“What was the biggest communication challenge you've experienced in your career? How did you overcome it?”

Jeff Thomson, CMA, CAE, IMA president and CEO, believes employees need to disconnect from communication in order to truly enjoy their time off:

You would think my biggest communication challenge was something strategic dealing with my direct involvement in business turnarounds. But it’s actually dealing with members of my team and their hard-earned time off: My advice to them is to lie low and take the time to connect and recharge with family and self, and I will do my part to ‘protect’ you from the endless barrage of ‘reply all’ emails.

The challenge, if you will, is that when I am on vacation, I do want to stay connected to the office—at least to some degree in receive mode. Am I being disingenuous or inconsistent? I believe everyone needs to find the balance between work and life in a manner that works for them, so long as the emphasis on business time off is with family and self.

Doreen Remmen, CMA, CAE, IMA senior vice president of operations and CFO, found that top management doesn’t always want the detailed explanation:

My natural comfort zone has always been deep in the data; no detail is too small. I had to learn to communicate with leaders who only have time for “the executive summary.” Don’t be discouraged if others fail to appreciate the depth of your analysis. It’s important to be thorough in your preparation and confident that you will be able to answer any question. But be succinct in your presentation.

Linda Devonish-Mills, CMA, CPA, CAE, IMA director of technical accounting activities, has used her own experiences to overcome workplace challenges:

I have experienced communication challenges with convincing potential candidates of the benefits of obtaining the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) designation when most candidates are familiar with the CPA (Certified Public Accountant) license. I overcome this challenge by referring to my own personal benefits from obtaining the designation. I explain to candidates that the CMA confirms competency in various areas of accounting and finance at advanced levels.

Potential candidates seem to be sold on obtaining the designation when I explain to them that most employers are looking for accounting and finance professionals to have skill sets that allow for them to make crucial financial decisions for their companies. The CMA confirms that they have that skill set. It also helps to explain that the CMA is a complement to the CPA license.

Raef Lawson, Ph.D., CMA, CPA, IMA vice president of research and professor-in-residence, saw the bigger communication issue and was able to work through it:

The biggest communication challenge I’ve had was working for a small family-owned company. Working in that type of environment has its own special challenges. There’s a tendency to think you need to communicate less because of the close relationship among the owners. The reality is that often there are personal issues that need to be considered along with business issues, and even more communication is needed.

Dennis Whitney, CMA, CFM, senior vice president of the Institute of Certified Management Accountants (ICMA®), points out that communication may be global, but you must keep your audience in mind:

My biggest communication challenge isn’t a singular event. Rather, it’s the challenge of communicating as a global business. Since we have members and employees around the world, we have to be aware of different communication styles. The first challenge is language. It is often important to translate to the local language, but in doing so, we can lose some of the meaning. When communicating in English, it’s important to obtain feedback to ensure that mutual understanding has been reached.

We also have to take into account cultural differences and preferences for how a message is communicated. Some cultures may prefer direct communication, others more indirect. Some cultures are OK with promotional messages; others prefer a more factual communication without the marketing hype. The medium is important as well—phone, email, or text. For example, communicating through text messages is very common in China; in the United States, however, email is more prevalent for business communication.

Debbie Warner, CPLP, IMA vice president of education and career services, finds that communication between teams and clients makes for the most successful projects:

IMA’s Education & Career Services (ECS) team works closely with various partners to develop new courses for our members. This course development process represents months of effort before achieving a finished product. Clear give-and-take communication between all parties is essential to ensure the product initially envisioned aligns with the product actually delivered. If expectations are not clearly communicated or are misunderstood, the outcome can spell disaster and necessitate additional time, resources, and expenses to recreate the product correctly.

Over the years, we’ve learned that all parties play a key role in this communication process. For instance, ECS needs to clearly define all product aspects, share these expectations with our partners, and proactively listen and respond to our partners’ questions/suggestions to ensure full understanding. We also look to our partners to listen closely to the product expectations and provide valuable input to the process by sharing their knowledge and voicing questions/concerns. And while this give-and-take communication process takes time, these upfront discussions minimize misunderstanding later and will lead to a finished product that best meets our members’ educational needs!

What has been a communication challenge for you? How were you able to overcome it? What did that experience teach you?


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