5 things emotionally intelligent people instantly pick up about others

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British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was lauded for being an astute leader during turbulent times. He had an ability to tap into the emotions and sentiments of his country. He was also reported to have had an uncanny ability to balance cold calculations with emotional understanding

Emotionally intelligent people have an innate ability to instantly pick up on emotional cues from other people. 

Here are five things they’re especially good at when it comes to being emotionally tuned into others. 

1) They have a good radar for reading in between the lines 

Did you know that the actual words that are spoken during an interaction or conversation actually only account for approximately ten percent of the information that’s exchanged? 

The rest of the message comes from non-verbal cues such as our tone of voice, body language, and our facial expressions, says Melinda Garcia from Criteria Corp

“People with strong emotional intelligence tend to read both body language and facial expressions more accurately. They can spot the difference between genuine and non-genuine body language, such as a fake versus a real smile.”

Garcia says that emotionally intelligent people are also attuned to any differences between words and body language: for example, they know when a comment like, “Sure, I’m fine” is not actually the case. 

Emotionally intelligent people have a knack for sensing the emotions and thoughts that “lurk” behind someone’s spoken words, adds Sinitta Weston from Bolde

“They can detect underlying worry in a seemingly casual remark or hidden excitement in a modest statement.”

Weston says that this depth of understanding allows them to respond in a way that addresses those unspoken feelings, fostering a deeper level of trust and connection in their conversations. 

2) They also have an antenna for any non-verbal communication that is going on 

Emotionally intelligent people can interpret what someone is saying with their body language.

For example, a clenched jaw can indicate controlled anger or stress. Hands on the hips might be an attempt to exert power and show confidence. 

An emotionally intelligent person will pick up on this. 

“They use these cues to gauge comfort levels and emotional states, ensuring they respond in a way that aligns with the speaker’s feelings,” says Weston. 

“This ability enables them to create a more empathetic and connected dialogue, where all parties feel understood beyond just the spoken words.”

For example, someone who has crossed arms and legs might be signaling resistance to your ideas, 

says Travis Bradberry from Inc. Magazine

“Crossed arms and legs are physical barriers that suggest the other person is not open to what you’re saying,” he says. “Even if they’re smiling and engaged in a pleasant conversation, their body language tells the story.”

Bradberry cited a study where Gerard I. Nierenberg and Henry H. Calero videotaped more than 2000 negotiations for a book they wrote on reading body language. 

“Not a single one ended in an agreement when one of the parties had their legs crossed while negotiating.”

That’s because, psychologically, crossed legs or arms signal that a person is mentally, emotionally, and physically blocked off from what’s in front of them. 

“It’s not intentional,” says Bradberry, “which is why it’s so revealing.”

3) They have something called “social awareness”

Emotionally intelligent people often have a pretty strong social game. 

This is what psychologists call “social awareness”. It means that emotionally intelligent people are tuned into not only their own feelings, but also the feelings of other people, says Kendra Cherry, MSEd., from Very Well Mind

“They know how to deal with people effectively, and they are invested in maintaining healthy social relationships and helping those around them succeed.”

Self-awareness involves being able to recognize the moods, feelings, emotions, and feelings of others but also being aware of how your emotions and moods influence people, adds psychologist and author Daniel Goleman.

Goldman identifies self-awareness as one of the key components of emotional intelligence. 

4) They have an ability to pick up on a person’s boundaries

Emotionally intelligent people know that someone setting a boundary is essentially their way of letting you know how they prefer to communicate, says Sanjana Gupta from Very Well Mind

It also lets you know how they would like to be treated, how they would like to be spoken to, how they would like to interact or engage with you, as well as the extent to which they’re willing to participate in activities.

In general, they’re communicating what is not acceptable to them. 

“While we often talk about setting boundaries in our relationships with others, we don’t talk as much about respecting others’ boundaries,” says Gupta. 

“However, in order for us to grow, it’s important for us to understand why the person has set this boundary and to respect it.”

So for example, say you’re at a dinner party and you want to ask your unemployed friend if they’ve found a new job yet. Upon closer inspection, you sense that they can sense you’re about to ask this, and they suddenly seem uncomfortable. 

This is most likely your cue not to broach the subject. Maybe they don’t want to talk about it because an interview they had didn’t go well, for instance. Maybe it’s a touchy subject with their spouse. There are a myriad of reasons why they may not want to talk about it—at least in the moment. 

An emotionally intelligent person will take the cue and turn toward a different topic of conversation. 

“People set boundaries for their safety,” says Meghan Marcum, PsyD. “Respecting them helps build trust in the relationship and shows the other person you care about their emotional well-being.”

5) They can pretty much predict how someone is going to react to something 

Emotionally intelligent people understand how emotions change and progress over time and within a situation or circumstance, says Garcia. 

“This means they can predict how someone is likely to respond to a situation or to particular news.”

For example, they know that if someone is feeling frustrated and the situation is not resolved soon, that things are likely to escalate. 

“This means they can approach situations more appropriately because they can foresee the other person’s likely reaction.”

This reminds me of an interview I did with MSNBC Anchor Katy Tur a few years ago. I remember my editor at the time asking me to get Tur to talk about some of the exchanges she’s had covering former United States president and now-presidential contender, Donald Trump. 

Trump would often call Tur out at rallies, sometimes to compliment her, sometimes to condemn her—depending on his mood at the moment. It all depended on the questions she asked him. 

At one point during the interview, I could tell that Tur wanted to pivot from talking about Trump to the memoir that she had just completed. But I felt like I hadn’t gotten enough information on Trump—at least not enough that would satisfy my editor. So I probed her a little more and then a little more again. 

The third time I asked a question relating to Trump, I could tell from Tur’s tone—and her very short responses—that she was done with this line of questioning. I got the message and moved on to something else—something humorous from the memoir that would lighten the mood. It worked. 

As a journalist, I interview people all the time, and my job is to ask engaging questions and then listen—really listen—to what someone is saying and not saying. I get just as much—if not more—from listening as I do from my research on them. 

So I think I’ve learned to develop my emotional intelligence

So the next time you’re in a conversation with someone—particularly someone new—try to get a sense of what they’re not saying with their mouths to get a better understanding of them.

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