As a social worker, you will encounter so many different situations and have to complete various tasks that at times it can be difficult and overwhelming. So it is important to be well prepared with certain skills before entering the field. And yes, these are all skills you can be taught and should learn at any time!! These skills are best learned and worked on during your MSW or BSW programs and internships so that you have time to make them a habit before entering the workforce. It can take time to understand when and how to use these skills effectively, so it is important to keep at it!
Out of the many skills a SW possesses, these 4 are likely the most important!
When it comes to communication you must be aware of both Verbal and Non-verbal cues! This includes being careful with the words you choose, your tone of voice, as well as facial expressions and how you are sitting. These are all things a client, your supervisor, and anyone else you may be speaking to will pick up and it can change the course of the whole conversation.
You always want to make sure that your choice of words are not harsh or judgmental and that you are never raising your voice at a client, no matter how frustrating the situation may be! And look at your office! when you sit down with a client, are you hidden behind a desk or are you sitting across from them in a more comfortable/neutral setting. Speaking to someone sitting behind a desk can be intimidating for clients, trying having a couple chairs or couches so that they can feel more comfortable talking to you. This will help put the SW/Client power dynamic to the side during your conversation.
People are always confusing the difference between sympathy and empathy. When working with clients, you always want to be empathetic towards them. Sympathy is more of feeling bad that someone feels a certain way or is going through a specific situation but do not really understand it. With empathy, you are able to put yourself in that persons shoes so that you truly understand what they are feeling and are able to provide adequate support rather than just empty sentiments.
Here is my favorite video to watch on Sympathy vs Empathy: https://youtu.be/1Evwgu369Jw
3. Active Listening
Active Listening is when you are actually retaining the information being given to you in a way that allows you to respond and ask questions. Sometimes sitting with a client can lead us to zone out and still HEAR our client. But HEARING them and actually LISTENING are two very different things.
You want to make sure that during the conversation you are asking clarifying statements about how they feel or what occurred to ensure that you understood correctly. This will not only help you in building rapport with your client, but in better understanding them and being able to provide them with the help and support that they need.
4. Time Management
Time management is the number one skill that will impact everything within your work. It can be very easy to fall behind at work, especially with the large caseloads most SWs have to deal with. So how do you stay on top of it?
Keep an organized calendar: Make sure you have a calendar with all of your appointments on it! You can color code it to include things like client meetings, team meetings, and even paperwork deadlines! This will help you keep track of everything you have on your agenda.
Prioritizing wisely: You should have a system in place to ensure that you are getting things done in order of importance. This is especially true when it comes to submitting paperwork that have to do with federal income, school paperwork, guardianship paperwork, etc. You should figure out the type of tasks you have, and what MUST get done now, what can get done tomorrow and so on.
Setting Deadlines: While it is easy to get behind on paperwork, we do not always have deadlines on certain things. A good habit is setting your own deadlines. If you have a task that does not have a set deadline, set your own! This way you can ensure it gets done in a timely manner and it does not get forgotten over time!
Plan Ahead: At the start of every week, I like to take a look at my calendar and plan ahead for what is to come. I make sure I check-in with clients to confirm appointments, send out any important emails and then start my day. When you plan ahead and know what you need to get done every day, it can make a giant task list that much more manageable.
I hope these tips/skills are things you begin to think about and implement in your career! If you are still studying for your MSW/BSW, start practicing these skills! Make them a habit before you fully enter the workforce and take advantage of professors by asking for their tips on these skills!