A view of a woman's back as she walks through a street.

What is emotional intelligence? It should be an easy question to answer. But in reality, some people have never heard of it, some people dismiss it, and others simply don’t know enough about EQ to respect it, let alone implement it. 

As a result, there are plenty of misconceptions out there about what emotional intelligence means and just as important, what it doesn’t. 

Let’s debunk some of the most common myths surrounding EQ and learn what it really means to have high emotional intelligence.

1. Emotional intelligence means being emotional.

False! It isn’t about having your feelings on tap or pulling an emotion out of your hat. And it does not equate to being a psychic who can predict everyone's feelings before they even have them!

Everyone has emotions. EQ teaches you how to recognize and work with them, building good self-management skills for working with others.

2. Emotional intelligence is about suppressing your emotions and always being positive.

False! Perhaps you know someone who can remain calm under pressure, take constructive criticism with a smile, or work well with difficult people. These high EQ people are working with their emotions, not against them. They regulate and use them constructively.

3. High EQ people don’t experience emotional struggles.

Wrong—everyone struggles with emotions. Having high emotional intelligence does not exempt you from the struggle, but it does equip you with the tools and talent to prevent emotions from devolving into destructive behavior.

4. A high EQ must keep you stuck in your heart.

False! As with any skill, EQ is only called upon when needed. Most people aren’t using their driving skills on a freeway around the clock and most don’t ride a perpetual emotional rollercoaster, either. 

5. Women are more emotionally intelligent. Men are more emotionally intelligent

False times two! EQ doesn’t have a gender bias and having it doesn’t mean you are a more emotional human. Emotional intelligence is something everyone can learn and practice throughout their lives, which brings us to…

6. Emotional intelligence naturally increases as you age.

This one is true-ish. A study by the University of California, Berkeley shows that our EQ scores generally rise throughout our working lives, peaking around age 60. We grow older and emotionally wiser as we mature…until we don’t. 

7. Emotional intelligence doesn’t really exist. It’s not really intelligence, it’s more just common sense.

False! There is scientific evidence for EQ. It can be hard to measure, because if you have poor emotional intelligence, you won't know how good (or bad) you are at recognizing your own and others’ emotions. But there are plenty of tests that measure EQ with high accuracy. 

8. You either have EQ or you don’t.

There’s a grain of truth in this one, in the sense that some people naturally have higher emotional intelligence than others. They were born that way. That said, EQ is not a fixed trait, but a learned mindset. Developing your EQ is a lifelong practice and anyone can do it.

9. Emotional Intelligence is just about being empathetic.

False! Empathy is one of many outcomes or symptoms of having high EQ. There’s a lot more to EQ than just empathy, including self-awareness, social awareness and ability to control your emotions.

10.  EQ is only good for personal relationships.

Absolutely not. Emotional intelligence skills are applicable across every facet of life. There’s a large body of evidence linking emotional intelligence to better collaboration, engagement and success in the workplace, for example. Which makes sense when you think about it. Would you rather work for a boss who stays cool and considerate or flies off the handle whenever someone makes a mistake? 

11.  Emotions don’t belong in the workplace!

Do not equate EQ with emotions run wild. See point #1. Employees with high emotional intelligence are skilled at handling difficult coworkers and clients, operate from integrity, have a strong social repertoire, and show compassion to themselves and others.

12. You have to sacrifice EQ to be mentally tough and assertive in business.

False! EQ enhances a person’s conflict resolution skills. It doesn’t make you a people-pleaser or a doormat, but an active participant in negotiations, teamwork and office leadership.

13.  Emotional intelligence can predict success.

It would be great if it could but remember, EQ is a skill. Like any other skill, it can grow or wane over the years, or even from situation to situation depending on how often you exercise it. From the manager to the janitor, success is always a combination of factors, but high EQ will definitely give you an advantage.

14.  Emotional Intelligence does not influence our decisions.

False! People with high EQ are able to make better decisions that improve their daily lives. They are more aware of their own emotions and those of others, and they use that awareness to set boundaries, accept where someone is at or take better care of themselves. They read the room and respond appropriately.

15. High EQ has no relation to our physical wellbeing.

Surprisingly—false! Emotions are unavoidably wired into our bodies and elicit that fight-or-flight reaction. Emotionally intelligent people learn how to manage their response to stress, and that has an immediate effect on their wellbeing. 

16. People with a high EQ have a high IQ.

False! Don’t confuse the two. Being book smart is not the same as being people smart, and there are different ways we measure each. Take Truity’s EQ test yourself to understand what areas you can improve in.

17. Then there must be an “EQ personality.”

False! No one personality has the upper hand in gaining a higher EQ. You don’t have to be a Myers Briggs Feeler or an Enneagram Heart Type. Your EQ can be challenged because of daily stress, distraction or even hormones, but it is not directly linked to your personality type.

18.  Emotional intelligence can be universally taught and is absorbed by everyone equally.

False! Everyone is unique and will have their own particular personal demons to navigate. EQ is influenced by our childhood, community, culture and more. Sometimes we will have to unlearn some bad habits before we can learn better ones.

19. Learning emotional intelligence is easy.

We wish this were true but it takes conscious and persistent effort to cultivate a higher EQ. However, it is effort well spent. Around 80-90% of the competencies that differentiate top leaders are in the realm of emotional intelligence, as opposed to technical skills and abilities, for example. Businesses invest in EQ training because it pays off in better business results. 

20.  There’s no downside to having a high EQ.

Sadly, false. Learning how to read the emotions of others can put power in the hands of dark empaths—bad actors who have a lot of empathy but use it to exploit, bully and manipulate people. Whether it’s politicians or predators, your best defense for people trying to charm you into compliance is… to have a well-developed healthy emotional intelligence yourself.

Jolie Tunnell
Jolie Tunnell is an author, freelance writer and blogger with a background in administration and education. Raising a Variety Pack of kids with her husband, she serves up hard-won wisdom with humor, compassion and insight. Jolie is an ISTJ and lives in San Diego, California where she writes historical mysteries. Visit her at jolietunnell.com