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Technical know-how is important in any industry, and the financial sector is no different, but that alone may not be enough to set you apart from your peers.
Soft skills (including but not limited to communication, leadership, teamwork and problem solving) are a crucial aspect of professional development and can enable you to form stronger relationships with your clients and colleagues.
No matter what you do for work, communication is one of the most important soft skills to master, but it’s all the more relevant in finance where it can often be overlooked in favour of more technical hard skills.
For example, as advisors, it's integral that accountants and bookkeepers develop the communication skills needed to support their clients through legislation changes such as the recently introduced Single Touch Payroll (STP), which is considered to be the biggest transformation of its kind since GST.
Of course, communication is just as important in everyday life as it is in your career. Here are a few common mistakes you may want to address that promise to have a lasting impact both in the office and at home.
1. Listening passively, not actively
Making the effort to listen properly is a very important aspect of clear communication. The key difference between passive and active listening is that the former is listening without intent, while the latter is both intentional and productive.
Listening passively generally comes when people are waiting for their chance to speak, instead of being more collaborative and engaging with the speaker. This tends to result in less retention of information, and a higher capacity for distraction or disinterest in what the other person is saying.
Listening actively is integral to a successful career in finance because you often work with people who aren’t as well-versed in concepts as you.
With the aforementioned STP requiring digital payroll reporting to the ATO, countless small businesses will move to use digital technology, some for the first time. The only way advisors will be able to support their clients through the transition to this new way of working is by genuinely listening to their concerns.
Listening may seem simple enough, but the people you work with – whether it's clients or colleagues – will catch on instantly if you’re not all there. By giving them your full attention, not only will they feel supported to tackle whatever challenges may come, but your relationship promises to become even stronger as a result.
2. Assuming your audience knows the jargon
Jargon can make people feel excluded, because while you're going in with the assumption that they're on the same plane of understanding, they may not be familiar with your language. This is especially prevalent in tech and finance circles, where acronyms and jargon likely make up a bulk of your workday.
From STP to GST to BAS (business activity statements), the finance industry is littered with TLAs (three-letter acronyms, of course). No matter where you work or what you do, chances are you’re familiar with the confusion that shorthand can cause.
But with all Australian businesses now expected to report payroll via STP, it’s essential that accountants and bookkeepers ensure it doesn’t get lost amongst the TLA graveyard when communicating with clients.
STP may seem like a big change, especially if business owners will be using accounting software like Xero for the first time, so all the more reason to ditch the corporate-speak and stick with clear, effective language.
You may be well-versed in the TLAs of the finance world, but being considerate enough to acknowledge that many aren't is something that will likely set you apart.
3. Neglecting valuable real-world discussion
Nowadays it's hard to envision a business functioning without some kind of internal messaging system – whether it's Slack or simply emails – but though it's quicker, it doesn't eliminate the need for face-to-face communication.
Tone over email can be completely subjective as there’s far more room for misunderstanding and it can be entirely dependent on the receiver’s mood as to how they take it. That's why it’s always better to pick up the phone – especially when dealing with complex issues.
When it comes to encouraging clients to adopt a new way of working, like with STP, many accountants and bookkeepers are ultimately faced with encouraging an entirely new way of thinking. All of which goes to show that this kind of legislation is as much a communications issue as it is a compliance one.
Having supported countless advisors through this transition, Xero’s arsenal of STP resources – from talking points to project plans – are on hand to help accountants and bookkeepers communicate what the latest changes mean for their clients’ businesses.
The bottom line is that everyone communicates, but not everyone communicates well. It’s something we can all work on, no matter what industry we’re in — because we’re working with people.