Emotional intelligence (EI) refers to a person’s ability to recognize and understand their own and others’ emotions and to manage their emotions to achieve specific goals.

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A person with low EI may have difficulty maintaining relationships due to a lack of social skills or difficulty empathizing with other people. They may also find it hard to regulate their emotions and use them to guide appropriate behaviors.

This article lists some of the signs of low EI and provides tips on how to deal with low EI in others. It also offers advice on how to increase and develop EI.

Generally, having low EI means that a person has difficulty recognizing, understanding, and reacting appropriately to their own and others’ emotions.

The psychologist and writer Daniel Goleman identified five key components of EI. We look at these in more detail below and provide examples.


Self-awareness refers to people’s awareness of their personality, feelings, and behaviors. If a person is self-aware, they understand why they think, feel, and act the way they do.

A person with low self-awareness might not understand their feelings and reactions in a given situation.


High EI: A person is trying to explain something to a co-worker. The co-worker is having difficulty following the explanation, as the person is veering off subject. The person realizes that they can sometimes get sidetracked, so they apologize and start again.

Low EI: In the same scenario, the person becomes frustrated when their co-worker does not follow what they are saying. The person accuses their co-worker of not paying attention.


People with good self-regulation can control and manage their emotions appropriately. A person who self-regulates thinks before they act and does not react impulsively.

Individuals with low self-regulation may be prone to outbursts of emotion and may act without thinking.


High EI: A person orders food at a restaurant. The food takes a long time to arrive, and when it does arrive, it is the wrong dish. The person is a little disappointed but understands that the restaurant is busy and that mistakes can happen. They calmly let their server know the issue and wait for them to fix the order.

Low EI: In the same scenario, the individual becomes angry with their server. They blame the server for the issue with their food and storm out of the restaurant.


Motivation refers to a person’s drive to achieve certain goals. If someone is motivated, they aim to succeed and to improve themselves. People with high motivation will typically value personal development over immediate reward.

If a person has low motivation, they may find it difficult to accomplish things. Low motivation can lead to someone giving up on their goals.


High EI: A person hopes to open a cafe one day. After years of hard work, they open up a little cafe, thus achieving their goal.

Low EI: The person starts working on their goal of owning a cafe but quickly realizes that running a business is hard work. They give up on owning a cafe and settle for an easier job.


Empathy is a person’s understanding of someone else’s feelings or situation. If an individual is empathetic, they can see things from someone else’s point of view. Having empathy allows someone to be sympathetic to other people’s feelings and needs.

A person with low levels of empathy does not understand how other people are feeling. They may find it difficult to understand how their actions can affect other people.


High EI: A person’s friend is stressed about an upcoming test. The person knows how much passing this test means to their friend, so they listen to their friend’s concerns and try to offer words of comfort and support. They ask if there is anything they can do to help their friend prepare for the test.

Low EI: In the same scenario, the person does not understand why their friend is so worried about a test. They are upset that their friend will not come to a party with them instead of studying.

Social skills

Social skills allow people to interact appropriately with others.

A person who has poor social skills may have difficulty communicating with other people, and they may find it hard to build or maintain relationships.


High EI: A friend introduces a person to their new partner. The person makes their friend’s partner feel welcome and includes them in their conversations.

Low EI: In the same situation, the person makes crude jokes about their friend’s new partner and does not notice that their friend is uncomfortable with the jokes. When the friend eventually asks them to stop making jokes, the person becomes defensive and angry.

It can be difficult for a person to develop and maintain a relationship with someone who has low EI. Below are some methods that can help people maintain and improve such relationships. It is important to note that these are merely examples. People may wish to try other methods that are specific to their individual relationship or situation.

Accepting the person as they are

It can be difficult to accept negative aspects of a person’s personality. One way to approach this is to focus instead on the positive aspects of their personality.

Encouraging change

It may be possible to help someone improve their EI by gently encouraging certain changes, such as strategies for de-stressing and self-soothing.

A person could also try leading by example. For instance, if a difficult situation arises, they could try showing someone with low EI how to deal with the situation.

Putting in the effort to listen

People with low EI can become easily frustrated if they feel as though they are being misunderstood. An individual can help keep the other person calm by listening to and engaging with what they are saying.

Focusing on facts

A person with low EI can find it difficult to recognize how others are feeling. When talking with someone with low EI, people can avoid confusion by focusing on facts rather than emotion. They could try telling the person with low EI exactly how they feel, rather than expecting them to pick up on their emotional signals.

People can improve their EI in various ways. The American Academy of Family Physicians states that people may be able to do this by:

  • setting a daily intention goal, such as being more understanding
  • engaging with emotions as they happen and recognizing how the body reacts to them
  • pausing and taking a breath before reacting to stressful situations
  • asking questions to understand another person’s thoughts and feelings better
  • realizing that it is ok not to be right all of the time
  • making an effort to connect with other people
  • paying attention to the content and context of group interactions
  • being honest about their weaknesses and being open to change
  • learning to apologize when they are at fault
  • practicing self-care, which may include relaxation techniques or other forms of stress management
  • trying to start and end the day on a positive note

Having low EI means that a person has difficulty recognizing and understanding their emotions and those of others. People with low EI may also have poor emotion regulation and find it difficult to use their emotions to attain personal goals. These issues can make it difficult for people with EI to form and maintain personal relationships.

Individuals may find certain strategies helpful when interacting with a person who has low EI. Examples include accepting someone as they are, helping the person understand how to behave in certain situations, and communicating to the other person how they feel using words rather than subtle behavioral cues.

People can improve or develop their own EI in various ways. Examples include recognizing how the body reacts to certain emotions, asking other people about their thoughts and feelings, and learning to apologize when at fault.