Accountants: One Simple Tip To Get Better Results

I came across a joke today that asked “What’s the definition of an accountant?”

Answer: Someone who solves a problem you didn’t know you had in a way you don’t understand.

I found myself conflicted, part of me wants to defend the accounting & finance profession and part of me actually wants to agree with the joke. So I’ll start with the latter.

Getting lost in the numbers

I can see why accountants get a bad rap, often become the butt of such jokes and are seen as boring. We can get so caught up in crunching the numbers, getting spreadsheets to work, or stuck in the financials that we end up detaching from the commercial reality that good business is fundamentally about people. More specifically, it’s really much less about the numbers (which accountants generally hold as important) and instead much more about developing rapport and trusting relationships with ‘real’ people so that you earn the right to start doing business with each other.

Getting defensive

But I also can get a bit defensive at such jokes because most qualified accountants have been trained in the technical skills, over many years, to: manage cashflows; minimise the risk of a business going bust; help our clients & their businesses make more money; improvr margins; or, even advise on ways to attract more customers. These are all things enterprises need to do if they want sustained profitable growth.

Needing something solved versus wanting it

However, this joke also references the typical accountant tendency from to become blinded and forgetful that just because someone needs something done doesn’t mean they want it. For example, most people at one time or another need to go to the dentist but how many actually want to? For others maybe it’s getting up a little earlier to exercise a bit more, but how many of us really want to do this?

So, we can see things in the numbers that need solving from a business perspective but others outside of finance don’t understand our concern. This can happen even when the problem seems so obvious to us in accounting & finance.

What really matters in business

However, in business what really matters is what people are saying and are we all on the same wavelength. It doesn’t matter whether we’re a large brand of phones and computers named after a common fruit or buying the same fruit at our local village convenience store. Success comes from engaging with people and actively listening to get on their wavelength, so we’re all ‘on the same page.’

We do business with people who get us and get where we’re coming from.

Ultimately most people in business will be anxious and uncertain about some things, particularly when making decisions about financials. And above all they’re looking for someone who will provide reassurance, calm their fears and inspire confidence. Accountants have the technical training to do this, so what can you do to engage with others and get on the same page as them to achieve better results? For help developing your relationship skills read Are soft skills the elephant in the room?

Getting on the same page with a cup of coffee

Human psychology teaches us that the more repeated exposure you have with a person the more trustworthy and likable you are to them.

For example, let’s look at coffee drinkers. Frequently coffee drinkers will order the same brand of coffee from the same café each day. They are often served by the same barista. The barista may get to know their usual order or even ask how they’re doing. Over time the barista (the brand and café too) will gain the trust of their customer to some degree. For proof look at it this way. Given the proliferation of coffee shops nowadays there’s plenty of competition, yet the coffee drinker keeps going back to the same place. It’s because they’re engaging at a deeper level.

Simply show up

Ultimately this is basic psychology in action, the more you see a certain barista at a café you frequent, the more you feel like you know and trust them. The level of interaction isn’t that important, it’s just the frequency of occurrence that has brought on these feelings. If accountants and finance professionals want to start taking steps towards building and maintaining trusted relationships with others, it’s pretty much the same psychology.

Start this entire trust process by simply showing up.

Just be visible. Spend time with people. In the human mind, simply being visible makes them feel more like they know & understand you.

Ultimately, a good business relationship has qualities similar to a good friendship: staying in touch, being available, and spending time together, so never neglect it.

If you’re an accountant who wants to be understood to achieve better results and not be the butt of jokes, consider proactively managing your relationships with others by: getting out from behind your desks and holding regular catch-ups with colleagues; being mindful of their interests and business challenges; customising your conversations to them; sending personalised updates not generic ones, and being available for their meetings and phone calls where conversations can transcend the topics of your partner’s business.

What do you think, are relationships more important than numbers in business? What are your recommendations? Let’s all contribute to make this another resource for other aspiring finance business partners.


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