How accountants can improve communication techniques
July 13, 2015

Understanding mathematics and finances is almost second nature for most accountants. However, not everyone is as knowledgeable with numbers, and many individuals are easily flustered by terms like dividends and depreciation. The challenge then becomes communicating with clients without coming off as condescending or overbearing. Here is a guide to make any communication easier than long division: 

Know your audience
Though there are different levels of financial and accounting knowledge, it appears that many people fret the topic of finances entirely. According to a report by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, 61 percent of Americans failed a five-question quiz regarding basic financial literacy. In fact, according to a study by Wells Fargo, more people would rather discuss death and politics than finances. It's not surprising then, according to the Pew Research Trust, that 70 percent of U.S. families cite finances as their biggest stressor. 

So where does all this uncertainty come from? As Forbes reported, it all seems to stem from a distinct lack of communication. Many parents never speak to their children about financial responsibility, nor do people discuss finances amid their personal groups. Additionally, there are few public outlets, like TV personalities or news organizations, encouraging such open discussions.

Take it slow and steady
When someone's knowledgeable and passionate about a subject, it's easy to delve into complicated rabbit holes of insight. It's important, then, to know that customers or even non-accountant colleagues don't have the same level of understanding yet are just as concerned about financial obligations. To that end, the most basic step is to communicate effectively. Opt away from complicated terminology until you're sure someone understands the basics of the conversation. If you find the other person is looking on with a perplexed look, take the initiative to ask if he or she has questions or concerns. Don't forget to give people time for these questions at the end or even a chance to touch base later that day or week.

Perhaps as an extension of the above, it's important to always enunciate properly. Things like pitch, syllable emphasis and how much of the speaker's teeth are showing can affect how a message is perceived.

Be mindful of presenting data
Some people find charts and reports all but indecipherable. To that extent, it's a good idea to modify this approach to presenting data. The best way is to pare the data down to its most essential figures; that is, the less information presented overall, the better. Even something as simple as a list of profit margins or gains and losses in a column can go a long way. Though they might miss out on other pertinent data, it's better people get the crux of the message. Mix up any presentations with pictures or quotations, as this will keep people from feeling inundated by numbers. Even personal stories can be useful to further contextualize an idea or concept. The use of colored highlights also gives information a sense of life, which aids in overall connectivity with the material. 

Always be approachable
Undoubtedly one of the reasons people are most insecure with financial discussions is that experts are often seen as a befuddling mixture of boring and intimidating. Alter those perceptions by being more personable to clients and colleagues alike. Be the one to set up meetings if at all possible, as this helps people to overcome the dread they connect with finances. It's also the way in which a conversation is framed that can be overwhelming. Move away from the desk and have each party face each other in a circle; this creates a sense of equality that can prove quite calming. Don't be afraid to begin any interaction with a little warm-up conversation, which is a great way to approach any surrounding anxiety. Lastly, even during the midst of complicated discussions, always be sure to emphasize positive points or opportunities for improvement. 

Nexus: G-WEBCD1