Importance of Listening in Social Work Jobs

Many clients agree that the experience of being truly heard by another person provides deep healing. Along with the listening comes empathy and acceptance. Aside from feeling “heard and understood,” the client feels that there is someone who is interested and cares!

Many clients agree that the most important thing that they take from counseling is that they feel listened to and understood. Even when their therapist has helped them to clarify, focus, or facilitate change, attentive listening ranks as the most valuable part of the experience.

Listening makes the speaker feel worthy, appreciated and respected. By giving someone all of our attention, we can facilitate interaction on a deeper level, enabling the client to open more of the inner self. By paying close attention, therapists desiring to perfect their social work jobs facilitate more beneficial communication.

Passive Listening and Active Listening

Listening and hearing are two different things. Hearing involves perceiving the sound, is involuntary, and may just reflect auditory capabilities. Listening, in contrast, is much more active. In fact, listening usually requires more energy than speaking as it involves receiving and interpreting the information.

Passive Listening is not much different from hearing. We think that we are listening, but in fact, we are only letting this information go past our brain. When someone listens passively, there is no reaction to what is heard from the speaker; only listening quietly.

On the other hand, Active Listening is entirely different.  It is interactive and dynamic as the listener engages and reacts to the speaker in a holistic manner, whether orally, through facial expressions, or body language. Social work jobs demand active listening!

Keys to Active Listening

Paying Attention

It begins with paying attention! Paying attention means facing the client and maintaining eye contact. Once you have made eye contact, relax, you don’t have to stare at the client. Looking away now and then is fine. Just carry on like any other person. But be sure you remain attentive!

Avoid the distractions of background activity and noise, or even your thoughts and feelings. You must eliminate, as much as possible, any distraction. Avoiding distractions including the natural dialogue that we all have running through our minds incessantly is critical to success in social work jobs.

Keep an open mind

Listening without judging doesn’t only mean refraining from voicing criticism. It includes avoiding internal judgment as well.  Once you indulge in these judgments you’ve compromised your effectiveness as a listener. Remember, the speaker’s words are expressing thoughts and feelings. You don’t know those thoughts and feelings, and the only way you will is by listening.

Try to feel what the speaker is feeling

If when your client speaks about sadness or pain, you allow yourself to feel sad as well or feel happy when something joyful is expressed, and convey those feelings through your facial expressions and words—then your effectiveness as a listener is enhanced. Empathy is the heart and soul of good listening and the key to success in social work jobs. It can be achieved only by putting yourself another’s place.


Reflective Listening is the process of restating what has been just said either by paraphrasing or summarizing, so the client understands that you have clearly heard what was said. It confirms that the therapist validates the client, through acknowledgment; inviting further expression.

Reflecting is probably the most critical listening technique in social work jobs. By interpreting what was said, it provides the client a chance for greater insight by hearing the feelings of the heart and the thoughts in the mind somewhat differently which enhances self-awareness and acknowledgment of the truth.

Do you hear? Then listen!

The infamous General George C. Marshall once said, “Deep listening is miraculous for both listener and speaker.”  Sue Patton Theole put it, “When someone receives us with open-hearted, non-judging, intensely interested listening, our spirits expand.” Therapists are trained, highly focussed, deep listeners. They don’t just hear people’s words; they know how to listen to them!