If you work as a clinical social worker, diagnosing disorders, developing treatment plans and delivering therapy; or if you opt for work as a direct service social worker advocating for and advising patients, you need strong communication skills to do any good. Listening, writing and speaking are vital skills that you’ll tap into every day.
Help You Hear Your Clients
You can’t help someone if you don’t know what’s wrong. Often clients won’t, or can’t, really tell you the whole story. You’ll conduct an interview with each new client during which you have to ask the right questions and listen for the response to gauge the level of crisis and uncover the relevant issues your client is experiencing. Active listening means that you give the client feedback to make sure you understood the response, all the while watching for body language signals to get a complete picture of the situation. Being able to listen carefully is one of the most important communication skills you need in social work.
Help You Express Your Thoughts
You’ll be faced with a range of duties that will require you to really tap into your speaking skills. You need to develop the skill of persuasion to get clients to open up and follow treatment plans. Often, you may need to incorporate your confrontation skills and talk sternly to a family or client while maintaining your cool. You may need to present individual cases to a treatment team or for professional assessments. You need to use words of support and encouragement in a way that is not demeaning to clients. Additionally, effective speaking skills will come in handy when it comes time for you to reveal a little about yourself to foster trust and show empathy.
Help You Write Cohesive Reports
While working with clients in any setting, you need to take careful notes. You need the notes to file insurance claims and to maintain files on your clients. Your boss may require weekly reports on your work or you may have to report to a board of directors with clear, concise facts and figures to get continued support and resources. Finally, you almost always will write up some sort of treatment plan in a manner that you, your agency and the clients can clearly understand.
Help You Build Consensus
Social workers typically don’t work in a vacuum. More often than not, you’ll be part of a team of specialists that could range from medical professionals and lawyers to government agency wonks and family members. It takes a special kind of political savvy to keep everyone happy and cooperative. You’ll often need to tap into your communication bag of skills to get everyone on board with your plans and to advocate for the best interests of your clients. Your role is vital as the person who can communicate clearly with all sides and get them to come to consensus.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."