Are You Born With, Or Do You Learn, Emotional Intelligence?

Are You Born With Or Do You Learn Emotional Intelligence?

Are we born with certain traits? Certain potentials, or talents? Do you know someone you at times think must be “born with it”?!

Or are we born as clean slates, and then learn everything as we live and experience life?

Or, is it a mix of the two – nature and nurture, both?

Let’s dive into what emotional intelligence means, its characteristics, how to improve it, and whether it’s something that can be learned or you just have to be born with it.

Emotional Intelligence: Are You Born With It?

This question comes under the bigger question of whether certain traits are genetic, or can be learned. We have enough research(1) today to confidently say that it’s neither solely nature nor solely nurture, but rather a combination of the two.
In short, yes, people may be born with different base levels of emotional intelligence skills. Based on their inherent skill level the person may find it easier or not to further hone it. However, in the long run, whoever nurtures it will eventually benefit from it.

For a deeper understanding, we must first explore what comprises emotional intelligence.

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

Personally, I prefer the term emotional wisdom to emotional intelligence because emotional wisdom is more than just the intellect.

It is the amalgamation of information you receive from your body, emotions, experiences, and again, more! More here refers to how you bring all the information from the different sources and make coherent meaning of it.

Olivier Serrat, in his book, Knowledge Solutions(2), describes emotional intelligence as:

“ability, capacity, skill, or self-perceived ability to identify, assess, and manage the emotions of one’s self, of others, and of groups.”

Here’s a generic framework(2) of emotional intelligence based on the book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, by Daniel Goleman:

Goleman suggests that emotional intelligence consists of five major components:

  1. Self-awareness: Your ability to know your emotions.
  2. Self-Regulation: Your ability to manage your emotions.
  3. Self-motivation: Your ability to motivate yourself.
  4. Social Awareness: Your ability to recognize others’ emotions, and
  5. Social Skills: Your ability to manage relationships healthily.

An article in Psychcentral shares a few scenarios as examples of low v/s high emotional intelligence.

Is Everyone Born With Some Sort Of Emotional Quotient?

Robert Murray thinks we aren’t born with emotional intelligence. His reasoning is, “If, as infants, we were to have emotional intelligence, we would also possess empathy and would think through things like waking up our mothers to feed us in the middle of the night…”

It seems to me he might have equated emotional intelligence to empathy. Empathy is a skill within emotional intelligence. However, emotional intelligence is not empathy. Emotional intelligence has a spectrum.

Just like being good at math in grade 2 doesn’t make you a statistician, similarly, being born with some level of emotional intelligence doesn’t make you empathetic!

I like what Serrat(2) says:

“The truth is that some will be more naturally gifted than others but the good news is that emotional intelligence skills can be learned.”

He further makes two critical points:

  1. That emotional intelligence skills can be learned is evident by the fact that emotional intelligence is shown to increase with age.
  2. For the above point to happen, “people must be personally motivated, practice extensively what they learn, receive feedback, and reinforce their new skills.”

So, yes, everyone is born with some sort of emotional quotient, and the level of this quotient varies. However, in the long run, it’s not what you’re born with that matters, but rather how, and how much, you nurture it.

Would It Be Beneficial To Learn About Emotional Intelligence From A Young Age?

Hands down, yes, for two major reasons:

1. It’s always faster to pick up skills when young.

2. The sooner you pick up emotional intelligence skills, the lesser your emotional baggage. The lesser your emotional baggage, the easier it’ll be to resolve it.

Why Is Emotional Intelligence Important?

Daniel Goleman says(2):

“If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.”

Though the quote above should be enough to help you see the importance of emotional intelligence, below are a few more reasons why emotional intelligence is important:

  1. Emotional intelligence leads you to well-being(3) since you’re able to manage your emotions no matter what life throws at you.
  2. It helps you communicate effectively on both, personal and professional fronts.
  3. Anyone with higher emotional intelligence has greater chances of succeeding in whatever they do as they’re able to bounce back faster, with less chance of burnout.
  4. Leaders with high emotional intelligence cultivate creativity and innovation in their teams.
  5. Parents with high emotional intelligence can raise children with high emotional intelligence.
In under 7 minutes, the video above gives you 6 pointers to consider for your emotional skills.

Characteristics Of People With High Emotional Intelligence

William Beteet III on Quora shares 9 characteristics of such people, and a Forbes article by Mark Murphy shares another 5 signs. I’ve summarized the (9+5) 14 points for you below:

1. They Come Across As Genuine

Since these people are aware of themselves and also know how to manage and motivate themselves, they’re usually able to see things as they are, including themselves.

This creates a sense of worth in them that’s not connected to any external circumstance. They know their strengths as well as struggles, & are able to acknowledge them.

Thus, in their social interactions with others, both personally & professionally, they come to seem like genuine people who mean what they say and say what they mean.

2. They’re Open-Minded

They are comfortable with being called out, receiving feedback, giving feedback, and reviewing things objectively without denial, blame, excuses, or anxiety.

They know how to pick their battles. They’re able to sense when to stand their ground and when to let go as they understand that it’s not about winning an argument but about creating win-win situations.

3. They Make Others Feel Comfortable

They’re good listeners, and make others feel seen, heard, and validated. They know how to make people feel important and appreciated in a genuinely caring manner.

They tend to have warm, smiling personalities that make people around them feel safe.

4. They Have A Sense Of Humor

Having a good sense of humor and knowing where to use it is a huge indicator of emotional intelligence.

These people have the wisdom to discern appropriate jokes for the right contexts that people might relate to without taking it too far.

They also, in general, take life easy with a light-hearted attitude.

5. It’s Not About Ego For Them.

They’re able to have successful difficult conversations. They don’t need to sugarcoat anything because they share their truth from a space of genuine care and concern.

They’re able to hold constructive discussions as they’re able to separate the person from their actions and talk about correcting actions while paying full regard and respect to the person.

They apologize when they’re wrong, say thank you no matter how small the favor is, and make requests of others instead of demands.

P.S. It’s important to note here that Emotional Intelligence has a spectrum. It doesn’t matter whether or not you have all the above signs. What truly matters is that you’re working on growing on the spectrum.

How Can I Improve Emotional Intelligence (EQ)?

EQ cultivation is a slow process because just knowing the skills isn’t enough. To truly develop your EQ, you’ll need to apply it in your life in real-time.

Based on where you are on the EQ spectrum, you could start with one of the five:

  1. Learning grounding and resourcing techniques.
  2. Understanding your emotions and emotional reactions.
  3. Uncovering your relationship blueprints.
  4. Exploring your attachment styles.
  5. Cultivating body-based awareness.

P.S. If you’re ready, Rooted In Chaos is for you if you are not just looking for superficial solutions but are ready to dive deep into your emotional and relational complexities.

Find out more about Rooted In Chaos to see if it’s what you might need right now.


  1. Emotional intelligence, broadly, comprises self-awareness, self-regulation, self-motivation, social awareness, & social skills.
  2. While everyone is born with some level of emotional intelligence, the level may vary from person to person.
  3. Also, eventually what matters is not the level you were born with, but how much you cultivated whatever you had.
  4. Learning emotional intelligence skills in childhood would be very beneficial.
  5. High EQ is a critical differentiating factor between successful and happy people v/s successful and unhappy, or struggling and unhappy, people.
  6. Five characteristics of emotionally intelligent people are: they come across as genuine, are open-minded, make others comfortable, have a sense of humor, and don’t play the ego game.
  7. It’s not as important where you are on the Emotional Intelligence spectrum as it is that you’re working toward growing on the spectrum.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts, suggestions, questions, or a simple hi 🙂

By the way, are you logical or emotional? Can Logic And Emotions Coexist? might be an interesting next read for you!


(1) Keller, E. F. (2010). The Mirage of a Space Between Nature and Nurture. United Kingdom: Duke University Press. Preview
(2) Serrat, O. (2017). Understanding and Developing Emotional Intelligence. In: Knowledge Solutions. Springer, Singapore.
(3) Guerra-Bustamante, J.; León-del-Barco, B.; Yuste-Tosina, R.; López-Ramos, V.M.; Mendo-Lázaro, S. Emotional Intelligence and Psychological Well-Being in Adolescents. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 201916, 1720.

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