Improving your communication skills
By Gemma Raw
As trained social work practitioners, you’ll be well versed in the art of communication.
You’ll know how to read body language, how to encourage vulnerable people to bring you into their confidence and you’ll know how to tell if someone is telling the truth. But have you ever thought about what your personal communication skills are like with your co-workers?
In a stressful social work environment, it can be difficult to communicate effectively with your team. You may have several different co-workers, each with their own personality and working style, and you will all be under considerable pressures to complete your caseloads. But if you all take the time to think about the ways you communicate with one another, you could create a much more harmonious working environment.
Let’s look at how can you improve your work-based communications.
Step away from the emails
In today’s digital world, it’s much easier to send a short email rather than take the time to speak in person. But unfortunately, the reliance on email technology could be leading to poor office communications. After all, when written down, it’s easy to misinterpret a colleague’s tone. What may have been a light-hearted comment could be construed as snippy or even offensive.
You should remember that every form of communication is important.
When you are working in a professional environment, you need to ensure that you always act in an appropriate manner. Using emoji’s or gifs in your emails to co-workers (even ones who you have a great relationship with) could come back to haunt you. If they were accidentally forwarded onto the wrong person and viewed out of context, you could be asked to explain yourself to your line manager (or worse).
A good rule of thumb is to only ever send emails that you would be happy for your boss to see.
Who needs to be kept informed?
At the heart of many office-based miscommunications is a lack of understanding of who needs to be kept informed about the matter at hand. You may wish to tailor your approach, depending upon the individual situation.
If you only need to speak to one person, then perhaps a face-to-face meeting or a telephone call is appropriate. But if you’re working in a multi-agency situation, you may need to stick to written communications which are accessible by all parties (such as an email chain or shared document) to ensure that everyone is aware of the latest information relating to the case.
The last thing you want is for issues to arise because somebody involved in the case isn’t aware of the latest developments.
Consider your emotions
We know that social work can be extremely emotional. After all, you’re working directly alongside some of the most vulnerable people in society.
When you’re working closely with such emotional situations, it’s only natural that you could be taking that sentiment into the office. If you do find that you are affected by a caseload, it’s imperative that you take the time to speak to a mentor or a trusted colleague so that you can protect yourself and your own mental wellbeing.
If you do not take the time to offload, then you may find yourself feeling tense or irritable. This could lead to poor communication with co-workers who may not understand what you are dealing with.
If you do find a co-worker is unusually irritable, why not take a few moments to take them out for a coffee and see if they are OK? Just asking if someone is coping with a specific caseload could be enough to help them feel better emotionally.
Are you aware what your body is saying?
We’ve previously spoken about the importance of body language in an interview situation, but it’s also true of office-based situations. If someone is speaking to you about a confidential case, then make sure that you are paying them full attention. Playing with your hair or clicking a pen could portray that you’re not really listening.
Instead, try to focus on remaining as positive as possible. Sitting upright, maintaining eye contact or walking into the office with a smile could ease any tension, and make your office feel like a happier workplace.