Talk (or Write) Your Way to the Top: Communication Skills Key for Accountants
January 2012 (SmartPros) Looking to give your career a boost? You may want to focus on soft skills, particularly developing your communication and leadership abilities.
No matter how skilled financial professionals are in the technical aspects of the job, advancement opportunities are likely to be limited if they’re poor communicators. The ability to effectively convey thoughts – both verbally and in writing – is a key requirement for leadership roles.
Accountemps recently surveyed 1,400 chief financial officers to find out in which areas they felt their staff members most needed to improve. The largest number of respondents (31 percent) cited communication, while 26 percent said they would like to see stronger leadership abilities. Fourteen percent said gaining functional, job-specific skills is the top priority for their department’s staff. Of lesser importance, according to respondents, were strategic planning and project management skills, both of which were cited by 12 percent.
Email, instant messaging and texting have given written communication skills added importance in business. In fact, electronic communication often now takes precedence over in-person interactions. In addition, more companies rely on teams to carry out business initiatives, and communication and leadership abilities are essential to effective teamwork.
In light of the increased focus on soft skills, consider these tips for enhancing yours:
Communicate with care. Whether writing a report or sending a short email, tailor your message to your audience. Don’t overuse accounting terminology when corresponding with non-accounting colleagues. Also, get to the point by presenting your primary message or call to action early in the message. Review your writing carefully to make sure your points are clear to others who are not as immersed in the subject as you are. Finally, be sure to proofread and spell check. Even minor typos and grammatical errors can send an unfavorable impression.
Listen. Verbal communication is as much about listening as it is about talking. Focus on what is being said rather than trying to formulate a response in your head while the other person is still speaking. This is especially important when working as part of a team.
Watch your body language. To successfully connect with others, you need a confident, persuasive communication style and an air of receptiveness toward others. If you’ve ever been unnerved by a colleague’s crossed arms, head shaking or perpetual frown while you made a presentation, you know how nonverbal gestures can convey a negative impression. On the other hand, smiling, nodding, maintaining eye contact and leaning forward in your seat can signal you’re engaged and receptive to what is taking place.
Consider the context. No single method of communication is effective in every situation. If a message is routine and doesn’t require a lengthy explanation, an email or voice mail may be fine. However, if a message is complex or nuanced, a telephone or in-person conversation is probably best, especially if you need to convey something of a sensitive or easily misunderstood nature.
Seek feedback. Find a mentor whose communication style you admire and ask for frequent feedback on your verbal and written communication skills so you can continually improve. Taking a public speaking course, volunteering to make presentations or offering to announce a work team’s findings in a summary report are other ways to hone your abilities. Also, ask your mentor to review your writing and presentations beforehand to evaluate the content, tone and delivery style. Even strong communicators can benefit from a mentor’s input and coaching.
Although communication and leadership abilities are not always explicitly requested in job postings for accounting and finance positions, they’re tacit requirements for advancement into more important and influential roles. With this in mind, devote as much time and thought to developing your written and verbal communication skills as you might spend pursuing new technical expertise and building your professional network. Your efforts to become well rounded will be rewarded with long-term career success.
This article is provided courtesy of Robert Half International, parent company of Accountemps, Robert Half Finance & Accounting and Robert Half Management Resources. Robert Half is the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm placing accounting and finance professionals on a temporary, full-time and project basis. Follow Robert Half on Twitter at twitter.com/roberthalf