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The Secret to Effective Communication? Know Your Audience



Communicating effectively with your team and clients is a crucial skill for any accounting and advisory professional. So often, when we ask people what needs to be improved in their workplaces and relationships, the overwhelming response is communication.


With so many people working remotely today, we rely on many communication tools: phone, email, text, instant messaging, workflow platforms, video conferencing and social media. These tools and technologies can help facilitate communication, but they will never replace it.


It’s still on us to know our audience and customize our communications to fit how they best consume information.


To whom are you communicating?

When you communicate with a person or a group of people, knowing things like their age, education and gender is helpful. So is having context about their economic, cultural and ideological background. But there’s a lot more you might want to know.


You need to know what they care about, what they want to know, and how they want to hear it. Knowing this helps you focus your message, shows them you are a great resource and allows your message to have a greater impact.


For example, say you present an auditor’s findings to a board of directors. In this case, you might want to learn a little about each board member and their hot-button issues. Is getting a “clean” audit report their main concern? Do they want to know more about how to improve internal controls? Maybe they’re just interested in how much this audit will cost.


What is your goal?

Before composing an email, scheduling a meeting or picking up the phone, think about how you want the other person to feel. What action do you want them to take? When you know what your audience cares about and wants to hear, you can tailor your communication to meet those goals.


Here’s another example. Say you’re rolling out a new process that will impact your team’s day-to-day work. You want to communicate why you’re making a change and why this change will be better than the old way of doing things. Simply sending an email outlining steps in the new process won’t cut it.


Instead, you might schedule a meeting or record a video explaining the reason for the change and how it will benefit your team members.


What’s the right communication channel?

How often do you spend time crafting a thoughtful email, only to realize nobody read it?


We’re living in a time of unprecedented access to information. However, all that information is just noise if you can’t communicate it effectively. That’s why it’s essential to think about which communication tool to use in which circumstances. You want to find that delicate balance between sharing enough without overwhelming your audience.


Consider the message or information you need to share. Is it formal or informal? Will people need to refer back to it later? Is it time-sensitive? Do you need to communicate with an individual or a group? Will this require a back-and-forth discussion? Thinking through these questions can help you select the appropriate communication channel.


How does your audience prefer to receive information?

Customizing communication is easy when you’re meeting face-to-face with one person. However, it’s more difficult when you need to convey information to various multiple people, all with unique personalities. This is where personality assessments come in handy.


Several excellent personality assessments are available, including DiSC, CliftonStrengths, Myers-Briggs, and the Kolbe A™ Index.


At Boomer Consulting, Inc., we use these tools to create profiles for each team member. A two-page document explains the person’s unique abilities, what motivates and de-motivates them and how they help the team and our clients. In addition, it answers questions such as:

  • What are the most and least effective ways for them to receive information? For example, some people never listen to voice mail. Others might view phone calls as major interruptions but welcome instant messages.

  • What are their favorite and least favorite ways to share information? Some people prefer to organize their thoughts in an email. Others feel comfortable explaining things in person.

  • When are the best and worst times to communicate? Some people need a cup of coffee in hand before engaging in deep conversations. Others might be at their best in the morning but be mentally checked out by the late afternoon. If you want your team member to devise a brilliant solution to a problem or need to have a difficult conversation, it’s helpful to know when they’ll be receptive to your message.

Taking a one-size-fits-all approach to communicating with clients and team members is a losing proposition. So the next time you have important information to share, take some time to develop a tailored communication plan. Paying attention to what your audience wants to know and how they want to hear it will have a powerful impact on your results.

 

Do you want to turn your firm’s new partners and managers into confident and capable leaders?


The Boomer Leadership Academy is a leadership development program designed specifically for new partners, managers, C-Suite professionals and administrators at CPA firms. Register now so the emerging leaders in your firm can begin performing at a higher level.

 

Jim Boomer, CEO of Boomer Consulting, Inc., is an expert on managing technology within an accounting firm. He serves as the director of the Boomer Technology Circles, The Advisor Circle and the CIO Circle. He also acts as a strategic planning and technology consultant and firm adviser to CPA firms across the country. Accounting Today called him a “thought leader who can help accountants create next-generation firms.” Jim is a prolific writer with a monthly column in The CPA Practice Advisor and has been published in a number of industry publications including Accounting Today, Accounting Web, the International Group of Accounting Firms and several state society publications.

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