Skip to content

8 Clear Signs Your Date Has Low Emotional Intelligence

Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy
July 27, 2019
Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy
Doctor of Clinical Psychology
By Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy
Doctor of Clinical Psychology
Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy, is a psychologist and executive coach who received her clinical psychology doctorate from University College London. She has been featured in Elle, Forbes, Business Insider, and elsewhere.
July 27, 2019

You've probably heard it's a good idea to find a partner with high emotional intelligence—and it's absolutely true.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of, control, and express our emotions appropriately, as well as the capacity to handle relationships, which, of course, are chock-full of intense emotions and require the ability to communicate about them effectively. Without this, we are fundamentally emotionally immature people who cannot take responsibility for ourselves or our relationships. Imagine dealing with someone with the maturity of a tempestuous adolescent or a sullen child—that's no foundation for a healthy relationship!

Here are a few signs of low emotional intelligence you can spot early on in a relationship: 

1. They always bring the focus of the conversation back to them.

Watch their conversation style. The most glaring red flag is when they dominate the conversation or thrust the focus of every topic—no matter how unrelated—back to them. Then there's the more sophisticated kind who appears to listen intently and ask questions. Of course, sharing our own experiences can demonstrate common ground and nurture empathy. However, if it's about the other party having the last word, or proving that they've had it better or worse, then it doesn't matter how many questions or how hard they listen—because the focus is still always on them.

2. They are transactional.

We are taught to look out for that person who is rude to the waiter. But someone could tip the waiter excessively or donate to the homeless person they spot on the street, and they can still have low emotional intelligence. Many people have simply learned what the right thing to do is to gain respect, attention, or something else. Watch for when a person is excessively charming: Everyone has an internal meter on when it feels false. Listen for if they smirk about the utilitarian reason behind what they do (e.g., "I'm only doing this so they'll take better care of us next time") as though people are pawns on a chessboard or if their actions seem to be mainly about looking better than those around them. 

3. They engage in toxic positivity.

Sure, there are manifold benefits of optimism, such as luck and being an inspiring person to be around. Yet, to tell someone to simply think positively or to wipe your negative thoughts away like clouds in the sky can actually make that person's anxiety and depression skyrocket. Life and human nature exist in all shades of light and dark, and pretending the darkness doesn't exist is akin to bypassing the human experience. A person forcing toxic positivity on someone else is likely someone who cannot deal with the spectrum of human emotions and experiences. Other signs include when they laugh at someone for being oversensitive, even if the emotional response is justifiable, or when they are playing nice even when it's reasonable to be angry. 

4. They cannot keep commitments.

The ability to instantly communicate with someone thanks to smartphones means it's also easier to flake. While it's understandable that someone could back out due to reasons like nerves, if someone is constantly flaking on you last minute—no matter their reasons—this could be a sign that they're lacking emotional intelligence. They don't have a strong enough sense of self or protection of boundaries to decline invitations in the first place, or they don't have enough empathy to know that they need to respectfully inform you ahead of time that they won't be able to keep their plans.

5. They have no real friendships.

It's not uncommon for a person with low or little EQ to say things like "I have few/no friends." Perhaps they might give reasons such as they're new to a city, their friends have abandoned them, or they are always blaming others for character flaws. Otherwise, they may let slip that their friendships are weak, often "Good Time Friends" who don't know the real them. 

6. They must win the argument at all costs.

Paulo Coelho writes that sometimes, we doggedly convince someone because one extra person sharing our viewpoint makes that perspective seem more real. This suggests that we are uncomfortable with having doubt in our perspectives, even though this is normal—a clear sign of low EQ. Perhaps this is understandable if a person only exhibits such tendencies in one or two topics they feel strongly about, but if they have to win the argument at all costs, then it is a red flag that's a deeper shade of blood. Someone with low emotional intelligence finds it impossible to agree to disagree, because having divergent perspectives is unbearable or makes them feel inferior.

7. They criticize everyone but themselves.

A person who is frequently talking about how everyone else has massive character flaws without any self-awareness of their own likely lacks emotional intelligence—because when you're good with emotions, you're able to see yourself clearly and see others with empathy. Constantly blaming the whole world and highlighting your own character strengths are red flags. Even if a person is able to admit their own faults, watch if this admission is merely cosmetic, to appear as though they are humble. If they merely talk about their flaws in a superficial manner or as a way of justifying their unacceptable behavior ("I was so stressed due to ABC; therefore, I had to XYZ. You know this about me; I can't believe you're so uncaring as to not cut me some slack."), then your alarm bells should be clanging. 

8. They dispense unsolicited advice and opinions.

We all know the person who has to give unsolicited (and often doomsaying) advice or opinions on everything. While it can be useful to have someone in your life who is willing to warn you or call you out, it's exhausting when it's always negative or when their need to express their thoughts about your life seems more important to them than your feelings or what you're going through. Although it might seem like they're being attuned to your problems, their inability to appropriately communicate with you, ask you how you're feeling, gauge your openness to advice, and accept when you're not open to advice shows a core lack of emotional understanding and nuance.

Now, none of this is to say that someone with low emotional intelligence is necessarily a bad person or someone to avoid spending time with at all costs. I think of New York Times bestselling author Robert Greene's advice to see the world for what it is. Fundamentally, it means to accept human nature for what it is: There are people we'll get along with and people we won't. Even when we come across the latter, see every interaction as intel on what you want in your life and how you can become a better and wiser person. 

Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy author page.
Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy
Doctor of Clinical Psychology

Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy, is a psychologist and executive coach currently living in Singapore. She received her doctorate in clinical psychology from University College London and her master's in philosophy from University of Cambridge. Her first book This Is What Matters was published by Simon & Schuster in May 2022, which guides you to transform crisis to strength, or design an #EverydayAmazing life.

She has been featured in Elle, Forbes, and Business Insider and has previously worked with Olympians, business professionals, and individuals seeking to master their psychological capital. She works globally in English and Mandarin-Chinese via Skype and Facetime, blending cutting-edge neuroscience, psychology, and ancient wisdom.