving that marks them out as emotionally intelligent.

Unlocking the mystery: the subtle signs of emotional intelligence

So there you have it: 7 subtle indicators that someone is emotionally intelligent. 

These aren’t qualities you can easily spot from a distance; they reveal themselves in the delicate intricacies of interaction. 

If you’re lucky enough to meet someone like the extraordinary woman I encountered at the painting retreat, cherish that connection. 

They’re the kind of people who enrich our lives immeasurably, helping us become better versions of ourselves.

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Tina Fey

I'm Tina Fey, the founder of the blog Love Connection. I've extremely passionate about sharing relationship advice. I've studied psychology and have my Masters in marital, family, and relationship counseling. I hope with all my heart to help you improve your relationships, and I hope that even if one thing I write helps you, it means more to me than just about anything else in the world. Check out my blog Love Connection, and if you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter

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