A SW’er might consult the DSM-5 before using EBP to work with someone with MH concerns, while at the same time offer assistance with their DV situation.
Did you catch that?
Yeah we didn’t either.
Likewise, a NPO might want to make registered charity status by complying with ACNC’s regulations (having charitable purposes and no disqualifying purposes) before securing support from CVP’s and benefactors.
Sector lingo is taught at university, and for good reason. It says ‘we all work in this realm’, ‘we’re in it together’, forming a bond between colleagues and organisations. It’s an insider’s code that allows workers to communicate quickly and accurately with each other. Where accountability and welfare are concerned, it’s crucial to have a set of standard terms that professionals across the board understand and adhere to.
This language is also important when writing funding submissions, reports for superiors and policies for governing bodies. It meets necessary criteria and demonstrates knowledge and professional integrity. In these instances, it’s appropriate to refer to ‘a person-centred approach’, ‘capacity-building’, ‘strengths-based interventions’ and ‘self-determination’.
But what about when you chat to clients?
In a sector focused on promoting and advocating for human rights, improving society, and providing assistance to people in need, using academic terms ostracises the very people the sector aims to reach. It creates a barrier between the worker and the everyday person they are working with, often leaving the person feeling confused or stupid.
Take the word ‘intervention’ for example. Sounds pretty dramatic, right? Perhaps it even has a negative connotation, as if you’re going to intervene in someone’s life? What a foolproof way to invoke fear and resistance in a client! Even the word ‘client’ is a bit off-putting.
A better approach is to use simple, everyday language that puts people (clients) on an equal footing, without the power-play of academic terms and abbreviations. There’s a big difference between the language used between third sector professionals, and the language that benefits the community members you’ll work with.
We’re not saying not to learn your sector jargon. We repeat: it has its purpose. You don’t want to leave yourself open to misconduct if you’re misinterpreting terms you should be familiar with. And besides, getting on top of buzzwords and abbreviations will save you from becoming red-faced in meetings! But when it comes to working alongside everyday people (clients), it’s time to get real.
So here’s a few alternatives to some common terms and phrases. Which would you prefer?
What other lingo can you reconsider?
The way language is used changes with time, and preferences also change between subgroups and organisations, so don’t be afraid to ask people what terms they’d prefer you to use.
Most importantly, never underestimate the power of your language. People unconsciously internalise words, and then form belief systems based on these. This is one of the reasons why bullying can have such a devastating effect. It’s your duty as a social worker or charity worker to use language in a way that empowers the people you work with, and to set an example for how the rest of society should speak to fellow community members.
There are a few golden rules to remember when you’re working in this field, so take note of the following: