How Well Can You Read People?

How well do you recognize and empathize with other people's emotions? The answer could be an important indicator of your emotional intelligence, which may be affecting the level of satisfaction you experience in your life.

While in the past intelligence was measured mainly by how much you know and how well you learn, today psychologists recognize that in addition to being "book smart," it helps to have a deeper understanding of yourself and be able to apply this insight to your interactions with others, too, in order to be able to navigate life most effectively.

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

"Emotional intelligence speaks to an individual's ability to understand, utilize, and regulate one's own emotions and the emotions of others," says Annette Ermshar, PhD, MSCP, ABPP, a clinical psychologist in Pasadena, CA, and a fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Psychology. She says that an example of this is being able to read body language and understand what a person is thinking and feeling so you can approach him or her in the most appropriate way—an essential skill for personal and professional success.

Using Emotional Intelligence in Business

Ermshar points out that in the workplace, people with higher levels of emotional intelligence are also better able to assess the corporate environment, determine co-workers and management's strengths and styles, and interact with them most effectively and compassionately. Being able to determine the emotional atmosphere of your workplace can also help influence the way you present information (such as your tone of voice, level of detail offered, and ability to acknowledge and respond to other people's questions, confusions, or frustrations appropriately). She adds that your emotional intelligence can also help you find middle ground in situations where people have different emotional styles and viewpoints.

On the flip side, if you're lacking in emotional intelligence, you can risk offending other people or be unable to comprehend where they are coming from and what they have been through, which can create stress and cause misunderstanding.

Getting Tested

Evaluating emotional intelligence isn't typically done on a regular basis. However, if you're having trouble developing or sustaining healthy relationships or experiencing difficulty in social or business situations, it's worth talking to a psychologist to find out whether you're a good candidate for psychological testing to get more insight into your strengths and weaknesses. A psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, or counselor can refer you to a testing facility.

Getting a Boost

Ermshar points out that although most people are born with an innate tendency toward having higher or lower emotional intelligence, there are ways you can stack the odds in your favor.

"One of the initial steps would be to take a self-inventory (whether this is informally through your own observation or formally through psychological testing)," she says. "After acknowledging areas of strength and weakness, you can choose to take steps to increase your emotional intelligence." Raise your emotional intel by:

  • Paying more attention to your own feelings, and the feelings of others, during social interactions.
  • Observing your own body language and the body language of others.
  • Checking in with family and friends to see if their perception of your feelings matches your true state.
  • See a therapist to get more insight into your personality and actions.

The Bottom Line

"Psychotherapy is a unique relationship in which the therapist works with the client to identify strengths and weaknesses and provide honest, direct feedback immediately on issues relating to emotional intelligence, whether it be body language (yours may not match with what you're saying), feedback on how you are perceived (friends may sacrifice honesty to preserve the relationship).

Therapists can also help you develop new skills designed to increase emotional intelligence," Ermshar explains adding that learning more about your emotional intelligence is an opportunity to regulate and utilize your emotions to further enhance relationships and increase your overall happiness.

Annette Ermshar, PhD, MSCP, ABPP, reviewed this article.


Annette Ermshar, PhD, MSCP, ABPP, Clinical, Forensic, and Neuropsychology. The Arroyos Psychological Associates, Pasadena, California. Email interview, 18 October 2013