Displaying emotional maturity is an important sign that someone is truly a leader. That’s because being emotionally mature involves having characteristics including patience, adaptability, humility, and an eagerness to learn from others.
Research conducted by Talent SmartEQ shows that among 33 workplace skills, emotional intelligence (linked to maturity) is often ranked number one in terms of what employers look for in employees. Additionally, 90% of top performers are high in emotional intelligence, while only 20% of bottom performers are high in emotional intelligence. This explains why 75% of Fortune 500 companies now utilize emotional intelligence training.
Let’s look below at why emotionally mature people have major advantages in life, plus how this skill can help improve employee retention, job satisfaction, and even customer loyalty and profits.
- In a workplace with emotionally mature leaders and coworkers, productivity thrives, conflict dwindles, and innovations occur.
- Emotionally mature people create the type of appealing work culture and environment that employees want to be a part of.
- You can’t have a thriving workplace, company, or healthy relationships in your life (professionally and personally) without emotional maturity.
What Is Emotional Maturity?
Emotional maturity is having the ability to understand and manage your emotions. It involves being able to tolerate stress and negative feelings without letting them dictate your actions. It also requires clear communication and openness to feedback.
According to the American Behavioral Clinics, “An emotionally mature person has reached (and continues to work at reaching) a level of self-understanding with regards to their thoughts and behaviors, and then decides how to best approach and cope with situations that might otherwise be trying or challenging.”
Additionally, signs of emotional maturity include:
- Maintaining healthy relationships by being a better communicator, more empathetic, and comfortable with vulnerability
- Improving collaboration and building strong teams
- Being more proactive, productive, and decisive in the workplace
- Having greater self-acceptance, confidence, and self-esteem
- Being able to see others’ perspectives more easily
- Learning from mistakes made by you and those around you
How to Define Emotional Immaturity
It’s easy to recognize what emotional maturity looks like when you consider the opposite: being emotionally immature. The American Psychological Association considers emotional immaturity to be “the tendency to express emotions without restraint or disproportionately to the situation.”
Immature people are often self-absorbed, overly dramatic, love conflict, and don’t know how to regulate their emotions in order to benefit the greater good. For example, immaturity is one of the top qualities of a toxic boss.
Traits of an emotionally immature person include:
- Attention-seeking behaviors
- Impulsive personality
- Inconsiderate words and actions
- Unpredictable nature
- Closed off to feedback
Consider the difference between a typical child and an adult. A child mostly lacks self-awareness and control of their feelings, allowing their emotions to rule their actions even when it negatively affects others. Most mature adults, in comparison, can think through their feelings and control their reactions even in tough circumstances.
Why Emotional Maturity Matters in the Workplace
Mature, emotionally intelligent adults increase work performance in many ways, such as by improving collaboration and problem-solving. Some of the main benefits that mature leaders and workers contribute to a company include:
- Building productive relationships: A firm grasp of one’s emotions is important for all types of relationships, in and out of the office, because it helps drive people closer together to connect and achieve goals.
- Decreasing conflict and stress: On the other hand, people who are emotionally stunted—lacking traits such as emotional intelligence, empathy, and accountability—are more likely to deal with ongoing conflicts, not to mention decreased life satisfaction.
- Cutting out irrational behavior and decision-making: An immature leader can be detrimental to the well-being of a company and its employees. Immaturity stands in the way of managing employees’ behavior, navigating social complexities, and making decisions based on reason instead of emotion.
- Fostering a team spirit: Although emotional maturity and emotional intelligence (EI) are essential skills for all leaders to develop, many can afford to work on honing both. Understanding one’s feelings and managing them appropriately contributes to someone being seen as a professional and a team player.
- Fulfilling purpose: People in positions of power (including bosses, parents, politicians, and more) need both self-management and social management to actually fulfill their mission and drive impact in the world.
- Creating career opportunities: Managers often look for emotional maturity even more so than general intelligence (IQ) when interviewing new hires and reviewing employees. One CareerBuilder survey found that 71% of employers value emotional intelligence in employees over IQ.
Signs of Emotional Maturity
“Unlike physical maturity, which happens more or less automatically, emotional maturity is largely learned, practiced, and reinforced,” says Nick Wignall, a clinical psychologist and podcaster. In short, being emotionally mature is not exactly the same thing as simply being mature (or older). Two people can experience similar life challenges, and be of similar ages, but develop emotionally in very different ways.
Below are some of the key traits of an emotionally mature person:
- High level of emotional intelligence (EI): EI, the “capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions,” is one key indicator of emotional maturity. Think of emotional intelligence as the understanding of emotions, while emotional maturity is the act of applying that knowledge. Author Daniel Goleman, who has written books focused on EI, wrote in the New York Times that these two skills make people a “different kind of smart.”
- Accountability: Blaming others and acting defensive when you’ve made a mistake are signs of immaturity and insecurity. In comparison, if you have solid self-esteem and high EI, you should be able to admit to being wrong, accept feedback and criticism, and learn from your mistakes.
- Honesty and Integrity: While someone struggling with emotional immaturity is prone to lying and exaggerating in order to make themselves look better, a mature person tells the truth even when it’s inconvenient.
- Strong communication skills: Communication allows us to discuss feelings, expectations, and needs. A sure sign of maturity is expressing oneself clearly without being too confrontational or too weak. Instead, mature communication involves people talking with each other, not at each other, with the goal of benefiting everyone involved.
- Empathy: To make an effort to understand someone else’s point of view and feelings is the foundation of empathy. Empathetic leaders are compassionate and considerate, which helps them to maintain lasting, meaningful, and mutually beneficial relationships.
- Open-mindedness: To continue to develop, a mature and ambitious person recognizes the need to remain humble, learn from others, appreciate different perspectives, and admit that they don’t know everything.
- Ability to delay gratification: Delaying impulses and putting off immediate rewards in favor of working on a long-term goal is one of the clearest signs of a mature person.
- Flexibility: Life doesn’t always go according to plan, yet a person who is emotionally mature is resourceful, can adapt to different situations, and is capable of coming up with a “Plan B.” This type of mindset makes it much easier to thrive when faced with upsets, setbacks, or disappointments.
- Effective problem-solving skills: Maturity is shown when someone is able to resolve conflicts and solve problems without blowing them out of proportion. This relates back to having solid communication skills, plus resilience, flexibility, and confidence.
Ways to Increase Emotional Maturity
Every leader, and person in general, is a constant work in progress. This means that as we age and gain more life experience, there are always opportunities to mature and improve our emotional skills. There’s evidence that for most adults, emotional well-being improves from early adulthood into older age. Findings from one study published in Psychology and Aging suggest that aging is usually associated with less self-centeredness, more positive overall emotional well-being, greater emotional stability, and greater capacity to deal with emotional complexities.
Aside from aging, how does a person increase emotional maturity? Discover suggestions from communication and mental health experts below.
1. Gain Self-Awareness About Your Own Personality
“Self-awareness is the ability to see yourself clearly and objectively through reflection and introspection.”Courtney Ackerman
Self-awareness is a prerequisite for maturity because you first must understand how you feel before you can act appropriately on your feelings. By evaluating your own thoughts and feelings, you’re better able to determine if you’re acting in accordance with your values or simply acting on emotion.
To identify what you’re feeling as you resolve difficult emotions:
- Try practices like mindfulness meditation and journaling. Both of these put you in touch with your emotions and shine a light on thought patterns that may be contributing to your problems.
- Consider completing tests online that reveal information about your personality type, coping skills, and communication habits, such as the Myers-Briggs test, HEXACO Personality Inventory test, or Big 5/HIGH 5 test.
- Ask others who you trust for honest feedback since we often have blind spots related to our own behaviors.
2. Get a Hold of Your Emotions (Improve Emotional Intelligence)
“There is an old-fashioned word for the body of skills that emotional intelligence represents: character.”Daniel Goleman
Do you find it hard to decipher how you’re feeling and to express your emotions to others? Do you lose your cool in tough situations easily due to feeling overwhelmed or attacked?
If so, you can benefit from developing more emotional intelligence, described by the Institute for Health and Human Potential as “the ability to recognize, understand, and manage our own emotions, and recognize, understand, and influence the emotions of others.”
You can build your emotional intelligence skills by:
- Recognizing you don’t need to act on every thought or feeling that you have.
- Slowing down and taking time to process how you’re feeling in order to respond appropriately.
- Improving self-awareness, such as by defining your intentions and naming your feelings.
- Becoming more socially aware by staying curious about others, noticing their body language, and paying attention to shifts in people’s emotions.
3. Learn to Manage Different Personality Types
“Emotional maturity provides the means for leaders, managers, and motivators to be more sensitive and aware of varying needs and perceptions of all parties, self and others, and thus adapt one’s communication for optimum positive effect.”Edward E. Morler
Strong leaders know how to remain open-minded to different perspectives and personalities, which facilitates collaboration and loyalty.
To become more capable of managing different personalities:
- Ask questions so you understand the reason for people’s moods and opinions.
- Reframe your mind to see disagreements as learning opportunities.
- Reduce tension and build connections by remaining light-hearted and empathetic.
4. Be Willing to Communicate, Even When It’s Tough
“Speaking from your feelings often involves accusing, all or nothing language and puts the responsibility for your feelings on the other party. In contrast, speaking for your feelings creates just enough space for the other person to consider your needs without feeling attacked.”Tonya Lester, LCSW
Mature people are willing to work through tough conversations, even if they’d rather avoid having them. This applies to both the acts of giving and receiving feedback.
Vulnerability, or expressing how you feel without needing to appear perfect, is one important element of effective communication, plus a key way to learn and grow throughout life.
“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage,” says Brené Brown in Rising Strong.
To practice effective communication:
- Listen fully to someone without interrupting.
- Become comfortable with admitting wrongdoings and taking ownership of mistakes.
- Normalize apologizing and/or asking for help.
- Pay attention to your body language; remain engaged and keep eye contact.
5. Practice Being Empathetic
“Empathy is a skill. The more you practice it, the better you’ll get at it . . . And as you become more observant and empathetic, you’ll tend to find your confidence increasing.”Dr. Jamil Zaki
Why is empathetic leadership so effective? Empathetic adults know how to put themselves in other people’s shoes, which forms connections and builds trust.
Those who are empathetic can think about situations from others’ points of view, allowing them to appropriately respond to various challenges and making others comfortable in the process.
How can you become more empathetic?
- Be curious about people’s unique experiences, especially those that have been challenging.
- Focus on similarities between yourself and those you’re speaking with, rather than what makes you different. For example, identify social causes and values that you have in common.
- Practice active listening, in which you avoid interrupting, repeat back what the person is saying, ask follow-up questions, and clarify anything that you don’t understand.
- Be willing to share in order to deepen conversations and create a closer bond.
6. Model Your Behavior After Someone You Admire
“A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.”Bob Proctor
Because emotional intelligence can be hard to fully grasp, think of someone whose character you look up to, and mimic their behaviors and mindset.
Have you ever had a boss or mentor that made you feel seen and heard, yet still inspired you? Consider exactly how they did this—whether by asking for your input often or giving constructive feedback in a thoughtful way. Then, apply it to your own work environment and relationships.
Here are tips for working with a mentor:
- Have specific goals in mind that your mentor can help with.
- Actively ask for feedback and help, and be sure to clarify any of your mentor’s advice that is hard to understand.
- Write down any problems you’re currently having that you want your mentor to know about.
Examples of Emotional Maturity in the Workplace
- A leader taking accountability for their mistakes: If a project fails or steers off track, a mature leader doesn’t shame or blame their team members, but instead remains transparent, open to suggestions, and decisive about solutions.
- Someone in power seeking out others’ perspectives and opinions: The most effective teams include people who practice 360-degree feedback, meaning those who are happy to hear about each other’s ideas, feelings, and concerns. 360-degree feedback provides a well-rounded review of a person’s performance based on different perspectives.
- Accepting feedback and becoming better because of it: This one can apply to both leaders and employees, both of whom can benefit from embracing criticism with grace. “An emotionally mature person has the confidence not to need to shout immediately, to give others the benefit of every doubt, and not to assume the worst and then hit back with undue force,” says Alan de Botton.
Try These Tips for Improving Emotional Maturity
Some people may be born with the types of personalities that make them naturally more emotionally mature and socially intelligent, yet we’re all capable of improving how we handle our emotions.
Things you can start practicing now to increase your emotional maturity:
- Read Dare to Lead by Brené Brown in order to become more comfortable with vulnerability.
- Work on your active listening skills and ability to show empathy by taking an online course focused on effective communication.
- Establish mindfulness and journaling practices to gain self-awareness and identify your values.
- Seek out a mentor who can help you continue to develop both professionally and personally.
Interested in refining more communication skills to create a better team culture? Check out: “Communication is Key: 4 Communication Strategies for Leaders.”
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