Unpicking social work practice skills: Warmth and respect in practice

Eve Mullins*, Steve Kirkwood

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Warmth and respect are considered essential skills for relationship building in social work. However, these skills are often treated as common sense, and how to be respectful and warm, particularly in challenging situations, remains unclear. Practice guidance is commonly given as a list of generic behaviours or vague directions. Furthermore, it is not clear how being respectful or warm leads to effective relationships. In this article, we applied conversation analysis to examine transcripts of video recordings of 12 sessions of ‘Moving Forward: Making Changes’, the national groupwork programme addressing sexual offending in Scotland, to outline and specify the interactional practices that constitute instances of respect and warmth in social work practice. We found practitioners demonstrated warmth and respect by recognising and acknowledging clients’ accounts and identities in the interaction through subtle discursive practices. These practices include using hedging words and phrases (e.g. sort of, maybe), framing challenges as questions or suggestions rather than declarations, and using therapeutic phrasing (i.e. ‘I’m curious about’, I’m wondering’). As such, we propose the actions of demonstrating respect and warmth are achieved in interaction through the ways practitioners delicately manage issues of epistemic authority, that is, a person’s primary rights to knowledge about themselves, and face, that is, self-presentation. Drawing on the concepts of epistemic authority and face furthers our theoretical and practical understanding of the practice skills of respect and warmth, and their role in building effective working relationships.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1063-1083
Number of pages21
JournalQualitative Social Work
Issue number6
Early online date8 Sept 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • conversation analysis
  • criminal justice
  • sexual offending
  • social work practice skills
  • relationship building skills


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