Centre for Social Work Practice

Emotional Intelligence, Emotion and Social Work: Context, Characteristics, Complications and Contribution

Posted January 01, 2006


Tony Morrison – January 2006

Emotional intelligence (EI) has become one of the new management “buzz” terms. It is suggested that this is the missing ingredient that separates average from top management or performance. However, despite its potential relevance for social work practice, there has been little investigation and few reports about its application in social work settings.

This paper seeks to stimulate debate about the role of EI in social work practice by considering its development, definitions and problematics. Whilst the empirical evidence supporting the existence of a separate and measurable EI is ambiguous and emergent, the role of emotion in the organization of human behaviour is more firmly established.

The paper examines the role of EI and emotion in relation to five core social work tasks: engagement of users; assessment and observation; decision making; collaboration and co-operation; dealing with stress.

The paper situates itself in the rapidly changing context of social work: the merger of social services departments with larger more powerful bureaucracies; the movement towards integrated service delivery; and the new social work degree. It is argued that social work needs to identify its claims to professional competence at a time of such change, one of which is the ability to use relationships to address users? needs. This requires the capacity to handle both one’s own and others’ emotions effectively.

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