Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels
By Kayleigh Rose Evans
The daily pressure of being a social worker can sometimes be so intense that it’s easy to feel like you don’t have time to develop additional expertise. But you might be surprised at the skills you are developing all the time without even realizing it.
Thinking back to some of my past difficult experiences, such as my very first college social work or job interview, at the time, I didn’t feel like I was developing any skills.
I remember an experience where nerves made my voice completely disappear during an interview, so much so that I had to drink water for it to resurface. I also remember being so nervous on a panel that I spoke so quickly that the panel members couldn’t follow what I was saying.
Even though I felt bad back then, those experiences were learning curves that led to some of my greatest accomplishments – I entered college and then got a job in social work!
These experiences, although difficult, helped me build my self-confidence. And although – sometimes – that confidence is tested, I have developed strategies to build on what I have and pass this expertise on to other newbies in the profession.
One of the ways I have been able to build my confidence and expertise is through public speaking.
I would never have considered myself a speaker, but expressing my interest in learning more about dementia. I ended up co-presenting a session on the subject with someone who is an expert in this area.
Next, the council asked practitioners to come forward and share their practical wisdom with social work students, as part of the teaching partnership they had with a local university. I really enjoyed the experience and during that time noticed a gap on YouTube for social work content provided by practitioners in the industry. I didn’t feel like I had the confidence to speak in public, but found that I could develop it through training. I found a local public speaking group – one of many clubs networked through the Speakers Association and learned invaluable skills – some of which I think are worth sharing .
who you are is the most important tool we have in social work
One of the activities we do in the public speaking group is to walk to the lectern in front of the audience and improvise for two minutes on a topic. We are only told what the subject is when we take the stage, which is so nerve-racking, but the idea is to get used to thinking on our feet.
Often in practice we find ourselves having to do the same. This could be because a family member is ringing the bell and asking about something unexpected. He could also be invited to speak at a large meeting without much warning. In these situations, I have found that being able to use these transferable skills to quickly prioritize the most important information is essential.
These skills are increasingly relevant as we see significant shortages in essential care for adults with disabilities.
There are situations in my work where the people we support call in and share their frustrations or serious concerns about the current shortages of care. I find it difficult for you to be able to assess someone and identify that they need services but sometimes they are unable to help because the services are just not available. These situations can make me feel helpless because I know I want to be able to fix the problem, but the solutions are not always available.
So when you meet someone yelling at you on the phone, it can be tempting to simply answer under pressure or in frustration. However, actively listening to their underlying concerns can sometimes help you find a way forward. Sometimes, just giving the person space to speak without giving them an instinctive response can dissolve any heightened emotion.
Just being able to open up to others about the emotional burden they are going through often leads practitioners to develop a connection with them and share tips on how to deal with these situations collectively.
This is a lot like what I learned from speaking in public. Even the most confident people are still afraid of public speaking, but it’s all about finding ways to deal with these uncomfortable feelings and doing it anyway.
Present your case
Another skill I learned from the group was learning to build a longer speech. It helped me prepare for the social work progression interviews. A recent example was when I applied to be classified as an experienced H2 social worker and had to present a 20 minute case overview.
Developing this public speaking skill taught me the importance of writing down all my thoughts on a topic and identifying key themes. Once these key points are refined, then it is useful to break the information down into manageable chunks. I created a table in Microsoft Word to achieve this. I then practice my speech by recording my voice on my phone and listening to these clips whenever I can. This process has helped me build my confidence to meet deadlines, eliminate tangents that can get you out of your way, and also help you get acclimated to the way your voice sounds out loud.
Now I am mentoring a first student as a hands-on educator, I have the opportunity to support them in preparing for the interviews and to share my learning.
What I take away the most from these experiences is realizing that often in practice and in academic work, it’s about finding ways to break down what initially seems complex into more manageable chunks.
Sometimes we can feel the weight of these massive decisions, but it’s about finding ways to find simplicity in complexity. There has been a pattern for me that the more I try to read too much or to fit in too much in what I’m doing, the often worse it ends.
It might not be the same for everyone, but maybe what I said was that it is worth finding things that interest you, even if they don’t seem not directly align with your role as a social worker. Not only is it good for your well-being, but it makes you a better social worker, because learning and a genuine interest makes you dynamic and who you are is the most important tool we have in social work. .