One of the most important skills anyone can have – especially in business – is communication. There’s an art to it, from the method used to the intention behind it.
Communication is two-way – the message must be received and understood, on both sides of the fence.
In the major professions (accounting, medicine, law), there is a heightened tendency to use jargon instead of simple language. In the medical field, that is due to the need for very precise speech so the doctors and nurses understand clearly what disease they’re treating, what part of the body they’re referring to, etc. In law, according to my friend Dana Ball, who is a small business attorney at Avanta Business Law, attorneys used to be paid by the word. Explains a lot of the legal code and confusing contracts, doesn’t it?
In accounting, we have jargon that refers to very specific things. Sometimes, however, those can get “lost in translation.” So our first order of business is to make sure we and the client both understand clearly what we’re referring to. If that doesn’t happen, then the client gets frustrated because they aren’t getting their needs met, and we get frustrated because we think we’re doing what was agreed to and we can’t seem to meet the client’s needs.
I have an amazing staff who want our clients to be happy with our service and clear with their books – and usually the problem is a miscommunication. The message wasn’t received the way it was intended.
So we need to be clear and precise in our speech and written communication. We also want to make sure we understand what the other person was saying. As Steven Covey put it in his 7 Habits of Effective People, seek first to understand, and then to be understood.
Have you ever talked past someone? Or argued with someone, only to realize you were actually in agreement? Maybe you didn’t understand!
In conversation, it’s easy to “re-state” the other person’s comment – “From what I understand, you want *this*. Is that accurate?” And then let them either agree or correct you.
Also consider what the underlying messages might be. Are you aiming for “Look at how smart I am!” Or “I want to provide a valuable, thoughtful, and relevant contribution”?
Consider who you’re talking to. My ex (who is still a friend) speaks Spanish as his first language. When I talk to him, I begin with understanding two important things about him. One, he’s a smart guy, so I want to make sure I don’t condescend to him. And two, since he is a non-native English speaker and self taught to boot, I am probably going to have to be prepared to re-state my message in different terms.
(Conversely, my Spanish is atrocious. I can order in a restaurant, shop, and ask for the ladies’ room, and that’s about it.)
Come to think of it, that’s probably two good ways of starting a conversation with someone. Assume they’re intelligent, and be prepared to re-state messages to make sure there is clarity.
We also want to make sure we have the right channel. Urgent and important? Pick up the phone and call! Text and email are great, but if it’s urgent, a call generally gets through quicker.
Email for longer communication and reports, that do not require an immediate turnaround. I generally recommend allowing a full business day for a response to an email. If a response is required, it’s a good idea to put a question in the email rather than stating “Response Required” or saying “please respond so I know you got it.” The first comes across as aggressive and demanding. The second one implies that the recipient isn’t intelligent enough to know what to do with an email. If the email address is incorrect, it will “bounce” – and if it is correct, it got to the intended recipient. Remember – you can’t control what the other person does with an email they received.
I generally don’t respond to information only type of emails, by the way, unless I have a reason to. If the information is that sensitive, then a phone call would have been more appropriate – even if you sent the email while on the phone.
I am not a fan of texting for business purposes. Why? Because those texts sometimes don’t go to the intended receipient – and they’re difficult to forward to the proper person to handle the request. Also, a company may not have efficient text support for their phones. I know that is the direction we’re headed, but be mindful of the limitations on text messaging.
Make sure you’re communicating with the right person. Who is the proper person to have a conversation with? What response do you expect? I might tag Elon Musk on Twitter, but I would be very surprised if he actually responded personally to that tweet.
Finally, don’t share anything in a public forum that should be private. My personal credo with respect (especially) to my employees, is praise in public, offer possibly negative feedback in private. I would never want an employee or client to feel like they’ve been called out in public. That is rude and embarrassing, and my intention is never to do to others that I don’t want done to me.
Donna Harris holds a BSci in Accounting and is the owner of Bookkeeping Made Simple.
Donna Harris, BSci Accounting, MBA, founded Bookkeeping Made Simple with the understanding that small businesses is the heart of the American economy. After offering to do books for a friend who said he didn't have enough work to keep someone in the office 20 hours a week, she recognized the need for an efficient, online system. She has 20 years of bookkeeping and accounting experience and is excited to help small business owners achieve their goals. She enjoys spending time with her family and traveling whenever possible. She also loves reading, hiking, camping, cooking, yoga, and fitness. A huge believer in lifelong education, she is currently working on her master's in Accounting.