Good listening skills for social work

Updated April 17, 2017

Social workers who have a sincere desire to help others generally have good listening skills. They are naturally inclined to respect the differences in people and are compassionate in their interactions. They are visibly empathetic in the use of their listening and communication skills and have learnt patience. The social worker who succeeds with her clients listens and puts their needs ahead of her own. The level of respect she exhibits is exemplary, regardless of the circumstances.


Saying you understand how someone feels is one thing, actually proving it is another. This is where empathy comes in when listening. Depending on the emotional level of the person with whom you are speaking and the situation he is describing, you can be empathetic to his plight without judging or rationalising. By listening to his emotions, you can prove you care enough to be listening just by acknowledging his emotion with a phrase such as "You are really upset about this" or "You seem to be afraid to go back there." The point is to show through your verbal and non-verbal messages that you are listening and following the client's point of view.

100 Percent Concentration

Make a visible, conscious effort to listen and focus your complete attention on the other person. If any distractions could get in the way of paying attention, find another location. It is important to show the person that you have her undivided attention and that you are interested to hear what she have to say. Keep your thoughts to yourself as the other person is speaking and avoid the temptation to interrupt. Interrupting is a clear indicator that you are not paying compete attention and more interested in your response.

Non-Verbal Messages

Eye contact is a common indicator of paying attention. Be aware of the non-verbal messages you may be sending through your eye contact, arm movements or facial expressions. You may be influencing the conversation through these messages. Watch the other person's reaction to your movements. Does it match the words that are being expressed, or is she being distracted? Look at how you are seated and how you use your arms and gestures. Your facial expressions should be in line with your empathy and be appropriate for what is being expressed.


If you are not completely sure what the other person means by his comments or questions, ask him to explain further. If you still need more details, ask him to keep providing them. It is important to be completely clear in your understanding before moving on in the conversation. You want to remove any possible misunderstandings. Always allow the person to complete his thoughts or responses before providing yours. Paraphrase what you hear, and if necessary, summarise what was said. Check to see if you are correct before moving on in the conversation.

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About the Author

Mike Sweeney has been writing since 1987, covering topics from coaching to business management. His work appears on websites such as HumaNext and Brainstorm Dynamics. Sweeney holds a Bachelor of Arts in business administration from Loyola University.