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Got Supervision: Communication Competence for the Supervisor

by David L. Bastin

Communication is as varied as it is important to all relationships, and  supervision requires special competencies in communication.  The ability to communicate is vital to the supervisor’s quest for an elusive perfection. We generally think of the use of symbols, written words, voice and non-verbal movement as communication.  These forms have all evolved over time.  Electronic mail, blogs, status updates and texting have added new media for written communication.  The other day, I was asked to write a few paragraphs in cursive. It took me a line or two to adjust and remember how cursive writing flows.  Pretty soon, the only thing we will know how to write in cursive is our own name for identification purposes.  Verbal techniques always change, as well.  Cultural sensitivity through language awareness, tolerance of dialects and accents, and listening for meaning rather than correctness breeds good interpersonal communication.

Perlmutter, Bailey, & Netting (2001), explain that non-verbal communication’s value should be acknowledged as quite significant in supervision.  The reason behind this is the evolution of the various forms of communication.  Most of our communication today is through e-mail, text, voice messages, or telephone.  Understanding modern communication is what makes actual in-person contact even more precious.

Kadushin & Harkness (2002) describe several qualities of a good supervisor while giving some important communication techniques.  Communication of inherent power through a non-authoritarian manner with determined sensitivity and clear expectations are among their suggestions.  This reciprocal world of supervision requires constructive feedback with a positive attitude and the ability to problem-solve with appropriate support and tolerance in a non-defensive manner (when confronted).

Consider the following competencies for your work supervising teams:

  1. Create and nurture rapport with the team.
  2. Establish clear roles, visibly posted goals and related tasks.
  3. Identify the tools or platform the team will use to perform tasks.
  4. Maintain a positive attitude and demonstrate calm in crisis through team reflection and work sharing.
  5. Reward team successes and consult the team in a respectful way when correction is needed.

At the end of the day these competencies go a long way toward supervising success and co-existence. In addition, a competently supervised team is better prepared for crises. Competent supervision is potential, hopeful satisfaction and happiness for us all.

[Contributed by David L. Bastin (2012) who studies social work as a graduate student at Tennessee State University. David’s interest in social work stems from his work as a therapist for the Tennessee state mental institution. David plans to continue working with those suffering from serious mental conditions such as schizophrenia and psychotic disorders. Follow David on Twitter @DAVIDBASTIN2]


Kadushin, A., Harkness, D. (2002). Supervison in social work (4th ed.). New York & Chichester, West Sussex. Columbia University Press.

Pearlmutter, F.D., Baily, D., Netting, E. (2001). Managing human resources in the human services: Supervising challenges. New York, New York. Oxford University Press.

Written by Social Work Helper


Social Work Helper is a progressive magazine providing news, information resources and entertainment related to social work, social good, and human rights. For story ideas, press releases, or submissions, email

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