Thanks to technology that allows us to quickly communicate through apps like Microsoft Teams, email, phone, texts, and even in person, we can deliver instructions, pass along reports, and administer advice with lightning speed.
But with speed and urgency comes the risk of miscommunication. In this environment, it is essential to speak and write clearly to avoid confusion, conflict, and mistakes.
In the world of finance and accounting, the consequences of miscommunication can be damaging, according to Krystle McGilvery, ACMA, CGMA, of London, a finance consultant and founder of Mind Over Money.
If a colleague, client, or support staff takes no action after you've provided advice or given them specific steps to follow, it may be a sign they did not understand your directive. In some cases, this break in communication could result in a costly mistake.
"If I advise someone about their personal finances and give them guidance that could make them more money, but they don't follow through or if they take the wrong action, there is a possibility they didn't understand my advice clearly," McGilvery said.
Don't wait until mistakes are made before taking corrective action, she said. Instead, take steps that can lead to better outcomes.
Looking for signs of miscommunication
Being proactive and inviting the other person to ask questions may raise their comfort level so they don't feel apprehensive about telling you they are having trouble understanding.
"Don't assume everyone is going to comprehend all the terminology when it comes to finance, and they may be embarrassed to ask questions," McGilvery said. "Reassure them that you welcome their feedback, and ask them to repeat back to you their understanding of your advice to make sure you are both paired up and on the same page."
She also suggests to agree on action items at the end of conversations to ensure that neither party is making assumptions about next steps.
Here are a few techniques for communicating with clarity to help keep the workday running smoothly.
Prepare well. Thorough preparation goes a long way towards effectively delivering a presentation or a written report, said Yana Bond, ACMA, CGMA, founder of the consultancy firm, Finance Leaders of Tomorrow, based in Kingston upon Thames in London.
She suggests recruiting a team of colleagues to listen as you practise your presentation and provide feedback on how it comes across.
"This exercise helps you formulate responses to potential comments and questions and will enable you to present yourself as a well-rounded and informed professional, especially if your test audience is made up of cross-functional teams," she said.
Likewise in written communications, if you are composing a report, writing an engagement letter, or crafting correspondence, ask a friend or colleague to read it for clarity, context, and tone.
"It's critical to build in enough time in your planning to double-check and triple-check with people to make sure both your written and spoken messages are easy to comprehend and your audience is receiving your information the way you intended." Bond said.
Understand your audience. Throughout each day, you communicate with myriad audiences — colleagues and co-workers, clients, managers, and sometimes the public. It is essential to know your audience so you can deliver your messages in a way they are clearly understood.
Some individuals need a great deal of context around information. Some like to have it presented briefly and concisely. Others may be visually oriented, McGilvery said.
"I know some individuals who like graphics and often put together budgets and reports using lots of lovely, colourful pie charts and graphs," she said. "Then there are others who have trouble following charts and graphs, find bright, colourful images to be noisy and overwhelming, and prefer to receive information in words and numbers."
Ask your audience how they like to receive information, McGilvery said, and then present it to them that way.
Focus on professionalism. The pandemic has changed communication from the way it was two years ago, before many professionals started working from home. Now, even more than before, communicating effectively is important for your career progression, Bond said.
"You must demonstrate to senior managers that you are professional, a good problem-solver, and you can communicate clearly with your counterparts," she said.
Maintaining visibility as a leader with a positive attitude and professional demeanour is crucial, especially when you are using virtual meeting platforms because your colleagues no longer see you in the office every day. Rather, the only times they see you are when you appear in a virtual window on their computer screen perhaps once a week. Clear communication, including your body language, is key to coming across as a finance professional who feels passionate about your job, your career, and your company, Bond said.
"Quite often during meetings I see people lounging on their sofa, and while there's nothing wrong with being relaxed, it might not play in your favour if you are in a one-hour Zoom meeting with your manager and fail to use that opportunity to present yourself as a professional employee," she said.
Avoid jargon. Most people like to appear knowledgeable about their profession and the subject matter that goes along with it. But using acronyms and industry jargon in written and spoken communication may have the opposite effect by being annoying. And jargon can cause misunderstandings when you communicate with those who don't know insider terminology.
Using jargon can create a sort of exclusive club. Those who don't understand it may feel left out, and one of the worst consequences of using jargon is having your audience unplug and give up on your conversation, email, or presentation, McGilvery said.
Her advice is to avoid jargon and acronyms altogether.
"There's no need for it," she said. "When you are in a position of providing a service or educating someone, you must be inclusive and state what you mean in plain language others can understand."
Speak slowly and clearly. In a global economy, we often communicate with people who speak a variety of languages, dialects, and cultural vernacular.
It's easy for messaging to get lost in translation, and no matter what language you speak, it is important to speak slowly and be willing to translate or explain what you are trying to say when asked, Bond advised.
She enjoys the diversity of her company and finds that videoconferencing platforms like Zoom work well in a multicultural environment.
"It's much easier to communicate when we are on Zoom because people tend to speak more slowly and give others the space to talk," she said. "When we are together in a big room, we sometimes speak over each other. Some speak fast and others speak more slowly, but on Zoom, people speak slower and focus more on their pronunciations."
Bond, who is Russian, works with an international team of professionals representing a dozen nations, with three who speak English as a first language. Having a sense of humour helps when communication breaks down.
"We try to speak slowly so we can understand what each other is talking about, and we often have different understandings of our jokes," she said. "We have some funny stories about how we have all interpreted things differently."
— Teri Saylor is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek at Andrew.Adamek@aicpa-cima.com.