Better Conversations make A Better Accountant

Tips, Techniques and Skills to get more out of a conversation

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Better conversations will help you get more out of your career and life. Small changes can make a big difference! More at the alternative accountant.

Better Conversation: 2 accountants enjoy a good dialogue about month end.

Let's face it - the accountancy profession is not generally renowned for producing great conversationalists or outspoken orators.

Speak for yourself.

Yet when you think about it, almost everything we do is based on, or depends on, conversation.

Go on, I'm listening.

For example:

  • understanding colleagues, clients and customers
  • others understanding and getting to know you
  • planning and organising
  • discussing figures and results
  • job interviews, as interviewee or interviewer
  • solving and resolving problems
  • managing your team
  • building relationships
  • getting and retaining business
  • understanding other points of view
  • negotiating budgets or contracts
  • explaining to your partner why you're going to be late home again
  • ...the list goes on....

You're right - I'd never thought of it like that before.

In fact, conversation is one of the key enabling skills of life, and lies behind almost every other life skill.

Unfortunately, conversation skills do not form part of the education system - or for that matter accountancy qualifications or training.

Poor conversation = poor communication.

I missed that - what did you say?

Poor communication is the root of many problems at work and in life generally: misunderstanding, misinterpretation; incorrect decision-making; wrong actions. We can all recall contentious emails we've sent and then regretted!

I thought we agreed you weren't going to mention that?

Fortunately, as with many things, small changes can make a big difference.

That's good to know. My conversational skills are not what you would call 'world class'. Tell me more and I'll shut up.



Laying the foundations for better conversations

For a conversation to really work, some basic ground rules must be set:

1. Recognise that conversations are a dialogue. Di-alogue - a two way interaction. As the conversation progresses participants switch between the two roles of TELLER and UNDERSTANDER;

2. The conversation must be based on mutual respect. Whoever you are talking to - accounting clerk, CFO or client - your attitude and approach must be the same;

3. Avoid playing power games. Try not to dominate the conversation. Aim to maintain a level playing field;

4. Aim for a win-win situation where each participant has a chance to air their views and be listened to;

5. Stay open to change. Be receptive to new ideas. If your conversation partner senses you are not open-minded the conversation will deteriorate or end;

and lastly, and perhaps most importantly,

6. Take responsibility for the success of the conversation. If all participants do the same it's bound to succeed!



Engaging in a better conversation: Teller and Understander working together

During a conversation each participant needs to use the skills of either a Teller or an Understander.

In the table below, these skills have been placed side by side to emphasise that a successful convesration needs to be a dialogue.

Teller Skills and Techniques

1. Engage your conversation partner - have you got their attention?

Understander Skills and Techniques

1. Demonstrate patience - give the Teller time, attention and encouragement. Face them; relax; open posture; use gestures (eg. nod)

2. Use headlines and underlines to engage the understander and signpost the conversation.

2. Listen actively and with an open mind

3. Put the other person in the picture - who, what, where, when; background, context

3. Listen for highlights - the nuggets within what is being said. Be open and do not prejudge - else you will miss what is being said.

4. Fill in the picture with detail - else your partner will do it for you. Develop the story and expand your point of view - with reasons and examples

4. Feedback the highlights to the Teller - it shows you understand and are listening. Confirm your understanding.

5. Bring your story to life: use colour, your voice, gestures

5. Work to get the full picture - be interested; use prompts to encourage; ask open questions; but don't overdo it!

6. Use self-disclosure to personalise the conversation - be open; refer to your own experience

6. Avoid unhelpful responses - let the Teller finish in their own way and time; don't hijack the conversation or try to bring it to a premature end

7. Summarise what you've said to get clarity that partner has understood and listened - look for non-verbal cues; check verbally

7. Summarise what the Teller has said to get complete clarity

8. Bring in the understander - ask them what they think about the matter; get their views opinion

8. Move into the Teller role - summarise and feedback what the Teller has said but add value by suggesting a way forward or confirming differing positions so that each participant feels they have come away with something positive.

Remember, as said above, small changes in your approach to, and management of, a conversation can make a huge difference to the quality and value of the dialogue.

Lastly, sending or exchanging e-mail is no substitute for a face-to-face conversation.


Good luck!

That was very useful. Thanks.


Acknowledgment for the excellent Better Conversation ideas and tips tapped into for this article at The Communication Trust.

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