Want to Develop Emotional Intelligence? Here’s The One Question That Will Get You Started

Instead of a test that invites you to compare your EQ with others, I encourage asking a single question.

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Although it’s gained popularity in recent years, the topic of emotional intelligence (also known as EI or EQ) is still new to many. Since emotions play such a large role in our ability to make decisions, there’s great interest in learning more about how they work and techniques for managing them.

One result of this newfound interest in EI is the “EQ Test.” By means of standardized questions, psychologists and others have attempted to quantify the emotional intelligence of others, by assigning a rating similar to what one would receive after taking an IQ test.

But there are more than a few problems with EQ tests.

For one, genuine emotional intelligence is proven by a person’s ability to apply it in everyday life. For example, it’s one thing to say you can keep your anger under control in volatile situations. It’s quite another thing to effectively manage your anger the next time such a situation arises.

Secondly, the skills of emotional intelligence are varied–almost as varied as those of “traditional” intelligence.

You may be familiar with the theory of multiple intelligences, put forward by famous psychologist Howard Gardner more than 20 years ago. Gardner proposed that humans have different ways of processing information–different forms of “intelligence”–and that each of these are relatively independent of one another. (For example, an individual may be visually or musically intelligent, while not mathematically intelligent.)

I believe the same principle applies to EQ. A person may be very skilled at feeling and demonstrating empathy, for example, but lack ability in other areas of EI.

Instead of a test that assigns a score and invites you to compare your EQ with others, I encourage asking yourself a single question.

The Single Question

To determine if the concept of emotional intelligence carries value for you, ask yourself:

Do my emotions ever work against me?

Now, think about the last few situations where you were affected by emotion.

For example, did your temper cause you to say or do something you later regretted? Or, in contrast, did an extremely happy mood cause you to say yes to something, when you later realized you should have said no?

Also consider how you’re affected by anxiety or fear. These emotions often work to your advantage, by keeping you out of danger. At times, though, they can keep you from making a decision at the right time, or even prevent you from trying new experiences that promote growth.

Of course, you shouldn’t just consider your own emotions.

An inability to truly understand the feelings and motivations of others may cause you to become calloused to their problems. Anyone who’s experienced communication problems with a significant other knows how easy it is to fall victim to this trait–and how damaging it can be to our relationships.

Finally, even if you answer “no” my one-question EQ test, I strongly encourage you to take one more step:

Ask someone else to answer the question for you.

Find someone you trust, who knows you well, and ask them if they’ve seen instances where your emotional behavior, or that of others, has worked to your disadvantage.

You may be surprised with the answer you get.

Parting Thoughts

My personal belief is that all of us, from the person who’s never heard the term EQ to the foremost researchers of emotional intelligence, experience times when our emotions serve as an obstacle.

So, what’s your EQ? What’s mine?

I can’t tell you. And guess what? No standardized test can, either.

But I will say this: When it comes to emotions, you either work to understand them and keep them under control, or they may end up controlling you.

Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.

A version of this article originally appeared on

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