Management accountants need soft skills and general communication abilities to help them collaborate effectively with others. That’s why it’s extremely concerning when many finance professionals neglect communication in their education and early in their career. A lack of communication skills may have a severe negative impact on their future growth in their organization, even if their technical knowledge and strategic-planning expertise are top-notch.
Communication skills are highly impacted by upbringing, cultural values, temperament, and even gender. Why don’t more people work to improve these deficiencies despite knowing that their reasons have deep roots? I’ve experienced lack of communication on a personal level, but even more importantly, I see it continuously in professional interactions. This lack of effective communication ranges from those with a similar level of seniority (among colleagues and peers) to those in a hierarchical structure (supervisors/senior management to employees reporting to them).
This isn’t an issue that’s restricted to the accounting and finance industry. Lackluster communication skills are evident across all industries. Even academia suffers from it. Teachers often work with students to improve their communication skills, assigning related readings and exercises and giving lectures that offer solutions, yet many administrators and other decision makers don’t adhere to communication best practices.
WHERE TO START?
Communicating effectively sounds simple to accomplish, yet few do it correctly. An obvious question is: Why is it difficult to communicate well? Communication skills are among the most important for professionals, as they can make the difference between respectful and productive client and coworker relationships and a string of misunderstandings leading to strained interactions or worse.
How do we make our communication more effective? We need to have the right style based on a particular professional context and the ability to properly disseminate information to a particular audience. Tips to communicate effectively in the workplace include (1) displaying confidence and seriousness—uncertainty can lead team members to discount your information—and (2) using simple words—when you use ambiguous words, you can be misunderstood and waste precious time having to explain yourself or fix mistakes that others make based on that misunderstanding.
OPEN VS. NEED-TO-KNOW BASIS
At your place of employment, ask yourself: How are decisions communicated? Is it on a need-to-know basis as changes take place that only leaders are aware of? Why not clearly state what’s taking place or will take place, whether you feel that the employees will like it or not? It’s certainly better, in my opinion, to hear bad news than to be kept in the dark and simply speculate as to what will happen next.
Hearing news that impacts you as an employee from a colleague instead of hearing it directly from a supervisor hurts morale. Have you ever heard of a change affecting you directly from another individual after the change has already been implemented? Isn’t that lack of communication a terrible issue that impacts your view of management? Employee morale should be considered. But to understand other individuals’ feelings about actions taken or not taken, we need to have a certain degree of empathy. It’s better to err on the side of openness and honesty.
KNOWING YOUR AUDIENCE
A strong company culture encourages—or, better yet, demands—strong, clear, and timely communication skills. In the accounting profession, it’s often the accountant’s job to obtain data, prepare information in an Excel spreadsheet or other software, and distribute it to the appropriate parties to improve the decision-making process. Yet how often do we ask if the information will be easily understood in the form provided? Will it help end users make better decisions? The days when accountants were simply bean counters who didn’t need to clearly communicate the results of their work product are behind us. Today’s accountants must be able to provide information in a way that’s clearly understood. Each report should stand on its own so that no further in-depth explanation is required.
Another factor impeding clear communication is that most individuals don’t like any type of confrontation, and many believe that disseminating negative news or concerning information will lead to a confrontation. The best way to deliver bad news is to give it directly and sincerely, without personal attacks or blame. Consider that audience members may not have an immediate positive reaction, but they might come to understand your points after thinking it over. This applies to delivering unexpected operational results or terminating a business relationship.
Information can be presented in such a manner that it doesn’t have to lead to confrontation on most occasions. Most individuals simply accept the news and are appreciative of the courtesy of direct communication. There are many ways to improve your communication skills, including the following core components: being straightforward, keeping conversations at a professional level, avoiding personal comments or subjective opinions, considering the audience’s perspectives, and being concise.
Get your message across by mentioning the necessary facts openly and being clear about the message you’re delivering. Bad news is very difficult to deliver, yet a lack of information can be worse. A lack of information leads to speculative gossip, misinformation, low employee morale, and less credibility for the company’s management. Surely, none of us want that as we engage with others. Following communication best practices leads to improved professional relationships across the board and a boost in your prospects for career growth and advancement.