What Are Communication Skills in Social Work?

Written by morgan rush
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What Are Communication Skills in Social Work?
Social workers improve communication with eye contact and listening skills. (happy couple talking and laughing together image by NiDerLander from Fotolia.com)

Social work relies heavily on communication to identify problems and solutions related to social behaviours, including family relations, workplace interactions and substance abuse. Lack of communication can lead to clients shutting down, stepping away from assistance or losing trust in their social worker. Developing strong communication skills helps social workers work more efficiently and effectively with clients, resulting in more positive outcomes with less confrontation and fewer missed opportunities.

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Social work can be very physically and emotionally demanding work. When coupled with long hours and low pay and benefits, the turnover rate for social work can be quite high, especially among first-year social workers. This can be countered if supervisors use empathetic communication skills to provide support and prevent burnout. Asking your social workers focused questions can help them identity problems and solutions more quickly. Provide constructive feedback to recognise successes and defray negative effects of setbacks. Apologise for mistakes, misunderstandings or instances when you weren't fully able to address the needs of your staff.


To be effective communicators, social workers must consistently undergo self-examinations about beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, feelings, fears and prejudices toward clients or situations. Unexamined attitudes about drug use, child neglect, cultural biases or language choice may affect how you communicate with clients. Be aware of assumptions held when communicating with clients, supervisors or other social workers related to the case; these may prevent you from seeing things objectively and helping develop an appropriate solution.


Communication skills often focus on choosing the appropriate words to reflect what they're intended to convey, especially in social work. But listening remains a key element of effective social work communication. Social workers must be vigilant about being active listeners when communicating with clients, who may sometimes struggle to articulate their experiences. Focus attention on what clients, co-workers or supervisors are saying by listening without worrying about what your response will be. Repeat information to make sure you've understood, and ask additional questions to clarify information.


Non-verbal communication skills are crucial for social workers, especially when working with clients on sensitive issues. Sit or stand up straight when conversing to help stay alert. Avoid crossing your arms, which can indicate resistance to what's being said or aggression. Lean toward clients when they speak to create intimacy, nodding to affirm that you're following along. Maintain friendly eye contact when culturally appropriate; don't stare or avert your eyes in embarrassment if someone begins to cry. Tuning into people's breathing helps understand mood; held breath might indicate fear, while shallow, rapid breath might reflect anger or a highly emotional state.

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