Role of Emotional Intelligence for Social Workers

Emotional intelligence is described as ones own ability to recognize, understand, and control their thoughts and feelings. It is being able to cope with stressful situations, controls urges, and allowing time to process before responding. In addition, to being conscious of your emotions, we must be able to understand others emotions through observations and non-verbal communication. One who is able to demonstrate emotional intelligence has the ability to demonstrate empathetic perspective-taking, self-monitoring in social situations, social skills, interpersonal sensitivity, pro-social tendencies, emotional stability, impulse control, adaptive defense styles, resilience, and the absence of psychopathology (Wang, 2012, p. 1). Having increased emotional intelligence is critical to social workers as it can reduce burnout and stress, create a more positive work environment, and shows resilience to the population we are serving. According to Morrison (2012), before a worker can understand the power of emotion in the life of the client, it is necessary to discover its importance in the workers own experience (p. 251).

Without emotional intelligence, social workers can potentially project their own thoughts and feelings onto those they are serving. The following are the five areas viewed under emotional intelligence.


Building a trusting, therapeutic relationship is imperative in the initial engagement stage with clients so it is important that we have the ability to engage, empathize, and effectively communicate with them. In my own experience, I strive to make a first impression with the families I am serving, to inspire them to see there is hope in their situation, and to bring out their resiliency that they have been able to display thus far. I work collaboratively with the children and parents to identify their strengths both individually and as a family unit. It is critical to get families to buy in during the early stages of engagement, so I utilize a wraparound approach to show families that I am working to meet their holistic needs rather than just providing a service. I show the families I am human too and share in their experiences. When I go out into the community, I often dress more casually to connect better with my families and break the barrier of a state worker coming to their home. I communicate that I am there to support them and that we are in the process together.


Tolerance is the ability to interact with others of a different cultural background and varying beliefs or values but yet respect their path and their viewpoint. It is also how one is able to manage their emotions when confronted with stressors. Our responses to stressors are shaped by our experiences from early childhood so we have to learn appropriate self-care skills that will result in planful problem solving as opposed to avoidance, cognitive appraisal rather than wishful thinking, seeking support rather than withdraw, and expressing rather than suppressing emotions (Morrison, 2012, p. 259). Self-care is important as a social worker both within the workplace and outside of the workplace. At work, I receive support from my supervisor during weekly supervision as well as from my co-workers through group supervision. We integrate monthly team building activities into our office to cope with the daily stresses of our families. Personally, I feel that am cultural sensitive to the community I serve and try to be aware of the familys beliefs. I will ask clarifying questions to better understand and educate myself. As an agency, I feel that we do not do enough internally to create an atmosphere that is fully inclusive of everyones values and there is stigma associated with the population we serve that management has not broken down thus resulting in high turnover.


Flexibility is when you are open to integrating new ideas and approaches, share multiple perspectives, and are adaptable. According to Wang (2012), one needs to perceive and comprehend anothers expectations and adjust ones own goals and behavior accordingly in order to showcase flexibility (p. 6). I have to be flexible to achieve all the tasks that I need as crisis can always arise either at work or in my personal life. I prioritize tasks and have developed good time management skills to achieve all my goals. I enjoy hearing others perspective and engaging in healthy discussions and feel that I have the ability to compromise when necessary or support my viewpoint with evidence.


Self-Management is the ability to identify and manage your emotions as well as to engage in health decision-making. Your decisions should align with your core values and align with ethical standards. I continue to practice my self-management skills by taking responsibility for my actions in situations, knowing when I need to admit fault or apologize, and know when I am not comfortable with a situation.

I lean on my supervisor when needed, especially when dealing with a situation that I have not encountered before. After the situation occurs, I will process with her about what occurred and try to learn from my mishaps.

Emotional Awareness

Emotional awareness is being aware of ones own emotions and how these emotions change in certain scenarios, as well as being aware of others emotions (Wang, 2012, p. 14). One needs to be able to identify the emotion before it comes out and be able to verbalize what they are feeling in an appropriate way. When one is not able to do this as a social worker, we will not be able to fully understand someone elses perspective and miss out on important information that guides the therapeutic process. I continue to grow each day with my emotional regulation across all settings and strive to use my coping skills that I came up with such as deep breathing, taking a 5 minute time out, and going for a walk. I continue to learn my triggers and can identify my warning signs. I continue to work on being able to identify someone elses nonverbal communication and how to handle their emotions in the moment.


Emotional Intelligence is necessary for social workers to be effective in working with a highly vulnerable population. If we are not able to recognize our own emotions, which directly affect our actions, how are we going to effective treat the vulnerable population. Social workers have to be flexible in their thinking and approaches, tolerant of others viewpoints, and engage in healthy decision-making in order to help others have positive outcomes. We all can continuously work on our own emotional intelligence and be conscientious of others emotions.


Morrison, T. (2007). Emotional intelligence, emotion, and social work: context, characteristics, complications, and contribution. British Journal of Social Work, 37, 245-263. doi:10.1093/bjsw/bc1016

Wang, N., Wilhite, S. C., Wyatt, J., Young, T., & Bloemkerm G. (2012). Impact of a college freshman social and emotional learning curriculum on student learning outcomes: An exploratory study. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 9 (2), 1-20

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