Are We Failing in Our Efforts to be Understood?

By Steven E. Sacks, CPA, CGMA, ABC

Are we facing challenges in speaking in a recognizable language in the US? I understand that more people are using mobile devices for communication shortcuts. While it may be convenient for some, for others it leaves us scratching our heads. I am not seeking to be a public scold; however, if you want your communication to be effective, then understand your audience, situation and the topic.

Texting is killing communications with its ambiguous acronyms. I get LOL and OMG because of their overuse — and misuse. The most mundane texts that contain no humor are responded to with a LOL. I don’t get it. What did I text you that was supposedly funny?  And OMG? Is that the way to begin to describe the meal you had last night? Or more likely the meal was described as amazing.  Unless the asparagus spears stood up and began synchronized high stepping like the Rockettes, or the steak sliced itself into chewable bites, I could not imagine a meal be amazing. But I guess this is an entry (transitory, hopefully) in a generational lexicon that had previously been occupied by jake; groovy; boss; bread; talk to the hand; main squeeze; and righteous, among thousands of other expressions that have come and gone.

Ur what you eat. Spellcheckers (are there any?) in the texting world give it a free pass. Oh, that’s right. The text world looks for the quick, not the proper. My advice to the younger professionals: when you send an email, especially to a boss, don’t resort to text-speak. You attended kindergarten through your senior year of high school, followed by at least four years of college. You must have picked up proper practices along the way. Yours is not the only generation currently in the workplace.

There needs to be a modicum of respect in our daily communication because we deal with people of all generations. In serving clients, careful, thoughtful and professional are the approaches to take in both the written and verbal. If someone has to ask for a clarification (maybe more than once), you are failing as a communicator in the accounting profession or any other profession in which listening, understanding and explaining are critical tools.

I’d suggest a careful study of the 5th habit contained in Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It states: First seek to understand, then be understood. This will require you first understand and appreciate your surroundings, the needs or intentions of others, and any implications.

This is just scratching the surface. Put aside the matter of texting; this is only one symptom of communication challenges.

Problems in the Workplace

When we misunderstand someone, this can create a hostile and stressful environment. If you can easily recognize that an issue arose because of miscommunication, then you can easily resolve the matter by getting all the interested parties together to flesh it out and reach an agreement.  This removes what could be a festering or repeated problem and removes the reliance on blame. Everyone moves on without impacting productivity or work relationships.

Breakdowns in communication occur when the incorrect tone, style, or tool (e.g., text, voice mail, email, face-to-face) is employed.  Missing context, poorly explained documents or not including all the required individuals in a discussion can also create problems.

Today’s workplaces are not only multi-generational workplaces, they are also multi-cultural. As such, there are different values, beliefs and customs. An approach that someone has always used can be viewed as off-putting or aggressive. A colloquialism that most people understand and accept may be offensive to certain people. Cultural clashes result in rising resentment and falling morale.  The messenger and recipient need to first understand and then be understood.

Solutions for the Workplace

Every professional services firm or business should evaluate how communication is practiced and encouraged. All individual needs to self-assess his or her style and make the necessary modifications. If there is a language divide, perhaps the messenger should do less of the “telling” and more of the “asking” to ensure that both parties are on the same page.  Whatever approach is needed to create understanding should be regularly used, whether it involves repeating what the other person has said or to ask open-ended questions.

Improving communication of any sort is difficult because everyone has established their style —and habits are hard to break. Leaders must recognize this and through training and coaching, encourage everyone to recognize their problems and make the needed improvements. Leaders or those who have direct reports should explain how and why these improvements can result in a better overall business performance and work environment.

By effective communication, I am not saying that if you write clearly on the subject line of your email that all problems disappear. Jeez! If were only that simple. Email, text, the phone and face-to-face discussions are just tools, and as such, should only be employed when they serve as the optimal approach. Informative company news may be suitable by email; bad news for someone, not so much. The latter requires in-person interaction behind closed doors.

It does not take much effort to first assess the topic’s impact, its urgency and its intended audience. Without due consideration, unintended consequences will result. Why take the chance?

The end game is that you want to create a culture of community and trust. So careful listening and careful communication will go a long way to maintaining and enhancing a sense of esprit de corps.

Oh, one last thing: A “thank you” said to someone should result in a response of “you’re welcome.” When someone says “no problem” to me, I think to myself, “If I thought there was going to be a problem, I would not have gone to you in the first place.”

Just sayin’…

About Steve

Steven Sacks is the CEO of Solutions to Results, LLC, a consultancy that specializes in helping individuals, firms and organizations meet the challenges of communicating with clarity and purpose. Visit his website at