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Emotional Intelligence and Supervision

November 1, 2006
by Thomas G. Durham, PhD, LADC
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Clinical supervisors wear many hats. Among our roles we are mentors, guides, educators, and sounding boards. We also are role models. Those we supervise readily see much of what we do and say and how we interact with others, and either admire or reject it.

Thomas G. Durham, PhD

What we model in our interaction with others can be a key factor in how well we connect with those we supervise and how well we influence their professional development. How one interacts with others also lays the groundwork for how competent one is as a supervisor. This social interaction constitutes a defining characteristic of an individual's “emotional intelligence.”

Regulating emotion

Emotional intelligence can be described as an ability to reason with emotions, to assimilate emotion-related feelings, and to manage them. It is also explained by one's ability to perceive emotions accurately, and to reflectively regulate emotions in a way that promotes emotional and intellectual growth.1

Using the concept of emotional intelligence as a gauge for success in the workplace, psychologist and author Daniel Goleman developed a research-based framework consisting of four skill areas that, when mastered, are shown to be predictors of outstanding performance and the development of positive relationships. The four areas are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.

Goleman defines self-awareness as the ability to recognize and understand one's own moods, emotions, and drives, as well as their effects on others. Self-management is the ability to “think before acting,” or the ability to control and redirect emotions and moods. Social awareness is the ability to read, understand, and empathically address the emotions of others. The final skill area, relationship management, measures one's proficiency in managing interpersonal relationships, seeking common ground, and building rapport.

Most of us could probably point to a supervisor we have witnessed in the workplace who has lived up to the ideal in these four skill areas. If so, we likely would agree that this individual was not only competent in the role of supervisor, but also was admired by subordinates. This was a leader most would want to follow. Good leadership, and hence good supervision, is seen when an individual is smart about the use and interpretation of emotions, is able to command respect from those being led, and fosters an environment that is not only conducive to learning and growth but also instills passion in each person being supervised.

Better work performance

Researchers have argued that by itself, emotional intelligence is not a predictor of job performance or leadership skills.2 However, emotional intelligence is seen as the foundation upon which competencies evolve. Goleman draws a distinction between emotional intelligence and emotional competence. Whereas emotional competence refers to the personal and social skills that lead to superior work performance, emotional intelligence is necessary for one to master these skills.

Those who have the ability to regulate their emotions will exhibit a higher level of initiative and achievement in the work environment. For the clinical supervisor, emotional intelligence can further leadership and supervisory skills.

One's capacity for the identification, control, and management of emotion provides the core necessary for developing social competencies that lead to success in the work setting. This may include constructive communications, positive interpersonal relationships, and good management skills, all of which are important for effective clinical supervision. The clinical supervisor's role can be enhanced when emotional intelligence is used to improve psychological well-being, interpersonal relations, and staff productivity.

Thomas G. Durham, PhD, LADC, is Executive Director of The Danya Institute in Silver Spring, Maryland, where he coordinates training programs including those delivered by the Central East Addiction Technology Transfer Center.


  1. Goleman D. Emotional intelligence: Issues in paradigm building. In: Cherniss C, Goleman D (eds.). The Emotionally Intelligent Workplace. San Francisco:Jossey-Bass; 2001.
  2. Mayer JD, Salovey P, Caruso D Competing models of emotional intelligence. In: Sternberg RJ (ed.). Handbook of Human Intelligence, Second Edition. New York:Cambridge University Press; 1998.