Decisions are hard. We are constantly going through our days making decisions, weighing up choices and perception of risk. Some decisions are harder than others, and in the role of a social worker we are making decisions that impact people’s lives.
No social worker should be making significant decisions alone but for new social workers there are minute decisions in your day; where you stand, the words you use, the order in which you choose to plan your work.
There can be an incredible pressure on new social workers (from yourself and from others) to make decisions and make them fast.
Here are 4 ways to deal with decision making that might help you the next time you feel stuck or overwhelmed:
Just because someone asks you a question or makes a demand, doesn’t mean you have to answer straight away. When you succumb to the pressure to respond immediately you often end up overcompensating or miscommunicating. It’s ok to pause and say ‘that’s a big question and I don’t have an answer right now, but I will find one’.
When I was a new social worker and someone disagreed with me, I took it personally. When we feel challenged on decision making it can be easy to feel defensive. Start thinking about alternative perspectives. Repeat to yourself ‘this isn’t personal’. Start to focus on what matters.
With decision making comes conflict. This isn’t always overt. It might come in the form of a passive aggressive email or sarcastic comment. Whatever it is; it’s not helpful. Instead of rising to this, hold space and empathy for the other person. If someone disagrees with your decision, it’s ok. They have their reasons and you need to respect that. However hard it seems initially, once you let go and embrace empathy it becomes easier.
SAY IT OUT LOUD
If something is complex - say it out loud. If you can’t make a decision straight away - say it out loud. If a decision is not yours to make - say it out loud. You get the picture. Often in group situations where all the pressure is on you to have answers and make decisions, it can be intimidating to say ‘I don’t have the answer’, or ‘we are all disagreeing’, but it can be a simple way to alleviate tension.
The most important thing to note is that if you are making a decision it will be connected to a person you are supporting. They need to be centered in decision making - always.
As a new social worker, you should not be in the position where you are making key decisions alone, so speak up if you are feeling this happen.
If someone is trying to pressure you into making a decision, it says more about them and their experience then you.
To hear more on this topic, this podcast goes into more detail around decision making dilemmas.
For realistic training and advice on managing decision making and disagreement, take a look at Confidence in Social Work MASTERCLASS.