Develop those vital soft skills

Ian Kaye explains how to grow your practice by both knowing your clients and knowing yourself

People like to work with people they like. If someone is “on the same page” as you, they are more inclined to listen, and indeed to hire you for your professional advice.

So, the more people you can be on the same page with the better. Remember, people do business with people, and therefore as you interact with your clients or potential clients you want to be able to relate as closely as possible.

This does not mean that you do not have an opinion that may differ. On the contrary, as a professional adviser I would anticipate on many occasions you will in fact be imparting information that your client does not agree with, or at least not want to hear. However, you must possess the skill to be able to interact with your clients or colleagues and understand as clearly as possible their point view and be able to articulate as clearly as possible your point of view.

While for some this may appear to be obvious, for many having the skills of an effective communicator is still a challenge. The following are a few key points that provide the building blocks to be an excellent communicator.

• The map is not the territory: Have you ever been to a show, exhibition or conference with another person and discussed it afterwards to find out they had a totally different perception of the same event?

Therein lies the magic. We all experience life in our own way and while this sounds like an esoteric concept in fact it impacts on every conversation you have. The notion of the map is not the territory impacts on all the encounters between individuals. When you are talking to a client or a potential client it is truly impossible for you to know precisely what they are thinking, it is also highly unlikely that you know all the experiences they bring to this particular exchange with you.

To win new clients, and effectively manage the relationship with the ones you have already, it is highly desirable to give yourself the best fighting chance of truly understanding what your client/ potential client actually means and therefore actually wants.

• Listen carefully, find the objection: I’m sure you’ve heard of the idea of active listening. What I am proposing is that the starting position for you as a professional accountant: to go into each and every conversation with the intention of listening. This means developing the skill of reading between the lines and understanding the underlying meaning of what you’re client is saying, even if they don’t fully recognise their own objections or requirements!

• Calibration: When you truly observe the other person you will notice any changes in tone of voice, skin tone and body posture. Perhaps more difficult is to listen precisely to what is being said and decide if there are (for example) presuppositions built into the expressed conversation. Because sometimes a client may articulate what they want, but without realising it are in fact expressing concerns that don’t relate to the current situation (perhaps reflecting on previous, totally unrelated experiences). The artful communicator will recognise this and guide the conversation to ensure the current issues are being discussed.

• Rapport: When you do start to notice these changes in your client you can as naturally as possible allow yourself to mirror and or match how they are behaving. I cannot state strongly enough that if you try to force rapport without the positive intention of wanting the best for both you and your client it shows a lack of integrity on your part, and will surely end with some very awkward exchanges.

• Presenting with confidence: Lastly, let’s think about how you feel when you’re going to meet a client or indeed if you have a chance to present in front of a group of potential clients. Think about how you are processing information; in this case, the information on how you feel about presenting. I’m sure you have seen many accountants in practice win work because of the skill they have in presenting and connecting with the audience. What is your level of confidence, and how are you processing that information?

When you know how you are processing information, and you can recognise it in others, it will allow you to connect on a deeper, more insightful level. This is how to build excellent relationships, which in turn will grow a client list.

• Ian Kaye is an accountant and consultant and the CFO of a med tech start-up. He also a business coach, focusing on soft-skills.

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