Traits of Emotionally Intelligent People

10 Unique Traits Emotionally Intelligent People Have in Common

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is critical for navigating successfully in today’s world—personally and professionally.

In fact, people with high EQ are happier, make $29k more annually than those with low emotional intelligence, and hold leadership positions in the workplace. 

A person’s ability to perceive, use, understand, manage, and handle others’ and their own emotions is measured by emotional intelligence. 

It’s safe to say that high emotional intelligence—in other words, good self-awareness, strong communication skills, self-regulation, building healthy relationships, and knowing how to navigate social complexities plays to one’s overall advantage in life and professional success. 

So, how do you become an emotionally intelligent individual? 

I get asked that question a lot. In the last year, I’ve used this column to focus on answering that question by offering simple rules that are easy to remember and that you can put into practice right away.

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10 Rules Emotionally Intelligent People Have in Common

10 unique traits of emotionally intelligent people

We’ve compiled 10 rules that emotionally intelligent people follow to help control emotions instead of letting them control you.

1. First things first

Every night I have a nightmare. It changes from dream to dream, but the basic problem remains:

The amount of work I have to do has outstripped the amount of time I have.

When faced with this situation, I’ve learned to follow the rule of “first things first.” I narrow down my task list to as few as two or three items at most. Then, I focus only on the first one, and I begin to chip away at it.

2. The 25/5 Rule

The personal pilot of billionaire Warren Buffett once discussed career priorities with his boss when Buffett made him learn a simple lesson. 

The legend says Buffet told his pilot to make a list of his top 25 career goals, and then circle the five most important ones. To stay on track with goals one through five, the pilot would need to stay away from the other goals.

This rule is based on the idea that it is easy to get distracted by things that are interesting, but that keep us from making progress on our higher priorities.

Despite Buffet’s claims that this story never really happened, the principle still holds: to succeed, you must learn to say no, so you can say yes to the things that matter most.

3. Applying the 25/5 rule

Rather than writing down what you need to complete every day, make a list of all the things you would like to accomplish or that others would like you to accomplish that will distract you from working on your priorities.

Make similar lists when creating weekly, quarterly, and long-term strategic goals. Ultimately, what you are trying to teach yourself is not to make more lists. 

Instead, you should train yourself to ask the following questions:

  • How am I preventing myself from reaching my goals?
  • What can I do to avoid them at all costs?

Remember the 25/5 rule the next time you find yourself distracted. Switch your focus from what you could be doing to what you should be doing.

4. The 3-Question rule

When I was watching an interview with Craig Ferguson several years ago, he said something that instantly remained in my memory:

Before you speak, you must always ask yourself three questions.

  • Is it necessary to say this?
  • Is it necessary for me to say this?
  • Is it necessary for me to say this now?

It may seem simple, and it is. But using this self-management technique can save you from awkward situations and heated arguments countless times as it did for me. 

5. The 5-minute rule

Have you ever had a huge task before you, and instead of tackling it, you were watching YouTube videos all morning? I certainly did.

We do that for a reason: the brain is so overwhelmed with the thought of completing that task that you avoid it at all costs.

In cases like these, it is best to use the five-minute rule: Set a deadline for yourself and allow yourself to work for only five minutes on a task. If you decide to stop and quit after five minutes, no problem.

Your brain is tricked into thinking your large task is small. And usually, you end up working much longer than five minutes, making this little technique quite effective.

6. The rule of clocking out

If you’re anything like me, work is your top priority. So how can you balance that priority with other, perhaps more important, priorities like your family and your mental health?

Developing emotional intelligence means learning to clock out by setting working times for every day and clocking out at the end of the day. Take it seriously and don’t miss it.

When employers and employees follow the rule of clocking out, they create a more rewarding organizational culture—one that is based on balance.

7. The rule of writing

Have you ever had a question for a colleague, but they struggled to understand it when you asked it? Trying to explain, you realize that you have not completely thought through this idea yourself.

Having experienced this enough times, I began following the “rule of writing”:

You should write things down if you want to clarify your thinking, remember something important, or communicate something clearly.

An emotionally intelligent person uses the rule of writing to help clarify thoughts, improve memory, and communicate more effectively.

8. Writing in reverse

When you write in reverse, you take on the role of the recipient (your audience) rather than the writer (of a report or email). Keeping the audience in mind will prevent you from:

  • Using an overly exaggerated or bland viewpoint,
  • Overwriting and explaining, or
  • Not writing about things that will help your cause and don’t matter to the recipient

Writing in reverse also exercises your empathy muscle, which makes it an emotionally intelligent practice.

9. The rule of reappraisal

Remember the rule of reappraisal whenever you feel unproductive or stuck in a rut:

Do not worry about the path ahead for a change. Take time to reflect on how far you’ve come.

Simply shifting your perspective can transform frustration into contentment, anxiety into appreciation.

10. The golden question

There are actually five sub-questions included in the one golden question. If you find yourself unable to make a decision because your emotions are taking over, ask yourself:

How will I feel about this in:

  • a day?
  • a week?
  • a month?
  • a year?
  • five years?

By forcing yourself to “see the future,” you hack your brain and change the way it works on emotions. 

Something that may seem like a big deal to you now, may not be worth the sweat in the scheme of things—so you can quickly redirect your attention back to what’s important and quit stressing about futile situations. 

The golden question also allows you to gauge a decision’s impact on your upcoming future, which helps you make more informed and well-thought-out moves.  


These nine rules have saved me countless hours and frustrations, and I hope they help you as much as they’ve helped me. But regardless, remember this: If something is important to you, it must be worth working for. 

That includes emotional intelligence training. So try out these methods—they can’t hurt!

Thank you, and best wishes!

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