Social work is a demanding and varied profession. Here are the important qualities every social worker should practice and possess:
Empathy is the ability to identify with or vicariously experience another person's situation. Empathizing is both an intellectual and emotional process that makes it far easier to understand and help others solve their problems. Most social workers are empathetic by nature; in fact, empathy is a major reason people enter the profession.
2. Boundary Setting
In addition to being empathetic, a social worker must also maintain the capacity to set boundaries and accept the limits of what can be accomplished during a specified period of time. The nature of this challenging profession can be all consuming, especially for those who sense their work is never truly complete. Establishing boundaries and setting milestones can help set expectations that are more easily accepted.
3. Active Listening
The ability to listen carefully, ask pertinent questions and retain verbally transmitted information is vital to the counseling aspect of social work. It's how we establish trust, open doors and discover valuable details about the individuals who seek our help in understanding their unique circumstances.
4. Social Perceptiveness
In addition to receiving and processing verbal information, a social worker must be sensitive to body language, social cues, implications and cultural patterns of behavior. While some clients may clearly state their needs and work toward solutions in a focused manner, many others will find it more challenging to express themselves verbally, requiring a perceptive social worker to "read between the lines" in order to interpret the thoughts and feelings being held within.
Social workers routinely receive feedback on their performance from clients, supervisors and other sources, but there is no substitute for self-awareness. Being able to evaluate one's own performance and work toward improving it (while also taking valid criticism and praise into account) is an invaluable skill.