Communication and Social Work

This essay will identify and discuss key communication skills in the context of social work practice. The importance of communication skills will be acknowledged by talking about three different skills of communication. The subjects discussed will be non-verbal communication, effective listening and questions, what these skills are and why they are important. It is essential for a professional social worker to hold effective communicative skills as one will encounter people from all different walks of life and the aim to treat a service user as an individual and enable empowerment is paramount to meeting a person’s needs. There is also the need to communicate effectively with colleagues, agencies, professional bodies and the accuracy of one’s communication is essential if the possibility of appearing in court was to be encountered. Communication within social work practise is essential in the way of addressing a person’s needs to enable improvement on one’s quality of life. Effective communication can build trust, respect and self esteem and this can help a service user to becoming more independent.

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Good communication skills can also create psychological safety and aid a person to retain and establish links with friends, family and society. (Moonie, 2000). Buggins, Cornwall and Cunnane discuss that psychological safety is created in leadership so staff are able to discuss and raise issues that are of concern without fear (2013). Transferring this to the context of a social worker and a service user can enable the service user to engage in a more open conversation with a feeling that one is being viewed as trying to rectify mistakes instead of being seen as incompetent. There are different elements of communication and a distinct part is non-verbal communication, such as body language, how one dresses, timekeeping for example being too early or too late, touch, distance between people, eye contact and face expression. (Cooper, Lymbery, Ruch and Wilson 2011) Face to face contact with service users who are hard of hearing is particular important in reading one’s expression of the face or lip reading. Also in this instance sitting closer and the use of touch may be useful and necessary to visually impaired people.

On the contrary though as stated by Koprowska (2008) people with autism find face to face contact difficult and may not be able to judge expressions on a face and this may seem strange if it is unfamiliar to a person until some other way of contact is found. Another important part of communication is effective listening. As Rayudu (2010) puts forward, effective listening is not an attribute that one is born with, but a skill that is learned with practice, experience and training. A guideline for effective listening is paraphrasing which is when the listener repeats what a person has said in one’s own words. The importance of this is to keep control over listening and ensuring accuracy. An equally important skill when effectively listening is mirroring, referred to in a training paper developed for the government, National Park Service (2011) which helps build empathy and trust. Mirroring is when a person’s verbal and non verbal actions are matched subtly. This can make the speaker unconsciously like the listener as the speaker thinks that there are similarities between the listener and the speaker and that the listener is in touch with who they are.

Listening skills come in to play when asking questions and the many types of questions that are asked are very helpful to retrieving information from a service user. Another aspect in order for the questioning to work is that a person must show that one is interested in the answer which is why effective listening as referred to earlier plays a big part. Trevithick (2005) There are different types of questions such as open questions, closed questions and leading questions or maybe the non use of leading questions. Although these questions can be helpful they can result in putting words in to a person’s mouth. Open questions result in broad answers and can result in an in-depth expression of thoughts, feelings and opinions and can be left up to the respondent as to how to answer the question. Hargie (2006). These questions encourage service users to talk more in-depth or deeply about any concerns. Opposed to the open ended questions there are closed questions which usually result in one word answers being given. These questions can be good for retrieving very specific information.

Although these questions should be used carefully as stated in scie (2008) the service user may want to expand on an answer but maybe unsure of how to interrupt. It also limits information and may not give answers to information needed in order to learn about the service user. On discussing the different skills on communication this essay has shown why each skill is important when communicating with a service user or professional body. For a person to feel that they are being listened to and that what one says is not being judged or seem inept is paramount to realising concerns and not missing information. The skills are acquired through training and experience and are needed to get the fullest and most accurate picture.

Buggins, E, Cornwall, J and Cunane, D.(2013). Create a culture of ‘psychological safety’. Health Service Journal. Issue 8th January. Retrieved from Cooper, A, Lymbery, M, Ruch, G and Wilson, K. (2011). Social Work: An Introduction to Contemporary Practice. (2nd ed). Essex. Pearson Education Ltd Hargie, O. (2006). The Handbook of Communication Skills. (3rd ed). London. Routledge Koprowska, J. (2008). Communication Skills and Interpersonal skills in social work.(2nd ed). Exeter. Learning Matters Ltd. Moonie, N. (2000). Health and Social Care.(3rd ed).Oxford. Heinemann Educational Publishers. National Park Service. (2011). “Advanced Communication Skills Building and Maintaing Trust” : Module II, Part 2 – Cohort B : Consulting Skills Curriculum for HR Specialists. Retrieved from Rayudu,C,S. (2010). Communication. Mumbia, IND. Global Media Scie. (2008). elearning : Communication Skills, Gathering information. Retrieved at Trevithick, P. (2005).Social Work Skills. (2nd ed). Berkshire. McGraw-Hill

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