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Firm Management

Does Your Firm Have a Clear Communication Vision?

2020 has been such an unusual year that I did not expect to have such a pleasant Labor Day weekend. After spending one on one time with my oldest daughter, we reaffirmed something that many of you may mistakenly take for granted.

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A Top Technology Initiative Article – From the October 2020 Issue.

2020 has been such an unusual year that I did not expect to have such a pleasant Labor Day weekend. After spending one on one time with my oldest daughter, we reaffirmed something that many of you may mistakenly take for granted. Social media posts, text messages, and email are not very good ways to communicate on a person to person basis. And the art of conversation seems to be getting compromised.

I am most concerned about how you communicate within your family, with your friends, and with your clients. While I do not consider it my role to tell you what to think, I do like to learn, assimilate the learning, and suggest outcomes based on that learning. Sometimes those outcomes can be supported with technology solutions. One technology that has changed most people it touches is the mobile phone. I have been particularly mindful of how smartphones have altered people’s behavior.

Further, it seems like the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated communications that may have been compromised long before the onset of the isolation of stay-at-home orders. Now that people are circulating again, have you noted the difficulty in discerning people’s moods or expressions behind their masks? Frankly, we have had to read behind many clients’ masks for years.

So, What Is Good Communication?

Here it is wise to turn to the experts and scientists for the best answers, but at the end of the day, your vision of good communication may be all that matters. Consider your own assimilation of communication skills from your earliest memories in your family to your interactions at school to your first job experiences to your own family today. What have you learned along the way?

It is hard to believe it has been almost 35 years since Robert Fulghum wrote and published All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Some reminders of the simple ideas for you to consider include:

  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Don’t hit people.
  • Put things back where you found them.
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
  • Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.
  • Wash your hands before you eat.
  • Flush.
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
  • Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
  • Take a nap every afternoon.
  • When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
  • Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
  • Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
  • And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.”

But a much older piece of literature seems to have been forgotten by many:

Aleph First Commandment I am the Lord your G-d who has taken you out of the land of Egypt.
Bet Second Commandment You shall have no other gods but me.
Gimmel Third Commandment You shall not take the name of the Lord your G-d in vain.
Dalet Fourth Commandment You shall remember the Sabbath and keep it Holy.
Hey Fifth Commandment Honor your mother and father.
Vav Sixth Commandment You shall not murder.
Zayin Seventh Commandment You shall not commit adultery.
Chet Eighth Commandment You shall not steal.
Tet Ninth Commandment You shall not bear false witness.
Yod Tenth Commandment You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.

But what does it take for good communication to take place? Alessandra Martelli suggests and explains this list:

  • Completeness
  • Conciseness
  • Consideration
  • Concreteness
  • Courtesy
  • Clearness
  • Correctness

Terry Corbell suggests 10 Management Attributes for Effective Communication:

  1. Listening
  2. Awareness of others
  3. Empathy
  4. Inspiration with encouragement
  5. Humor
  6. Fairness
  7. Avoidance of unnecessary conflict
  8. Positive attitudes
  9. Minimal stress
  10. Courage

While I could continue to cite lists and summaries of communications, two final lists from Jane Taylor are published on Habits for Wellbeing. Some reminders of the simple ideas for you to consider include:

Five Barriers to Effective Communication

  1. Judging the other person
  2. Not paying attention to the person you are talking to
  3. Using technical language
  4. Giving solutions or unwanted advice
  5. Avoiding the concerns of others

Nine Effective Communication Skills

  1. Active listening
  2. Non-verbal communication
  3. Asking questions
  4. Being clear and succinct
  5. Clarifying and summarizing
  6. Being empathetic
  7. Providing feedback
  8. Developing trust and rapport
  9. Being present

And How Can I Apply This?

What I was hoping to do throughout this year of “vision” articles was to provide insight into various topics monthly. Perhaps you have observed this year that many are having issues communicating clearly. It has become more difficult, with less face to face encounters. I have been appalled by statements made in email, on the phone, in video calls and on social media by CPA professionals. I’m sure others have been equally offended by my own faux pas in this time of stress and political incorrectness. Consider the following situations that illustrate poor communication:

  • Using smartphones, often for social media or email, while in another conversation.
  • Continuing a text conversation that could have been handled much quicker another way.
  • Using email when a phone call would have been faster.
  • Being confused about the best way to reach someone. Email? Text? Social media? Call?

At a professional level, we have maintained client communication preferences for some time including opt-in or opt-out, sometimes enforced by laws such as the CAN-SPAM Act. Mail vs. email vs. phone vs. text has been augmented by WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social media. But is an omnichannel approach to communication best? Shouldn’t you know your clients’ (and family members’) preferred way to communicate and use that approach? What is best for you is not necessarily best for them. And communication in bulk or being distracted while trying to communicate may be like no communications at all.

Further, it became apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic that people needed interaction and wanted to speak more, even though their work burdens had increased. Countless articles have been written about the stress and impact of video calling during this period. The increased use of cameras and the acceptance of home settings, and less than professional backgrounds, have become a new normal. Still, only time will tell if that becomes a permanent, acceptable normal. Discern if your family members or clients need more time for a conversation now and spend that time at the beginning or at the end of any interaction that you have with them.

You are likely to get the best results in business and life if you can communicate effectively. For me, it matters most that I communicate effectively among my family. Sometimes I fall down, but I always try to focus on any family member that makes a request. Sure, I am busy, and it takes discipline to stop, listen, and respond thoughtfully.

In business, occasionally I use the wrong words, am not thoughtful enough, or must communicate unpopular or bad news. I am sure you do, too. What is the best way to have positive or difficult communication with your clients? Lynn Kirkham suggests these ways to THINK (True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, or Kind) before you speak.

  • Determine if what you want to say is true
  • Say something if it is helpful, or stay silent if it is not
  • Identify whether your comment might be inspiring to other people
  • Speak if your comment is necessary
  • Stop yourself from speaking if what you want to say is not kind

If you can have just one better communication because you spent the time to read this column, I would be pleased. It would be even better if you can make better communication a habit. Good communication habits would be best for us all.

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