Communicating Properly Can Bring Success. While the Corollary Introduces Unintended Consequences

By Steven E. Sacks, CPA, CGMA, ABC

Often, we are more concerned about getting out a message that we don’t stop to think whether the delivery mechanism matches the nature of the content. In a face-to-face conversation, the reaction you get is immediate because you may have employed the wrong tone, selected the wrong words and chose an inappropriate time to engage. For younger professionals who are observant and learn quickly (especially when admonished—either overtly or subtly—will learn (hopefully) from the experience. The signs are not as clear when it involves email communication or phone calls.

The reason you want to communicate is because you need to share information requiring action or answer— but you must be understood. Think first about who the recipient of your message will be. This will enable you to carefully consider how you want to communicate. Failing to grasp this fundamental practice can cause of whole host of problems.

A basic consequence is a lack of understanding of how sensitive a matter may be. Put yourself in the recipient’s shoes. Would you feel that an in-person conversation—or at least a phone call— would mitigate the chances for misinterpretation?  And if the matter is one of confidentiality, might you reconsider the use of email? You should certainly want to give it a second thought before you memorialize your thoughts in an email whose existence remains in perpetuity.

There is no doubt email has improved productivity. There is also no doubt that it has caused unintended consequences. It can be an abusive and intrusive tool. Marketers, recruiters and other “unknowns” with their impersonal correspondence are distractors and impede your productivity — just like telemarketers (whether human or recordings).

With communications, efficiency must be balanced with effectiveness. Those companies that still employ traditional junk mail need to rethink their strategies.

An Old Reliable Approach to Communication

If you had a meaningful conversation with someone at a professional gathering, listened to a captivating conference presentation, or witnessed someone receiving an award, nothing is more meaningful than crafting a personal note (handwritten, of course) expressing appreciation and good wishes. Or if someone shared with you a sad experience or a rough time, a personal note expressing empathy can make a world of difference. Despite MS Word where you can delete a misspelled word or add a missing sentence, nothing helps your thinking more than using a pen and paper.

Consider this: You are using your last monogrammed note card. Thinking about how you want to say something given only one chance to get it right without cross outs or using an “insert here” symbol, will help you to hone your thoughts and at the same time select the right words to use.

The Telephone: A Tool for a Remote First Impression

I have observed in previous posts that the CPA firm’s receptionist plays a VERY important role in creating an initial impression of the practice. Giving immediate attention to a visitor with a smile, sincerity and proper eye contact are basic in creating a proper mood.

However, properly answering the phone requires more effort because wrong impressions can be easily formed by the caller.

Train your receptionist to know the major events within the firm and what each individual does. I understand that in a large regional or a Big 4 firm this may be more difficult than with a 20-person, five-partner firm. That’s why a current and comprehensive directory should be created. This directory will be slightly different from what is created (if at all) on the firm’s website.

Being unaware of the firm’ activities also reflects poorly. No caller wants to constantly hear a receptionist’s lack of knowledge about the firm or be kept on hold for more than 20 to 30 seconds without checking back with the caller to see if he or she wants to leave a message in the intended person’s voice mailbox.

There are always those clients or individuals a partner wants to avoid. If you are the receptionist or an executive assistant to a partner or partner group, ask for a list of names of people for whom they will always be available (think large fee-paying clients).

Key clients or customers do not want to hear that a partner is not taking calls at this time. Really? Is this an attitude you want on display?

Some Simple Things to Avoid

Teach your receptionist or assistant to avoid answering the phone with “Who’s calling?” The proper and more sound-appealing approach is “Whom shall I say is calling?” or “May I ask who this is?”

At all costs, don’t ask “What is this call about?” Is it really your business? Uh…no.

For the partner, when a call does go through, you have given the caller the impression that you will be carefully listening to him or her. Don’t speak with someone who passed by while you are on the phone. And don’t type or open emails while you are on the phone. You may not hear the tapping of keys but you can gain a sense of divided attention in the conversation.

If you want to preserve or establish a positive reputation, make the effort to ingrain these practices in your daily work and make it part of your firm’s business philosophy.

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