The secret to effective communication? Know your audience

Communicating effectively with your clients and your team is one of the most crucial skills for any accounting and advisory professional to learn. Time after time, when people are asked what needs to be improved in their workplaces and relationships, the overwhelming response is communication.

With so many people still working remotely due to the pandemic – a situation that is likely to continue long after a vaccine is widely available – we’re relying on an increasing number of communication tools: phone, email, text, instant messaging, workflow platforms, video conferencing, video, 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 hear, and how they want to hear it. By knowing this, you can focus your message, show them that you are a great resource and have a greater impact.

For example, if you are presenting an auditor’s findings to a board of directors, you might want to learn a little bit about each board member and what their hot button issues are. Do they care only about getting a “clean” audit report? Do they want to know more about your recommendations for improving controls? Or maybe they’re just interested in one number: the bottom line on your invoice.

What is your goal?

This is a critical question to ask before composing an email or instant message, scheduling a video conference, or picking up the phone. How do you want the person to feel? What action do you want them to take? By knowing what your audience cares about and wants to hear, you can tailor your communication to meet those goals.

For example, if you’re rolling out a new process that will impact your team’s day-to-day work, you want to clearly communicate why you’re making a change and why this change will be better than the way they were doing things before. Simply sending an email outlining steps in the new process just won’t cut it.

What is the right communication channel?

How often have you spent time crafting a thoughtful and informative email, only to realize nobody read it?

We’re living in a time of unprecedented access to information, yet all of that information is just noise if it’s not communicated effectively. That’s why it’s crucial to know which communication tool to use in different circumstances. You want to find a delicate balance between communicating enough without incoming emails, messages, and notifications becoming overwhelming.

Consider the type of message or information you need to share. Is it formal or informal? Does it need to be referenceable? Is it urgent or time-sensitive? Are you communicating with an individual or a group? Will it require a back-and-forth discussion? Thinking through these questions can help you zero in on the appropriate communication channel.

How does your audience like to receive information?

Customizing your communication is easy when you’re communicating face-to-face with one person, but it’s more difficult when you need to communicate with a wide variety of personality types. In that case, personality assessment tools can help.

There are several excellent personality assessments available: DiSC, CliftonStrengths, Myers-Briggs, and the Kolbe A™ Index, to name a few.

At Boomer Consulting, Inc., we use our assessment tool to put together a firm profile for each team member. This two-page document explains the person’s unique abilities, what motivates and de-motivates them, what they do to help the team and our clients, and details their communication style. It answers questions such as:

  • What are the most and least effective ways for this person to receive information? Some people never listen to voicemail. Others might view phone calls as major interruptions but welcome text messages.
  • What are their favorite and least favorite ways to share information? Some people like to organize their thoughts in an email. Others might feel more comfortable explaining things in person.
  • What 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 first thing in the morning but be mentally checked out by 4 pm. If you need to have a difficult conversation with someone or ask them to come up with a brilliant solution to a problem, it’s helpful to know when they’ll be receptive to your message.

No matter how many tools we have at our disposal, we can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to communicating with clients and team members. The next time you have something important to share, take some time to develop a tailored communication plan. Consider enlisting the help of your firm’s marketing and communications people.

Customizing your communication isn’t rocket science, but it does require you to pay attention to what they want to know and how they want to hear it. Once you do, you should see a powerful impact on the results you get back.

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