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My Lesson of the Week: Don’t Ask Questions You CANNOT Hear “No” To

My biggest lesson this week: There is always a way to kindly phrase things when you do not want to or cannot hear “no.” We must respect a client's right to self-determination, but some situations require some good-intentioned assertiveness.

In an effort to build rapport, I am maybe not as assertive as I could be in sessions with clients.

“Is that ok?” “If it’s alright with you, ____”

Sometimes it works fine! (ie You don’t want to play this game? That’s cool with me. I respect that.) I think that this works to build rapport, and I suspect others do the same.

Other times it’s not so good (as I learned this week):

  1. When you need to call your supervisor during a session (maybe the client expressed suicidal ideation)

  2. Or when you need to give a needed resource (ie mental health hotline, suicide hotline)

  3. You need a conversation to stop for the sake of a client (like in a family session)

It is key to respect a client's right to self-determination. However, if you do not show some assertiveness, your client can tell you no. Still, be kind and remember they still may say no.

How I learned this week

I spoke to a supervisor this week about how I asked a client for permission to call my supervisor. The client said no, so I didn’t do it. 


That supervisor then walked me through how SHE would tell, not ask.

  1. Explain how confidentiality works.

  2. Tell them that safety is most important.

  3. Explain that to keep my client safe, I sometimes need to talk to my supervisor because I may not know what to do.

  4. Tell the client that, for my own concerns, I will be calling my supervisor

  5. (emphasis that the call is about me wanting to get help, not something the client did)

Honestly, there have been many situations throughout my social work journey in which I struggled to be assertive. I recognize that clients may already feel a power imbalance, and I want to show them they have power. (Click here to check out the book by Afaupe about power in another article. Very impactful.)

This week I had to be assertive in other ways as well:

  1. "I will be sending you the number for the suicide hotline"

  2. "I think it is best for _____ to return to class. It's clear that this has been a lot for her. We can continue afterward."

  3. "I need to be clear that I cannot tell you what ___ has said when I spoke to them."

As I continue throughout my career, I hope I learn to know when it is okay to ask questions and when not to.

Please leave comments, and please let me know what kind of articles you’d like to see in the future!Check me out on Instagram @eagersocialworker for post updates!


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