George Bernard Shaw once stated that “the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that is has taken place.” Often this is most true regarding accounting professionals and those working in accounting for organizations that have dedicated departments. Unfortunately as an organization grows this problem is exacerbated by the number of different internal customers the accounting department has to deal with, and the complexity of the types of transactions that are occurring. If you want to have a successful organization that utilizes the expertise of the accounting department to add value, and equally important, maintain an environment that emphasizes the systems and processes over individuals, strong communication is paramount.
There’s a reason why accountants and accounting professionals are typically viewed as introverts, quiet, secluded, or not personable, because a lot of us are. That’s not to say that introversion is more prevalent in our profession, or that if it was that it would be a bad thing, but it is the leading stereotype. There are probably a number of reasons for this and since I’m not a psychologist I won’t spend too much time trying to investigate them, but I will suggest that from my experience much of the communication gap can be overcome by anyone who is dedicated to being a good citizen of the organization in which they work. One of the first, and most important aspects to remember about being an accounting professional is that we must be customer service oriented. Everyone has a customer, outside of the obvious and defined customer, the people who work with us inside the organization we work for should be treated exactly as the external customer who calls wanting to pay an invoice.
One of the greatest benefits of outstanding communication is that it typically saves everyone involved any extra work, or headaches. Notice I’m not talking about good communication, but outstanding communication. How do I define outstanding communication? Understanding, and positive reinforcement through the feedback loop. This doesn’t mean that everyone will walk away understanding everything, but it means that the internal customers, or our coworkers who deal with the accounting department but do not work in it, ask the right question to receive the right answer. Here’s a way to think of it; have you ever had an email chain of someone asking a question only to have them ask a different but similar question after you answered it? Have you had this happen multiple times regarding the same issue? And even after the person asserted that they finally understood, something still wasn’t correct when the transaction got to the accounting department? Take a breath, this will be tough to hear, and self realization is important here, but this means you did not do your job communicating effectively.
So, what does outstanding communication look like? The truth is there is no exact formula, and for most people it will probably be a little different, but there must always be a confirmation that the person you are communicating with understands. For me I always engage in what I consider to be best practices, first I try to explain everything in person, one-on-one engagement is always going to be more effective than a phone call or email, because you are able to pick up on non-verbal cues that let you know a person who may say they understand actually does not. Which brings me to my next point, examples, especially in person are extremely effective. Most of us do not have any difficulty envisioning the nuanced complexities of accounting, but that’s also one of the traits that sets us apart from those who we are trying to communicate with, and we always have to remember that they can’t see what we can see unless we actually show them. Lastly, and this may be one of the most important, remember to leave the feedback loop open, which means to not only let them know that you are willing to answer more questions about the subject, but that you actually welcome it. I’ve worked with many accounting clerks over the years and unfortunately there is a tendency for those with a strong personality to condescend and belittle people who do not understand the subject, this helps no one, and although it is not the majority of people in the accounting profession, it only takes one in your organization to ruin the system for everyone.
The best piece of advice I can give to everyone who works in the accounting profession regarding communication is to always behave as if you are discussing the issue with the CEO of your company, of course you would want them to fully understand the issue, and of course you will give them a feedback loop in case they have other questions, this is how we should treat every single person we encounter. Please follow my blog or my twitter feed, @biglifemark, and feel free to leave a comment below, I am always excited to engage with others.