Exactly How To Test Your Emotional Intelligence (Which, by the Way, You Can Improve)

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Emotional intelligence (EQ) is one of those multifaceted traits that’s easier to pinpoint in action than it is to quantify in scientific terms. Technically, it’s the ability to understand and manage your emotions and those of people around you. But, in practice, that can mean so many things: It’s knowing how to respond (not just react) in any emotionally fraught situation, whether you're receiving feedback, being vulnerable with a loved one, or simply listening to all sides of a conflict. And that's why any good test of emotional intelligence tends to involve imagining yourself in these kinds of scenarios, and then measuring your responses against indicators of healthy emotional processing.

Experts In This Article
  • Carla Marie Manly, PhD, clinical psychologist, life fulfillment expert, and author of Date Smart, Joy From Fear, and Aging Joyfully
  • Liz Solomon, Liz Solomon is a certified emotional intelligence coach, experienced writer, and workplace strategist invested in equity and positive social change. She is the founder of New Realm Coaching and Consulting, where she helps individuals and organizations clarify their purpose, communicate...

To break it down, emotional intelligence generally includes five key components, according to clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD, author of Date Smart: self-knowledge, self-control, personal motivation for self-growth, social skills, and empathy. Because of the complexity and depth therein, a full-fledged diagnostic EQ test, like the Emotional and Social Competence Inventory, would need to be administered by an accredited practitioner or mental-health professional.

"The five key components of healthy EQ are self-knowledge, self-control, personal motivation for self-growth, social skills, and empathy." —Carla Marie Manly, PhD, clinical psychologist

That said, there are a handful of emotional intelligence tests available online that anyone can take using self-reporting. In general, these tests tend to modify the typical questions for a more lighthearted, non-diagnostic approach—but even so, the results can provide an idea of how effectively you may be processing the 400-plus emotional experiences you might have on any given day, and where you might have room for improvement. Which, it's worth reiterating, is possible to do; EQ isn’t something you’re born with, so much as something you can learn and grow, says Dr. Manly.

For example, the EQ test from Psychology Today asks you to rate, on a five-point scale ranging from “completely true” to “completely false,” how likely you are to agree with different statements describing emotions-driven actions (such as, “I tend to overanalyze situations, finding problems that don't really exist”), and choose from a multiple-choice selection of responses to prompts like, “When assessing how I feel emotionally about a situation or a person, I….” The result is a snapshot of your EQ level on a scale from 1 (lacking EQ) to 100 (having high EQ).

“This kind of test instrument seems to generally assess components of emotional intelligence such as emotional regulation and self-knowledge,” says Dr. Manly. “Those who have no EQ will likely score quite low, and those who have a moderate or high understanding of EQ will likely score quite a bit higher.”

But, she notes a key caveat: To get an accurate result from the test would also require some emotional intelligence at the outset; the test-taker would need to be self-aware enough about what they’d really do in the hypothetical scenarios to give accurate responses. As a result, self-report tests are generally less reliable, particularly for folks with low EQ, than professionally administered ones. “A test-taker [with lower EQ] can easily see themselves through a lens that is different from their real-life responses,” says Dr. Manly.

To that end, pairing this kind of self-report EQ test with outside feedback from trusted friends and loved ones may be your best bet for wholly understanding your level of emotional intelligence in action.

How to test (and grow) your emotional intelligence level using your community

Emotional intelligence is a people-related skill, so it’s very possible that your people (and not you) may be the best judge of your EQ level. “We can only see ourselves so clearly,” says certified emotional intelligence coach Liz Solomon, who suggests asking others in your sphere whom you trust for input on the way you’ve managed (or failed to manage) your emotions in their presence.

Specifically, you might ask them how you tend to present under stress, she says. For example: “Do I lose my composure or get impatient?” Or, “How do you see me managing my triggers?” And to get at other key parts of EQ, like empathy and positive outlook, you might also ask, “Do you feel understood by me?” and “Do I focus more on possibilities or problems?”

Though these people can’t know how you feel internally while confronting difficult situations, they can certainly offer a clear picture of what that emotional processing looks like and whether it appears to be serving your best interests. To be constructive, says Solomon, their feedback would ideally look something like, “This is how I feel when you do ‘x’ thing” or “Here is something that you might do differently.” If their insights seem to differ largely from your own perspective of yourself and your emotions, there’s a chance you’re less aware of or in control of your emotions than you might think.

Even so, simply engaging in this kind of productive conversation about how your emotions or behaviors might be affecting others will also build EQ in the process, says Solomon: “Surrounding yourself with people who are able to speak to your strengths and opportunities for growth in a way that doesn’t seek to blame or shame is helpful.”

In large part, that’s because doing so involves practicing empathy, or putting yourself in another person’s shoes to understand, really, how your actions impact them. “The more you engage in empathizing and refrain from judging, the stronger your EQ will become,” says Dr. Manly.

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