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 because we can sometimes 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 us 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.
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 to minimise the risk of a business going bust; help our clients & their businesses make more money by improving their margins or even advise on ways to attract more customers, 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 time to time to become blinded and forgetful that just because someone needs something done doesn’t mean they want to do it. It’s a bit like the fact that most people at one time or another need to go to the dentist but how many actually want to; or 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 either?
So I can see why we can see things in the numbers that need solving from a business perspective and why others outside of finance don’t get it because they’re not tuned into such ‘needs’ in the same way as we are, even though what the numbers are saying is perhaps so obvious to us in accounting & finance.
What really matters in business
However in business what really matters is what people are saying & whether we’re on the same wavelength as them, 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 into them to get on their wavelength so that we’re all ‘on the same page.’
We do business with people who get us & 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?
Getting on the same page with a cup of coffee
A simple approach from human psychology is that the more repeated exposure you have with a person the more trustworthy and likable you are to them on a subconscious level. For example a lot of people like their morning coffee, I’ve cut back a lot now but earlier in my career I’d have had 3 large Americanos by lunch.
Some coffee drinkers on their way to work each day will often order a cup of coffee, from the same café and are frequently served by the same barista most days. More often than not when that same barista knows their usual order or even asks how they’re doing today they like this and subconsciously they’ll start to feel they trust their barista (or their brand/café) to some degree. You know this is generally the case because given the proliferation of coffee shops nowadays there’s plenty of competition out there yet if they keep going back to the same one it must be 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. So 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.
The start to this entire trust process is to simply show 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. So if you’re an accountant who wants to be understood to achieve better results and not be the butt of jokes like earlier perhaps you should consider proactively managing your relationships with others by: getting out from behind your desks and holding regular catch-ups with them; 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 so please like or add your comments below.
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