As CPAs, your job involves several forms of communication. You need to─
- Get agreement from clients, colleagues and partners.
- Need to negotiate with departments of finance, CFOs and the IRS.
- Ensure you understand, and are understood by, all people you communicate with.
Failure to do any of these is costly, financially and personally.
You don’t make many errors with your numerical calculations, and yet your verbal communications end up fraught with misunderstanding, disagreements, assumptions and failed connection.
What is going on?
What’s going on is that the system of communication is very different from the system of numbers. Numbers are based on facts; communication is based on beliefs. Numbers can be proven right or wrong; communication is subjective. Numbers and their behaviors are predictable and static; you can’t know people, and their behaviors vary according to the situation.
Without good communication, your skill as a CPA is in question, much like a chef with no one to eat the food, or a clothing designer whose product doesn’t get purchased.
There are rules to communication. But they are different rules from the ones that govern numbers. Let’s take a look at how you can achieve buy-in from your communication partners by following a few simple rules:
- Information doesn’t teach someone how to make a decision. Being right is very different from being in a relationship. Your numbers are right: how is the net take away being received? Acted upon? Do you know what should happen from your communication as opposed to what is happening? Have you stepped on a closely held belief that needs to be managed before the person can agree? You may be right, but until or unless the other person buys in to your suggestions, nothing will happen.What do you need to say differently to help the other person either agree or agree to collaborate in resolving an issue? What level of responsibility do you need to take to follow the person through the agreement process? What does this person need from you differently in order to have an easier time buying in?
- The sender of the communication is responsible for ensuring understanding. If you are not getting the type of response you need from your communication partner, you must say it in a very different way.What does a successful outcome sound like? How will you know when you both have achieved a level of agreement? When you need to use different words to get your point across? When you need to change your point and choose a different outcome in order to compromise?
- The meaning of the communication is the response it elicits. This is an old NeuroLinguistic Programming rule. Your communication partner didn’t hear it wrong. You said it wrong.How do you know when it’s time to reconfigure your speech pattern to ensure understanding and agreement from the other person?
- You have a choice of being right or being in a relationship. It’s that simple.
The question now becomes: What are you willing to believe differently to ensure that your communication is a win-win; capable of being collaborative and flexible; and a joint outcome can be met?
What skills do you need to learn differently to help you manage a collaborative communication style that makes your numbers or financial plan accepted? How will you know the difference between being understood and not being understood – and when it’s time to communicate differently?
At the end of the day, no matter how right your numbers are, or brilliant your financial plan, if you can’t communicate to ensure buy-in, it doesn’t matter. Have the necessary flexibility to ensure buy-in, and your end results will be achieved.